Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tragedy

A local and very prominent anti-gay rights activist lost her son a while ago. Many in the gay community knew how at the time, but the official police report only came out last week. It even took up a portion of the news, but I'd rather keep this nameless and not link to a story. Plainly, he overdosed on a mixture of heroin and a couple other drugs. Those are the dry facts of an event, an unmitigated tragedy.

I’ve been wondering if there’s anything to say about this and how or if one should. I held off to see how it would settle. Anything I can write will balance precariously near misusing someone’s tragedy to try to mitigate another’s and I don’t want that. Nevertheless, it’s too clear that there is something to say here. There are a lot of emotions and conflicting feelings, and maybe a moral for all parents.

I was on a panel with this lady at one point. I was very much a novice at politics, but she is a professional. The whole time I talked she took notes. When it was her turn she was brutal, to my perspective, calling our love for our children selfish and debasing our family. She made all sorts of dire predictions for our handicapped children, in their non-ideal home, based on research that was either unpublishable in any reputable journal or focused on children in single-parents homes.

One of the things she claimed was that our children were likely to become sexually promiscuous and drug addicts. The daughter of one of our lesbian friends in the audience began to cry at her assault. I’ll not forget the look on that girl's face when she finally got up in tears and tried to defend herself and her family from this lady. But this anti-gay rights activist was unmoved; she just kept that serene look on her face, so seemingly self-assured that what she was doing was right, giving us and our families her “tough love.” It’s difficult for me to understand how, but she felt good keeping us away from the rights she enjoyed in her family; she was fine taking our tax dollars under such circumstances and you could see it on her face. It all made me angry.

One charge she leveled against us was how horrible it was that our children may get teased in school, apparently never making the connection that whether that happens or not is in her hands, and in the hands of parents like herself. She also complained that we were using our children for politics, by merely speaking up in public! We were instead supposed to keep hidden and quiet and let the insults and lies about our families go unchallenged. That was the lesson we should, I guess, teach our children in her mind (though she was in the press all the time). How couldn’t she understand, as a parent herself, that we had to speak up? We were never even involved in politics until we became parents and then it became very important, but, to her mind, gays are such people that she couldn’t comprehend that it wasn’t dastardly political hopes spurring gays into having children.

Why? I suspect it's because she had, in her mind, dehumanized our families through the lense of her religious beliefs. But many in the gay community, myself included, have made the a similar mistake in response.

Okay, clearly, I think she has a warped outlook, and maybe working off old steam from that day at this point is wrong. I don’t know. I can’t help, though, but feel something profound is in this waiting to be unearthed for both this lady and the gay community for which she has long been the bogyman. I can so clearly see the distressed face of that 14-year-old girl of our lesbian friends, a great girl (class president at her school at the time). I can clearly hear her sob “I am not a drug addict,” and speak of her love for her family bravely in the face of such opposition. I can also so clearly see this lady’s serene face at the time, and hear her confident pronouncements about her idea of “ideal families.”

But now I know, at that very moment, she already knew her son was, sadly, an addict; that serenity and look of “I know what’s best for you and your children, and what God wants” was merely a thin veneer. In fact, now the whole memory has been turned upside down. It's one of those plot twists that can reach back and change even the past, what you thought you saw. That memory of her serene, self-assured face once triggered anger; in a blink of new information it's become a portrait of indescribable human sadness, one I’m terrified to ever know.

There must be a lesson in this tragedy for both sides. For my side, I hope the gay community pauses before we take her harsh attitude and allow it to anger us again; we should look deeper at what might be beyond the political persona. Sure, we must counter her attacks, but the demonizing should end. Eventually we'll have to find some common ground, and, while we wait, it will do us all some good to focus on the people behind those veneers. I personally don’t imagine her slings and arrows will ever sting like they once did, even if she starts it all up again; there is a place now where what we share in our humanity is too apparent, disarming. It's unfortunate that tragedy brought it to mind.

I wish that I could personally give my condolences without the baggage of history and politics trailing behind them, but I’m pretty sure that’s too much to hope for. This will have to do.

6 comments:

Kengo Biddles said...

The most vociferous are the ones with the guilt and something to hide...I know myself I was rather rude toward gay people when I was in high school and in denial.

I always look a little askance at people that so violently attack a group/entity. In my experience there's some guilt and/or shame. I'm sorry this woman took it out on you and your kids!

Edgy said...

You've done more and shown far more compassion than I (and many others I know) think this woman deserves. And I know I should emulate your example.

However. I just can't. Because part of me wants to delve into the more personal questions. Why did he become an addict? What drove him there? Are the rumors about his sexual orientation true? If so, then did this woman demonize her son to his addiction and subsequent death? Regardless, she spent so much time demonizing the "sinners," I can only imagine that she wasn't much of a support to him in his dependency issues.

But that's just me exhibiting a lack of compassion.

Mr. Fob said...

I have to say I'm with Edgy on this one. As much as I agree that theoretically it's not good to dehumanize this woman, and I admire you for seeing the human in her when it's you and your family she's attacked so directly, I can't get past the fact that in all my (admittedly secondhand) experience with her, she has never behaved like a human being. I feel compassion for her son and his friends and family, but I'm unable to feel anything but contempt for her.

Scot said...

Kengo, that may very well be the explanation here. It makes that whole event with her on that panel look quite a bit different.

And don’t get me wrong, edgy, Mr. Fob. I’ve had to bight my tongue at times; I’m no spring of infinite forgiveness. She has gotten at our families in some cruel ways, and I do get angry. I’ve also heard the rumors—though, would call them all just that, rumor—and at learning what happened I thought about those questions too.

In all I’m pretty sure she’d never want sympathy from the gay community, or trust it even if she did for our history with her, but I think of what it must be like and all that contention ends at one of my greatest fears, a fear practically every human parent shares. What happened was horrible, and I feel somewhat guilty to think any good at all could have come of it, but it did change the way I and I’m sure others think back on some of our strong memories of her. True, anger isn’t quantifiably worse than sadness, but it does feel healthier to regard her and her actions in a way to which I can better relate, even if it is through one of my greatest fears.

Jér said...

I feel sorry for her son. I feel sorry for her family. But I don't feel at all sorry for her. For good or ill or in between, "sorry" can't coexist with the amount of anger and contempt I feel for her and her actions.

I guess it's good that there are more forgiving people out there in the world, though. :D

Scot said...

I hear ya.

To me, it’s more about sympathy than forgiveness. She’s done some awful things to other people for which there should be social consequences; it’s just, what happened is beyond anything a human should face.

Also, nice to see you around here, Jer.