(You cringe at the things you once said and believed. And at the earnestness with which you patted yourself on the back for your good liberal conscience.)
My friend looked at me with a wry smile. He only said, "You can cut your damn hair any day you want."
Years later, another friend, a Black US Army NCO (who disbelieved in African-Americans), posed me this riddle:
"When does a Black man become a Nigger?"
The answer (which I didn't guess): "When he leaves the room."
All of which brings me back to Waldo (who also knew me in the long-hair days and still associated with me--at least after that Steve Crisp affair) and the point he makes about the importance of Senator Barack Obama's candidacy to many gay voters. After reviewing the Senator's record on gay rights (and fully admitting the inconsistencies therein), he concludes:
So I cut Senator Obama some slack. It does rather surprise me how that gets me labeled a mindless Nazi drone at a mass rally, or some sort of religious cultist, as if three degrees and forty years' work in politics doesn't equip me to make up my own mind. To each his own, I guess. But I know Justices Thomas and Scalia and Roberts and Alito don't see a right of privacy explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, and if they get one more confrere to vote with them, I can revert back to wondering if my home will be broken into at midnight by a sheriff anxious to catch some fags doing what most people do at that hour-sleeping.
Why do I go on about these things? Because my experience has been most people who aren't gay pat themselves on the back for knowing someone gay and that's that, or pat themselves on the back for disapproving of gays and not knowing any, and that's that, too. But few, in my experience, have really considered what thin legal ice their friends and neighbors tread. Which is why we tend to be skittish in election years, and which is why, even though his position on marriage makes no sense, I'm betting Senator Obama will do me no harm. If I'm wrong, well, it won't be the first time. In the meantime, maybe I can persuade one of two readers to think a little harder. So I hope.
I know that there are a lot of people who will object to my juxtaposition of the civil rights movement with the gay rights movement, and maybe they have a point--at least on some issues.
But there is a critical issue of identification versus empathy that is, I think, universal to all victims of a particular prejudice: that no matter what, there is a certain knowledge of just how it feels to be that victim if I'm not Black in Jim Crow Alabama, if I'm not gay in pre-Stonewall New York, if I'm not a Jew in Berlin in the 1930s, that can be explained to but not ever fully appreciated by the people Raoul Hilberg would call bystanders.
That's complicated by this conundrum: that minority wouldn't be a persecuted minority if it was large enough to protect itself. So for justice it will always be dependent on the kindness of people who will always be strangers in a very fundamental way.
Because I am not gay, and because my kids (as far as I know at this moment, but hey things could change) are not gay, Waldo essentially points out that I have the luxury to balance Senator Obama's very strong points about equal rights for American citizens regardless of sexual orientation against his dangerous weak and inconsistent record and stands on foreign policy, because as a hetero white guy I am free to feel more concerned about America's relationship with the rest of the world without ever having to worry about the sex police coming for me.
He's right. As much as I'd want to point out that I dumped Bob Barr based on his views about DOMA and same-sex marriage, Waldo could well comment that the Bobster had to grind it in my face several times before I allowed my concern for foreign affairs and my passion for knocking in the Demopublican electoral system to be overridden by my sense of justice of gay American citizens.
I'm not sure what to do about that (oh, by the way, did anyone notice that Senator Obama is Black, which means that when he leaves the room....). I will continue to fight for equal treatment under the law for gay American citizens, but it's not my only fight, and often it's not even my primary fight--as it has to be for Waldo and others every day of their lives. So in effect every time I choose to value some other issue higher than Waldo's civil rights, I am a part of the process that puts off the day when he finally achieves them.
But I also have brothers and sisters on the ragged edge of death and dismemberment in Iraq for an idiotic, unjust war. I can't--won't!--forget them either.
This is the best I can offer Waldo and others I won't ever meet: you'll always be one of my top 3-5 issues; I won't equivocate; and I won't let a gay man become a faggot while I'm still in the room whether he is or not. I'll continue to talk about my intellectual struggles with this issue, and--like Waldo--I'll try to influence a few people to see it my way.
Waldo's known whether my word is good or not for thirty-odd years. The rest of you will have take notes as we go, if it matters to you to find out.
[Note to Waldo: check out Steve Kubby's paradigm for how society deals with unacceptable minorities. Drug users are obviously the major model he's using, but the Identification-Segregation-Concentration-Extermination paradigm is chilling, and--I think--applicable to gays in America.]
[Note to everybody else: Waldo's post that got me started is entitled O'Toole's Rule: It Doesn't Have to Make Sense. O'Toole (Dennis, one each, former Marine) coined this rule in about 1976 somewhere in the vicinity of Laurinburg NC. The full text of the rule is (as well as I can remember it through a haze that was certainly NOT cannabis-induced): "It doesn't have to make sense, it only has to make somebody comfortable." Think about it.]