Wednesday, January 05, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It seems a little discordant that the issue of gay people marrying is ubiquitous when gay couples are virtually invisible in society. In today's America, you have a better chance of seeing a couple of polar bears sunbathing on Main Street than you do a same-sex couple holding hands.
If you take a look around, the only place you are likely to see affectionate gay spouses are on the gayest streets in the gayest of gay ghettos. There are really only three possible explanations:
1) There are no gay or lesbian couples living outside San Francisco, New York and West Hollywood.
2) Gay people live everywhere. However, they have an unexplained medical condition where they are unable to feel love unless they are breathing the magical sea air of Provincetown, Rehoboth or Fire Island
3) Same-sex couples across America are reticent to show public affection because of harassment or hate violence.
The 2000 census showed that same-sex partners live in 99.3 percent of all US counties, which disproves my first theory.
My second hypothesis doesn't hold because there is no medical condition inhibiting gay peoples' ability to love. Of course, there are gay people who use thinly veiled defense mechanisms such as "I don't believe in PDA." Give me a break - even the most uptight, emotionally distant heterosexual couples still hold hands in public.
This leaves Option Three. According to the FBI's 2003 report on hate crimes, (the most recent year statistics are available) sexual orientation just surpassed religion as the second highest category. The report shows that 8,715 reported hate crimes occurred, with 1,430 (16.4 %) based on real or perceived sexual orientation.
As alarming as these numbers are, I believe they would reach epidemic proportions if gay and lesbian couples didn't self-censor their behavior. For those who disagree (especially heterosexuals) I dare you to stroll for 30 minutes hand in hand with a person of the same-sex down almost any street in America. If you want to prove your mettle, do it in a county that voted for George W. Bush by at least a 10-point margin. If you really think you're a tough guy, you can walk the strip one more time in drag to experience the harassment transgender people often encounter.
I believe that if every person in America volunteered to take this challenge, it would offer most people a new appreciation of what it is like to be gay in much of America. This would be the ultimate diversity training!
On a day-to-day basis, choosing where to show even mild affection can put enormous stress on same-sex relationships. For example, over the New Year's holiday I went camping near St. Augustine, Florida with my boyfriend Ben.
When we got to our assigned campsite, I looked around and we were hemmed in between two families: The Beverly Hillbillies and the crew from Deliverance. There were about ten people and a total of thirty teeth. Did they survive by roasting marshmallows? On one of their vans there was a great anti-Evolution bumper sticker and another that said "Choose Life." Empty beer cans littered the mouth of one of the camouflaged tents.
I do admit that I am guilty of Yahoo-profiling. For all I know, these folks might have been pro-gay and used their truck as a float in the gay pride parade. But I'll take my chances with being wrong - at least I'm alive.
After studying the situation, I asked Ben if we could move to a more private location. At first, he got upset and said they looked like nice families.
"Sure, just because they are families, that makes them nice," I sarcastically retorted. "Just like Focus on the Family, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council." He saw my point.
We ended up getting a more private campsite and had a great time. Still, when we went for romantic country walks, unlike heterosexual couples, we had to discern when it was safe to be ourselves. And in a place where half the people looked like Elmer Fudd, it was a difficult question to answer.
Ironically, when we got to liberal Gainesville, Florida the next day, cowardly punks in a passing car called us "queers." This is the third time I've experienced such an incident in the past year.
I partially blame the political climate created by George W. Bush and his ugly Federal Marriage Amendment. Indeed, political homophobia has become pathological to the point of a Virginia lawmaker proposing this week to sponsor an anti-gay marriage license plate. How many people have to be hurt before grandstanding politicians realize that their hateful words have real life consequences?
As much as they might like, the opposition cannot forever use the threat of violence to silence. As more gay couples are married and have children, we are going to see less self-censorship on Main Street. In America 2005, same-sex couples have pulled off the surreal feat of being everywhere, but nowhere. I believe in the next few years this will radically change.
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