This post is dedicated to my very dear friend, Zach Peak, who departed this life January 31, 2012 at the age of 26. He would have been a wash with the hope offered by the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality. You're missed, Zach. You're missed and you're loved.
The It Gets Better Project was started on September of 2010. It was a brilliant response to all of the stress and non-love being shown to gays, lesbians and transgender persons who were thinking that suicide was their only option remaining in a world where they faced constant bullying, dehumanization and marginalization by other people, often their peers. I can’t begin to perceive the numbers of lives the one simple message of “it gets better” has saved. I myself can say that it changed my tune a good bit. I’m hyper-aware of my responsibilities to society now more than I was. You see, time was when I wanted to be in the in crowd with the rest of my out and proud gay brothers and lesbian sisters. I used to be an expert at injecting phrases like “hot tranny mess” into ordinary conversation. I began to detest the message that it sent and I stopped using the phrase all together. I’m left with a question these days though. Is it getting better?
The Emanuel Nine
On the evening of Wednesday, 17-June, what I foolishly thought was unthinkable in my home of Charleston, SC, happened. A 21-year old young white man by the name of Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston during Wednesday evening Bible study. He sat for a while among them, then got up and opened fire killing 9 beautiful souls. We know now that this was an action motivated by profound racist ideology on the part of Dylann. He admitted that his intent was to start a race war because it was his belief that America was being destroyed by African Americans. Blacks. He was unabashed in his assessment, sealed in what he thought was correct thinking. He planned his act well and knew exactly what he was doing.
Since then, there has been dialogue all over the place about race relations in this country. I think we’re all pretty aware of the fact that the dialogue needs to continue and with a fervor that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s. It’s still there. The hate is still there. Lurking just below the surface where polite people fear to tread in polite company. It’s present in you. It’s present in me. It’s present in the musings of people who bashed those calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag that used to fly on the grounds of the South Carolina State House and is integrated directly on the official state flag of the State of Mississippi. Large numbers of people argue that those of us who advocated for the removal of the flag are not helping the debate; that the flag is not about hate, that it is about heritage and history. The KKK is planned and had a rally on the SC State House Grounds about the middle of July 2015. A spokesman for the KKK says that it will be a peaceful one, but there is rarely peace where they are present.
Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag in light of a plethora of calls and an online petition which went viral in mere hours after it was posted. Much as I would like to think that, as a minority person herself, she is interested in healing a wounded state, I can’t help but remember how flippantly she dismissed its removal in 2014 during the gubernatorial debates. I still think that her position is one of political posturing in the light of unimaginable sadness brought on by domestic terrorism.
Some Light at the End of the Tunnel: ObamaCare Upheld By SCOTUS
My husband, Jay, works in the food and beverage service industry as a server and sometimes bartender. Many know that health benefits are often difficult, if not outright impossible to come by in that industry when more than 75% of your wage is made up by gratuity from patrons. I work for a publicly traded software development company based in Charleston where I have decent benefits and a wage that I can mostly live on. Even before we were married, we had the option of Jay gaining coverage under my health plan at work because my company observes domestic partnerships. The trouble with this is that spousal coverage with my employer is oppressively expensive. We just couldn’t afford it. Jay continued on as he had been, muddling by when he had a cold and powering through debilitating clinical depression, untreated. Along comes ObamaCare. It was a prayer answered. As it turned out, the policy he wound up with is MUCH better than mine with my employer and is much cheaper than what we would have paid had we enrolled him in domestic partner benefits. ObamaCare is truly representative of what it promises; coverage for low income persons who ordinarily would not qualify. Also he has a pre-existing condition which made him high risk in the eyes of many companies. We were happy and relieved.
I don’t think I need to rehash all the rhetoric and political posturing that has been tossed around since the law’s passage in 2010. Needless to say, I’ve often been made to feel like I was “less than” because my paycheck is less than $100,000 per year. Jay gets it 10 times worse because he’s made to feel like he doesn’t have “a real job” which offers benefits. Truth be told, we’re happy. Jay gets to keep doing a job that he kinda likes and I get to keep doing my job which I kinda like and we both get insurance. Rank-and-file Republicans and wealthy persons would tell us both though that because we don’t have gobs of money, we’re not real contributors to society and are therefore not entitled to benefits. That’s the message that I think Republicans sought to transmit when they challenged the “state run exchange” language in the Supreme Court last year.
And so it goes. Poor people are suffering the barrage of “suckling off the tit of government” and “socialist sack” and “communist shit bag” comments once again. Mainstream media and wealthy fat cats who can’t relate are driving the language. And yet, we still live. We still manage to love the world.
The Great Divider: SCOTUS Upholds Equality in Marriage-rights
Well, they sort of found in favor of the 14th Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Scalia and Thomas would have you believe that the Constitution had nothing to do with it. Matter of fact, Chief Justice Roberts said those words exactly. Nevertheless, there is relief in the Irvin household tonight. Our marriage remains valid in South Carolina and is now valid in Georgia when we visit. No longer do Jay and I have to worry about death benefits, tax law confusion and most of all we don’t have to sweat his fundamentalist family challenging the authority of our union should one of us get sick or, God forbid, die. It’s a great day for gays and lesbians.
On the evening of Friday, 26-June, I was reading some of the stuff that was coming across my monitor and my phone and was truly aghast at the vitriol that was being spewed. People who proclaim to be Christian were littering the Internet with hate speech the likes of which I’d never seen uttered by so many Americans in my 38 years on this rock. At best, people were completely ok with my not having equal rights under the 14th Amendment because it doesn’t support “God’s Law” (whatever the fuck that means). At worst, you’d think that Jay and I were plotting to force the world like anal sex (yes, Pat Robertson actually said this on the air) or were maybe going to go hang out at an elementary school and recruit young boys into a life of unapologetic debauchery. A wise friend of mine, a long-time Episcopal priest in Savannah, Georgia once told me, “Eli, you can’t engage [the fundamentalists]. They have been given all kinds of wrong information and wrong interpretations of the Spirit and you’ll never change your minds. You’ll go mad if you try directly.” He went on to say that the best thing I could do was to continue to love in my heart, pray for healing of the world and live my life as I always have. Live life in quiet confidence that I am loved by God and a fairly respectable number of his followers.
This loving, wise priest’s words didn’t come to my mind as I encountered a comment on Mike Huckabee’s Facebook page. I don’t even remember which one specifically it was. It, along with my responses and others on both sides of the issue are now buried in over 1000 comments on his one post. I’d post some of them here, but I can’t bear to relive the emotional damage that I managed to do to myself in engaging all that vitriol. I thought by trying in my own feeble way to be logical and a knower of the spirit of the Constitution and strong in the ways of justifying my religious practice with civil law, that I’d turn at least on heart or maybe at least make one person rethink their position for a few seconds. It didn’t happen. The morning of Friday, 26-June, I was happy and joyful and jubilant and hopeful that the long national debate had come to an end. By Sunday night, I was completely defeated and beyond sad, disappointed in a humanity that I try to meet with love. I felt naive, even stupid.
Coming back around to my good space
Last night though (Monday), I got a late phone call from a very close friend (who happens to be a priest). Well, he’s less of a friend and more of a very loving brother who just happens to be 30 years older than me. Well, maybe he’s even more of a dad. On many occasions he speaks to me like a father when that’s what I need to hear. On other occasions he speaks to me like a deeply loved and respected sibling. All the time, he speaks to me with a love and a caring space the likes of which you and I will never ever encounter again. He knows it too. Just ask him. 😉 At any rate, he called me at about 9:30 PM or so and immediately launched into this mocking tirade about how the gays were going to send this country to hell! For a split second, I took him seriously. His dead-pan delivery and booming voice that only an expert preacher can wield has that affect. He then recounted this statement in his tirade which was, “and now all these damn gays are gonna go around makin’ more babies out of wed-lock” and then I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was pulling my leg as he always does; as only he can.
We spoke for over an hour about the talk that had been going back and forth on the internet and on the news and so forth. I was kinda surprised that he was able to talk about it with such an expert grasp because my friend is a self-proclaimed Luddite. We laughed for a large majority of the conversation and I handed over the phone to Jay so that he could get the same tirade that I got. Jay is an IFB survivor, so it brings him great joy to hear the fundies get mocked for how utterly idiotic they sound. Jay handed the phone back to me and my friend and I began to wrap up. At the end of the conversation, he had these words…
“Eli… I love you brother. I just wanted to call and tell you that you’re safe.”
Even now as this is being written, I’m in tears over my keyboard remembering his voice uttering those words. They still echo in his voice in the front of my mind. It was exactly what I needed to hear. That one sentence was the great leveler of the miasma of the last few days that I’d absolutely subjected myself to. Nothing else mattered more than that. It still doesn’t. I am loved and I am safe. Jay is loved and he is safe.
Is it getting better? No easy answer there. There’s a lot of stuff on the surface that you have to dig through sometimes and we have to remember that. Thank God for good and trusted friends and families of choice that will reach out and remind us that we’re loved and safe.
Yeah. It may seem bad for a little while. But what we take away from the badness is important because it makes what’s good seem so much more wonderful.