Friday, April 25, 2008

(this continues the weekly posting of chapters from The Brides of March)

Why Don’t You Marry Your Dog?

“God hates this!”
“You are an abomination to God!”
“How dare you bring children to this place of sin?”

Around eight o’clock, two protesters came to rain on our parade. Both of them were youngish men, Caucasian, and brown haired. One of them wore a white shirt and tie, and just carried a big sign reading “Repent Perverts,” at first standing across the street, then standing in the street, and then finally standing so close he could almost touch the couples in line, as if his fear of the enemy had diminished over time. The other man, a muscle-bound fanatic, spewed biblical hate-speak at a fevered pitch, like an auctioneer for God, selling our souls to hell. He never seemed to draw breath as he shrieked his vitriolic distaste for our desire to marry, at one point while holding up a sign that read, “Can you escape the wrath of God?”

His message was falling flat in our section, since we’re the sort of women with bumper stickers like “my God is too big to fit in any one religion,” “co-exist,” and “sorry I missed church, I was busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian,” despite being regular church attendees.

He began screaming, “Why don’t you marry your dog?” over and over again, as if to pound home his point that gay men and lesbians were not only an abomination, but mere animals, no more worthy of love and marriage than household pets. The noise of the jubilant crowd couldn’t drown him out, and our son Duncan didn’t miss a word.

Duncan is famous for his hearing. We can whisper three rooms away, yet he hears all, occasionally shouting interjections into the conversation we were trying to keep private. He is a challenge at holiday time.

This talent didn’t help him that morning. It was when the man was screaming, “Why don’t you marry your dog?” that I saw Duncan curled up under a blanket on one of the lawn chairs, his hands over his ears, his eyes shut, and my heart went cold. It is one thing to know in your head that there are people who don’t support your family, it is quite another to hear your parents called an abomination and their torturous stint in hell described at leisure.

I wanted our children with us, but, being one of those individuals who always imagine the worst, in Technicolor, I had feared what could happen. I’d asked Lisa the night before, as we watched our spouses on the news, “Will the kids be safe? Will there be a lot of protesters? Do you think they’ll throw things at us?” Lisa had been confident. “Right,” she said, “There will be a handful of them, and hundreds of us. I don’t think so,” her unspoken words painting a picture of hordes of happy couples attacking anyone who dared hurt our children. She was right, but even if no one threw stones, the words still hurt.

Not that we haven’t been hurt before.

It was five years ago now that a thirteen year-old boy asked Chris and me, “Does it hurt?” when Chris and I were doing a speaking engagement at Oregon Episcopal School. We’d been invited by our neighbor, Bonnie, who teaches middle school there, and thought that since the kids were studying anti-gay legislation as part of social studies, they should hear from honest-to-God gay people themselves on the subject.

Measure 9 was coming up on the November ballot, and we were there to talk about how it would eradicate gay people from public education: in history, in literature, in health class, in efforts to end harassment among students. The measure read: “Sexual orientation, as it relates to homosexuality and bisexuality, is a divisive subject matter not necessary to the instruction of students in public schools. Notwithstanding any other law or rule, the instruction of behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality shall not be presented in a public school in a manner which encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors.” The obvious result of Measure 9 would be that negative things could be said about bisexuality or homosexuality, but to oppose those statements would mean sanctions against the school. Teachers would be silenced from saying anything to defend us, or our kids. We would be taboo.

It was inspirational talking with those intelligent, thoughtful kids; they asked good questions.
Questions like: “Is there anything about the measure that you agree with?” “Would the measure affect just what teachers say and do, or would speech between students be affected?” “Would you be able to talk to us like this, if the measure passed?”

Toward the end, they asked a few more personal questions: “How did your families react when you came out?” “How do your children feel about your being gay, do they think it’s cool?”

And right at the end, “Does it hurt?”

We had an answer for that one. Chris and I had talked about it that morning. We both agreed that even in a life full of friends and kids and spouses, it hurt like hell to have to fight continually for our dignity and equality.

It’s hard to get used to being demonized.

Chris explained to the OES students the basic difference of opinion between those for, and those against Measure 9, that those who support the Measure believe that being gay is a choice, that it is a moral and ethical failing that brings joy to no one. We, she went on, speaking for those against Measure 9, believe that being gay is natural and normal, like being left-handed or blonde. This, she explained, is why it is almost impossible to bridge this division.

Measure 9 failed, by a tiny margin, thanks to a lot of volunteers going door to door. But I was chicken; I couldn’t bring myself to canvass against the Measure. I couldn’t face hearing, straight from the voter’s mouth, that he or she thought that I was a “divisive issue” and “unnecessary to the public instruction of students,” that my life and I were not things to be “encouraged, promoted or sanctioned” in any way. Yes, Chris told the boy, it is painful for anyone to think our lives are so unworthy.

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