Despite the 72 degrees here in Manhattan, there's a crispness in the air. It's fall, the season that is supposed to represent the beginning of dormancy, a shortening of summer's long days and fun times, a letting-go of play and a return to the seriousness of work.
And yet, I don't think America had a fun summer.
We had the attack of the birthers and deathers. We had play-cowboys with real guns attend presidential speeches and congressional town halls. For all our focus on health care this summer, few have realized the tremendous irony shooting us in the face: America is a country in the midst of a nervous breakdown.
Bob Herbert reminded me of this, in his New York Times column this week when he wrote,
"Looking back at the past few months, it's fair to wonder if the country isn't going through a nervous breakdown... We need therapy... The first step, of course, is to recognize that we have a problem."
A Problem, Indeed
I often write about the "gay community." Truth be told, there isn't one. Like the "straight community," there are many. Both have many different ideas, ideals, morals, goals, and behaviors. And yet, across very different camps, many within the "gay community" spent a good part of the spring trying to get what the "straight community" already has: civil marriage.
Legal recognition of our equality is what a great many of us are trying to obtain. But there are a few things, perhaps more important, that we need to achieve first: an across-the-board recognition within the gay community that we actually want and deserve full equality, with all its rights and responsibilities, and that we are willing to fight for it. And the one pre-requisite that has to happen before any of this: we have to start acting like it.
Herbert wonders if America is going through a nervous breakdown. I wonder if the gay community is. I do know that our fractured, disinterested, distracted collective is neither doing enough to get better nor to make things better.
And yes, it's been a constant game of win-lose-win-lose.
Taking a Toll
Despite our marriage equality wins this spring, despite our communal temper-tantrum that led to the Hate Crimes Bill making its way through Congress and the talk of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the gay community is too silent on matters that affect us just as much, if not more deeply, than those the rest of the country is confronting.
Take California. Less than one year after Prop 8 passed, less than four months after it was upheld by California's Supreme Court, we can't even get enough people to call Governor Schwarzenegger's office to voice support for the proposed Harvey Milk Day bill. 100,000 people called - the majority reportedly in opposition to the bill.
Yes, there are bright spots. Grass-roots organizations and individuals are making a difference every day. My fellow gay writers and bloggers work long days, often with little or no compensation, to help move the ball forward. And we're having some success.
But those in straight community, in the form of conservatives, gay marriage opponents, and the religious right, have enslaved us for far too long. And it's taken its toll.
Because most of us can't get married, we've approached relationships differently. Our opponents like to say we have all the rights we need - and deserve. What they don't talk about is the security they have that comes in the form of societal recognition. We know that the bond of marriage is not only a goal, but an aid to maintaining a relationship through troubled times. It's a lot easier to walk away when there are no legal issues, common property, children, or even the reaction of family, friends, and neighbors to stop you.
Acting Like We Want It
And because we don't have this responsibility, some of us often don't act with the same level of responsibility that straights purport to have. Much to our detriment, and, dare I say, much to the secret delight of our foes, many in our community are still acting as teenagers, more interested in having fun and sex today than taking a healthy interest in achieving equality tomorrow.
David Phillips wrote me about this, saying,
"DADT is perhaps the best word to describe most male couples I've known."
I refuse to believe that's true across the board.
While there are a great many long-term same-sex relationships, many gay relationships aren't necessarily long-lasting - not because we're not capable or desirous of long-term relationships, but - in part -because society has not put the same focus on same-sex marriage that it has on "traditional" marriage. Remember, the Bush administration spent $300 million a year to promote "traditional" marriage.
And no, I'm not blaming our shortcomings on society.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
So, as we move into the fall season, as we look to fight new battles for marriage equality, perhaps in New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and as we move back to fight again for Maine and California, maybe we should pause for a moment and ask ourselves, does the majority of the gay community really want marriage equality? And if we do, are we going to start acting like it?