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.
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.