Thursday, September 04, 2008

The closet and "second-class citizenship"

Okay, here is a take today on the whole “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude of society as a whole. It was “working” for the first decade or so after Stonewall, when “privacy” was the issue. Then the AIDS epidemic occurred, bringing out into the open the whole gay world in men, at least. It quieted down as the epidemic became more controllable and more a factor in other communities. But then, in the 90s, gays in the military and gay marriage or domestic partnerships emerged as live political issues. And with the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, self-expression became a new norm of behavior.

It used to be “your private life was only your business.” Well, not exactly. The truth is that the social support of the traditional family (led by an opposite-sex legally married monogamous couple) is an important component of marriage, and of what many married couples expect. They tend to expect the emotional pamperings and public celebrations. Furthermore, they expect to gain a sphere of “power” from their marriage: at least with their own children, effective even after the children become legal adults. After all, parents have more children (with socially and legally supported marital sexual intercourse) and can create obligations for older siblings to care for them. Having kids involves biological risks that others in the family and surrounding community will have to share. That gets to be perceived as part of the whole communal “fairness” thing. That’s all subsumed by society’s “regulation” of sexuality through marriage.

So, parents need to be public about it. Their kids, after all, are a public statement of their “sexuality.” We’ve gotten so used to this that we hardly think about it consciously. But the public affirmation is an integral part of a marriage experience that keeps it active as the partners age or face “sickness and health”. But when a gay person is asked (as in the military, or even in publicly sensitive jobs or family contexts) to keep his sexual orientation secret (to protect the unchallenged psychological comfort of married couples and perhaps even his own parents), all of the sudden he realizes his whole life is kept subordinate to the needs of those who engage in socially and legally supported procreation, because those who do so really “need” the preferred treatment and pampering. (I am reminded of this when I see members of a local Mormon stake parade their babies outside next to a liberal church across the street.) In a global and very public (and communications driven) world, the gay person becomes a second-class citizen. “We” couldn’t exist without them, so we wait behind them in line.

No wonder, gay marriage, gay adoption, and lifting “don’t ask don’t tell” are seen as ways to raise one from second-class citizenship.

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