Because the long arc of the universe bends toward justice.

Archive for July, 2011

Authenticity, Happiness, Truth, and Marriage

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.

And yet…

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.

For religious people who are conflicted about same-sex marriage

If you are among the many invisible Americans who are conflicted about same-sex marriage, there are a variety of items to consider, including:

  • Understanding the dynamics of an identity shift.
  • Identifying creative tensions between values and experience.
  • Practicing being gentle with yourself as you sort things out.
  • Living “as if” in order to gain experience-based information.
  • Being “willing to be willing” as a way to alleviate inner conflict.
  • Addressing knowledge gaps proactively.
  • Exploring your own socialization process up to this point.

IDENTITY SHIFT
First of all, let’s name the dynamic you might be experiencing. If you have been conflicted about what to do about voting on the proposed amendment that would impact same-sex marriage, consider that what you are going through is an identity shift. Just naming what is going on can alleviate the stress and make it easier to address it.

An identity shift means that you are between trapezes, in a sort of limbo. You have let go of the trapeze that represented who you used to be, while being uncertain about what your life will be like once you grab the new trapeze. Or maybe you will return to the original trapeze you just released, realizing you aren’t ready to move into a new position or grasp and claim a new opinion.

It’s like walking to the edge of the high dive at a pool– and then, at that moment, realizing you’re not ready to jump.

With the issue of same-sex marriage and the proposal to define marriage as a union only between a man and woman, maybe you are shifting from the belief that marriage is always and only intended to be between a man and a woman, and you are earnestly and humbly seeking whether marriage can be expanded to include same-sex couples who also wish to make public loving commitments to one another, to provide mutual care for one another, and to grow old together.

Or maybe your belief is shifting in the reverse direction. So be it.

This identity shift and the status of being between trapezes is a process. It includes moving from the Known into the Unknown. The Unknown includes not knowing exactly when, where, or how the “incoming trapeze” will impact you.

Being in limbo like that is one of the hardest psychological tasks that we as humans will encounter, and that is likely why you are in such anguish.

CONFLICTING VALUES, EXPERIENCE, or KNOWLEDGE
Another reason for such anguish and inner conflict could be that you have a growing awareness of two or more things that are in tension with each other, pulling at you. Is there an unnamed conflict between the teachings of your own religious tradition and your personal values that you’ve been living by? Is there conflict between what your community or religious leaders are saying that go against your own direct experience of people who identify as gay or lesbian, or go against your own experience with people who identify as being part of a long-term, loving, same-sex relationship?

Maybe a religious teaching that you have followed is in direct conflict with a personal value, such as supporting the freedom for people to marry who they love; or it’s in conflict with what you know of the history of marriage, such as women were once considered a man’s property and marriage was a strategic way to transfer property or keep the peace.

Identify the rhetoric, behaviors, attitudes, etc. that you are most and least comfortable with and explore where the tension comes from. Discipline yourself to view this exploration as a refining process or as a way to clarify at a deeper level what you believe in. And give yourself time…

BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
As I’ve said, being in limbo is a hard thing to live into. Give yourself the gift of practicing being gentle with yourself.

Begin to notice when your body tenses up as you think through certain points, when you read things in the news, hear them on television, or come across them on the internet.

Cultivate the simple ability to notice when your body tenses and when your body relaxes. Doing so can give you some indication of your own visceral response, which may in turn give you information about the direction you are naturally moving in, based on how you care for yourself and what your body tells you.

LIVE AS IF
Another technique is to live one day as if you disapproved of same-sex marriage and would therefore vote Yes on the proposed amendment, supporting the idea of defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The next day, you’d live as if you were okay with same-sex marriage and would vote No on the proposed amendment, indicating that you wouldn’t support defining marriage as only a union between a man and a woman.

Check in with yourself each day you “live as if” and reflect on how you viewed couples and families through that temporary lens. Consider keeping a journal to record new awarenesses and insights you may have.

BE WILLING TO BE WILLING
Another thing to do for yourself would be to practice what I call, “Be willing to be willing.”

If you don’t feel ready to open yourself to receive more understanding about the issue, then affirm that you are willing to be willing to understand where you are moving to.

Be willing to be willing to change.

Be willing to be willing to know what is the more loving thing to do in a given situation, and what stance more closely aligns with your values; those sorts of questions.

We might not be willing to be changed. That might be too scary. But we might be willing to be willing to be changed, and that can ease us into whatever change we’re being calling to, knowingly or unknowingly.

FILL IN YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE GAPS
As a more intellectual step, take responsibility to explore your own knowledge gap about the history of the issue, about the dynamics of privilege and oppression, and about the impact on the groups who say they will be affected one way or another.

Get a handle on what evidence and what rumors are available about what impacts will truly occur.

For example, have those forecasted impacts occurred to heterosexual couples in other places where same-sex marriage is already allowed? Have they occurred to same-sex couples in places where same-sex marriage is barred?

In addition, in terms of identifying, addressing, or exploring knowledge gaps, consider what is the multi-generational impact of approving any constitutional amendment, versus having a law on the books that already prohibits same-sex marriage. Why was the constitution of any state written in the first place? What’s our current responsibility, if any, to standing by those original reasons and intentions?

LEARN ABOUT THE SOCIALIZATION PROCESS
There are many examples from history about how stereotypes are formed and reinforced, how they are broken down. Socialization happens in our families, in our political system, in our houses of worship, in our schools, among our peers, and through our newspapers, books, and television.

As infants and children, we can’t say, “Please teach me about unconditional love” or “Tell me about why Americans believe in the American Dream.”

We grow up in environments that decide for us what values and beliefs we should be exposed to–about White people, about women, about people of color, about vocation, about the value of education, the value of manual labor; about being on time and about taking time to connect with people we seldom see; about how tolerant and welcoming to be about differing viewpoints, or how dismissive…

Learn about how we are socialized, depending on if we are part of the dominant culture/majority group, or if we are part of the non-dominant culture/minority group. Then consider how that socialization plays into your stance on the issue you are exploring.

And remember the trapezes. We can spend a lot of time in between them, but the world keeps on spinning, oftentimes according to the whims and the will of the majority.

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