I’m the type of person who believes that we desperately want to be told the truth.
As a result, when I begin to see and hear and listen to the truth, I’m drawn into it–and along with a bit of resistance, I tend to feel a release rather than a rush of vengeance or meanness if the truth seems to challenge what I had understood or professed before.
Often, it’s a matter of recognizing that I didn’t know that I hadn’t been told, taught, or modeled the truth up to that time.
That’s what this letter is about:
There is a truth about gay and lesbian people and their long-term committed relationships that we didn’t even know we were yearning for.
People who identify as gay or lesbian deserve to be publicly affirmed in their loving, long-term, committed relationships–relationships that lack a simple piece of paper from City Hall that says “Married.”
Let me back up.
There is a truth about wishing the best for our children and how that wish gets twisted and ignored as our children grow into adulthood–especially our children who don’t fit the cultural mold.
When we see the infants and the children who we have in our lives today–our biological children, the children from our blended families, and the children of our friends and siblings–we often inwardly or outwardly say to them,
“I hope you find happiness! I hope you grow up to be strong and proud of who you are! You deserve the very best in life. You deserve to be happy and healthy. I want that for you!”
Do any of us look at these same children in our lives and say, “I hope you find an opposite-gendered person to marry and procreate with”?
Don’t we say to these children in our lives,
“Be all of who you are! Be your best self. Do your best to do right by others.”
Or do we start them off in life by counseling them, “Be who I myself tell you to be. Be who the world tells you to be. Be who the religious leaders tell you to be. Don’t be who you really are. Take care of my own discomfort by hiding your true self that otherwise wouldn’t fit into these worldly molds, so that no one will look at me or you and judge our family…”
Would we truly say such a thing–“Don’t be who you really are”–to a newborn baby, a toddler, 3-year-old, a 4-year-old?
At what point does the message and the hope we wish to instill in our children begin to change? And what accounts for it?
I believe that what changes is not our children whose authenticity and innate potential for fullness resides within them; rather it is the socially entrenched adult who changes.
As babies and toddlers grow older, we witness them grow into young people. Meanwhile, we adults have been socialized without our consent* to accept without question certain behaviors as the norm.
If such socialization goes unexamined–for example, who can be doctors, who can raise a child, who can be secretaries, who can marry into a loving relationship–then we unintentionally begin to separate out the “norm” from “not-the-norm.”
And from “not-the-norm” we worry about the “not-normal.”
And the “not-normal” is a close cousin to “not-right.”
And then–we have been taught–we need to draw the line: Whatever is not the norm is therefore “wrong.”
But that is not the truth.
That is not the truth we yearn for and that is not the truth we should be telling the children in our lives.
The real truth, the True and Principled Truth remains, even if only a whisper in our adult ears, minds, and hearts:
I hope you find happiness! I hope you grow up to be strong and proud of who you are! You deserve the very best in life. You deserve to be happy and healthy.
When we as adults can’t even point to the slippery slope down from where we’ve come, then most likely we unknowingly and unintentionally discard our innate support for authenticity and instead begin to use some invisible yardsticks that measure and identify norms and not-the-norms, training our youth to live by them and not by the True and Principled Truth.
It’s our own response to the children that has changed.
It’s a response that is trained and cultivated within us by the wider society without our knowledge and without our explicit consent.
It’s a response that moves us away from our natural hope for goodness and for happiness in a child’s life, to a different response of “You need to fit into the world, and what you do is a reflection of me and our family.”
When we begin to see how we are being shaped and trained to offer these hurtful, limiting messages to our children, when we begin to see the pattern of socialization-without-our-consent through television, children’s books, news stories, politics, movies, and religion, we will begin to feel angry: “How dare they trick me into believing these things!”
The good news is that at the same time that we begin to understand how we have been socialized, we automatically become empowered to take action.
We begin to tell the Real Truth about our capacity and our children’s capacity to live fully and authentically, to love fully and openly, to reach for happiness and to spread it.
We begin to climb back up the slope, from atop of which we can view the world–and our children–more clearly.
So why take all this time to describe the socialization process…?
It’s about telling the truth about what marriage means, and who can or can’t, should or shouldn’t marry.
When we consider whether to restrict marriage as a union only between a man and a woman, we must also consider what message the invisible part of that restriction is sending to our families, to our youth, and to ourselves.
If marriage is solely “defined” by that restriction, where does that leave the authentic expression of happiness and love for people who happen to fall in love with the not-norm, not-normal, “wrong” person?
Where does that leave the authentic, mutual expression of love experienced by a couple that does not fit into that particular format or definition of a loving, long-term, committed relationship, declared as such through a public statement in front of family and friends, if not on a piece of paper at City Hall?
If marriage is solely “defined” and restricted as between a man and a woman, what seemingly small pebble is going to be sent to roll down the hill that is our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future?
*I don’t yet know who coined the phrase “socialized without our consent” but I first came across it at the 12th annual White Privilege Conference, held near Minneapolis, Minnesota.