David Badash

Start Acting Like It

Filed By David Badash | September 10, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: growing pains, LGBT community, marriage, marriage equality, needing therapy, start acting like it

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?


Recent Entries Filed under The Movement:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Okay, I'm gonna be the party pooper here and play Devil's Advocate. Thanks to the laws of my state, Gay Marriage rights are no longer a problem for me: in fact, for many straight trans folks the marriage debate returns a ho-hum "What's in it for me?" response. _I simply do not care about Gay Marriage._

I understand the importance of marriage, but I think what we're seeing in the LGBT community right now is more than simple apathy. I think we're in the process of reevaluating priorities and goals. Again, marriage rights have little bearing on me; though there are some DOMA specters hiding in the closet, I'd much rather have a law saying that, for example, I can't be arrested for using gendered public facilities. Your mileage may vary, but I think that a simple trending of topics on the blogosphere as of late points to a stronger push for ENDA than for marraige equality. We will win marriage in the end, but an inclusive ENDA is such a _powerful_ win for the LGBT cause that it's almost impossible to ignore. I think that contributes to some portion of the apathy you are seeing.

It's just too bad that this reevaluation is taking place at about the worst possible time...

I'm asking this sincerely: are you saying "Gays are big sluts and need to learn to keep quiet about our relationships to win marriage" or "Not having marriage makes gay people big sluts"? I just wanted to be clear since you seem to be arguing both.

In my little world here, the same-sex couples I know are about as dysfunctional as the opposite couples. Straight people don't all have great relationships, and I think that there are quite a few gay people who act on the premise that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Marriage doesn't make a relationship easier. It just makes moving on from that relationship harder.

While you seem to assume that a relationship ending is always negative, lots of times it's a wonderful release caused by two people maturing in ways neither predicted. GWB spent money to promote het marriage, but it was, as the administration said, an attempt to reduce the number of people receiving aid from the state under the misguided assumption that marrying off single women would save the state money. That's the best marriage-obsessed conservatives could come up with... do we have a better reason for assuming that we need to promote marriage in our community? The right to it, yes, that's important, but I'd hope it'd be something people would freely enter without any pressure to do so.

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?

And what if we don't? As Austen mentioned, we're in a process of reevaluating goals, and I'd add that we're in a process of reevaluating strategies and leadership. It's an interesting time, and the answer to that question might not be a simple "yes."

Personally, I think that if we're going for marriage we should continue to be honest about our relationships in ways that straight people aren't. They almost never wait for marriage to have sex, they cheat on each other all the time, half of their marriages end in divorce in the first few years, many never marry for a variety of financial and personal reasons.... If that's what we're looking to buy into, I think we're already fine.

The only difference between our relationships and the Religious Right's is that we're more honest about what we do, and I'm not about to tell people to start lying in order to appease some homophobes who can't wrap their mind around the concept of two dudes or two ladies living and loving together. There's only so much compromising we can do with the right, and changing our love lives to look more like theirs isn't something most of us would/should be willing to do. And it wouldn't change anything - these people already have so little clue as to what we're actually like I don't think that they're basing their views of us on reality.

If we have to give up our freedom to "act like" we're deserving of equal protection under the law, then why don't we just take up opposite-sex partners and stick a fork in the gay rights movement? It'd be plenty more efficient.

Ditto on what Alex, Rob, Brynn and others have said. And Rob is right about the parallel to HRC - this really felt like such a 90s piece, honestly, with the admonition to be more like "them."

I don't, of course, think marriage is any kind of a goal at all, and I do think that we need to consider more seriously how insidious a goal it really is in that the growing emphasis on this shoddy and failed institution in fact signals more tyranny on the part of the state. But that's a separate post...I also think it sucks energy and resources from more vital concerns, like health care.

But here's the point I wanted to make, to add to Alex's about how "Marriage doesn't make a relationship easier. It just makes moving on from that relationship harder." That reminds me of something an unnamed female respondent once said at a panel on polyamory here in Chicago. She proudly stated that she had been married many times and pointed out that a divorce did not indicate a failed marriage and that, in fact, a marriage that ended in divorce might still be considered a successful marriage. Why define years of a relationship only by what happens at its "end?" And what if people still love each other, but just can't bear to be married to each other any more, for any number of reasons? And so on...

The chokehold of gay marriage, held up as even more "committed" and long-lasting than straight marriage, will only result in marriage becoming more inflexible and much less easy to dissolve. Most married people won't realise that until they try to get divorced.

All in all, I'd encourage you to look at the reality of our multiply polymorphously perverse relationships - straight and gay. The genie's out of the bottle and moralising about how gays need to be committed and so on won't make a dent in a world where fewer straight people are interested in traditional relationships.

First,"gay community" try LGBT community because not all of us are gay and not everyone in a same sex relationship is gay just like not everyone in a hetrosex relationship is gay.
What exactly do you mean by acting like it because there are tons of straight people out there blowin' and goin'. Because we of the LGBT community are a vibrant and diverse group and some of us are in long term relationships and some of us are into one night stands just like the straight people.
Honestly this reminds me of the old HRC approach that says that if we all are straight acting enough the straight people will see that we are no different and then they can give us our equality.
This reeks of "back to the closets everyone and let's only show the ones of us who are acceptable.
Where I grew up there were two terms that were used 'front door company' and 'back door company' I was taught in a very polite southern setting that no person should ever be treated like back door company. I don't think that any suggestion that we need to start acting like it is of any value. We need to make it so that people do not have to act, it is the acting and need to act that is leaving our middleschoolers hanging at the top of the stairs.
The reason that there are so many skeletons in the closet is because they died there hiding in the dark.

Awesome piece! Very poignant. Be out and open about your love! Make it known it doesn't matter what the gender is--love is love!

On a less serious note--it may be 72 degrees in Manhattan--with no summer--but that cannot be said of Houston. It's been hotter than "blue blazes." We've had plenty of summer: it usually runs from May through October.

I think we'll start to ACT LIKE we deserve equal protections when we stop falling in line and playing by all of the "rules" (rules that work tirelessly to exclude us). Unfortunately all LGBT organizations are terrified of anything too controversial or civilly disobedient, so LGBT individuals are left to carve out their own response to the institutional hatred around us.

More unfortunate, when and if we get arrested or get media attention, we will likely be thrown under the bus and dismissed as whackos who "do not represent the community".

It may be a few years, or a decade, but I DO predict that younger generations of Queers will be turning to violence against property and perhaps people as their only option for self-defense and as a response to governmental hate, since NO ONE is there to protect them RIGHT NOW. NO ONE.

Yes, violence IS an act of desperation, but after decades of bullshit from our government, many Queers are beyond desperate and wanting to FIGHT BACK against these bullies. HARD.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 11, 2009 2:39 PM

are still acting as teenagers, more interested in having fun and sex today than taking a healthy interest in achieving equality tomorrow.

Wow, judgemental a little?!

Alex said it well, but I'd just like to add my objection to your equation of "long-lasting" with "good" when it comes to relationships. Just because two people stay together doesn't mean they have a good relationship.

I'd gladly measure the worth and value of my last relationship, which lasted approximately 4 years, against that of the dysfunctional relationships of many of the Religious Right that last a lifetime.

And finally, just because someone wants to have casual sex or is a believer in non-monogamy doesn't mean they're either irresponsible nor unconcerned about LGBT rights. As a matter of fact,most of the radical and committed queer activists I've known, the ones who have been on the front-lines for decades, have tended toward non-monogamy and more revolutionary ideals of relationships.

I'll echo what others have said here: I'm put off by pressure from above in our "movement" for the rank-and-file to "straighten up," be "respectable," and "act just like straight people." Personally, the last thing I want is to be like straight people.

This piece really causes one to think and look
at one's own behavior. One must be comfortable
with oneself and have pride in their actions.
Good self-esteem begins on the inside by acceptance
that we all are good people. We must stop looking
to straight society for approval.

I'm going to jump on the "slightly preachy" bus too, David.

I don't know that we should blame gay and lesbian relationships - or lack thereof - for the problems of the LGBT movement. A bigger responsibility lies with our leadership and not the foot soldiers.

It seems most of us are missing the main point, not our sex lives, but do we really believe that we ARE "equal." There can be no doubt that in the first decades of this movement, most homosexuals did not believe that-they accepted that we (they reflected what society/religion said) were criminals, sick and sinners.

Mattachine, DOB and ONE/HIC/IGLA spent most of their efforts just educating homosexuals, and anyone who thinks we got this far without that work is nuts.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | September 12, 2009 6:18 PM

Go Alex!

If we start out truly feeling equal, how does that imply a need or desire to participate in the heterosexual institution of marriage? How did we ever get sucked into that ridiculous agenda, anyway?

I'm a Jew. Does that mean I should demand an "equal right" to celebrate Christmas?

Maybe polymorphous perversity even equals "arrested development." But then again, maybe we branch off toward a different definition of maturity from the time we first "act like teenagers." Maybe to straight eyes, we'll always be teenagers. The trick (pardon the expression) is to recognize that we're equals, not to be like "them." Anyone got a problem with that?

I already have my equality; no one else can give it to me.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | September 12, 2009 6:20 PM

Go Alex!

If we start out truly feeling equal, how does that imply a need or desire to participate in the heterosexual institution of marriage? How did we ever get sucked into that ridiculous agenda, anyway?

I'm a Jew. Does that mean I should demand an "equal right" to celebrate Christmas?

Maybe polymorphous perversity even equals "arrested development." But then again, maybe we branch off toward a different definition of maturity from the time we first "act like teenagers." Maybe to straight eyes, we'll always be teenagers. The trick (pardon the expression) is to recognize that we're equals, not to be like "them." Anyone got a problem with that?

I already have my equality; no one else can give it to me.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | September 12, 2009 6:33 PM

PS: Let me clarify, in practical terms, that I support the idea of government sanctioning both same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions, and getting out of the marriage business. Short of that, I believe in extending all the rights of marriage, on a federal level, to same-sex civil unions (for those who've opted to couple, and perhaps even [eventually] for plural relationships involving three or more people). I don't need to buy into "marriage" in order to be equal, or to feel like an equal. I'm perfectly happy to let marriage be defined as a heterosexual institution.

(Meanwhile, where is it written that gay people must couple, just like straight people?)

Consider my analogy to being a Jew who doesn't need an "equal" right to celebrate Xmas. (I can still demand equal recognition for Chanukah as a holiday, if Chanukah is important to me in particular.)