Because the long arc of the universe bends toward justice.

Archive for August, 2011

The socialization process of oppression and how to heal from it

I used to keep my opinions to myself, not make trouble.  On May 21, 2011, a switch within me was flipped on and I am no longer the bystander I understood myself to be.

On that day, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted to send a ballot question to the people of the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, giving Minnesota the unfortunate opportunity to vote on the rights of a minority group–whether or not marriage should be defined [restricted] as a union only between a man and a woman, thereby creating one group that can marry and another group that can’t, should the proposed amendment pass.

Prior to May 21, 2011, even in my bystander status, I had been generally aware of the dynamics of oppression and had been learning about systemic and structural “-isms” in recent years:  racism, classism, sexism. And heterosexism.

More recently, I’ve been focusing on four specific dynamics of society that seem to feed off of each other, reinforce each other, and perpetuate all forms of oppression.

Furthermore, since May 21, I clearly see and am witness to how the interpersonal oppression* experienced these days by the GLBTQ community feeds off of those same four dynamics:

  • Shame;
  • Silence;
  • Stigma; and
  • the Socialization of the above three as “norms.”

It’s not all bad news and a downward spiral, though.  From where I sit, and from other experiences I’ve had with overcoming oppression, there are antidotes and ways to transcend these four harmful dynamics.

  • Connection transcends shame;
  • Speaking out transcends silence;
  • Unconditional acceptance transcends stigma; and
  • Reclaiming our true, essential nature transcends the false norms we internalize through the socialization process.

When we begin to identify examples of when and how the media, politicians, schools, policy, religion, law enforcement, the legal system, and other structures of society reinforce stigma, point fingers, and assign blame to the minority group that has been historically oppressed, we can then “pull back the curtain” that has covered our eyes all these years.

The curtain falls away and we see the socialization process at work.  For the lucky ones who look like, pray like, have money like, or love like those who make decisions and are in positions of power, that socialization bestows privileges, access, and rewards, further helping those with privilege to garner more privilege.

For the unlucky ones who look different, pray different, don’t have a lot of money, or love different, the socialization process and those who reinforce it either shame us, silence us, or stigmatize us.

And when we finally see how that socialization process happens, we can never become blind to it again.  In fact, we help others see it happen, too.  When we help enough people see and understand the socialization process, we can work together to name it openly and find the historic trajectory of how we’ve been socialized to accept or reject certain behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes.

The more we challenge, examine, and illuminate the unbridled socialization process that has led to giving privileges to some while erecting barriers and for others, the more we aid in the development of a new pattern, a new trajectory–often equal but opposite from the oppressive one–that affirms equality, justice, and fairness for all of us.

*Interpersonal oppression is one stepping stone that leads to the larger, more insidious, ominpresent, and intractable structural oppression, in which systems of society are bound together by the cords of oppression.  Such systems include but are not limited to education, public policy, the media, the legal system, economics, religion, politics, law enforcement, etc.  Here’s an overview of terms and dynamics related to oppression.


Toolkit: Responding to common anti-equality remarks about marriage

This post is intended to be part of your toolkit when it comes to standing up for marriage equality for all loving, committed couples, regardless of the gender of each spouse.

It’s for pro-equality folks who are confused or baffled by how to respond to anti-gay or anti-equality remarks.

The offending remarks are often stated by well-intentioned people who have learned to parrot the lines they hear from socially conservative Americans, from their religious leaders, and from certain political parties, and from certain news media.  But accusing people of being hateful or bigoted doesn’t help change hearts or minds.

Below are sample anti-equality statements (S), followed by sample replies (R).  The replies are in italics.  As new remarks are made and given air-time within the mainstream media, I’ll update this post and add replies.


  • (Statement) “Gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples can’t have children.”
  • (Reply) Gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples can have children in any number of ways that Americans raise a family:  through adoption; through blended families as a result of a previous marriage; and through artificial insemination. 
  • (S) “Marriage is about procreation.”
  • (R) At one point long ago, for strategic reasons among royalty involving maintaining heirs to the throne, that was true.  Today, there are plenty of couples who are married and are unlikely to procreate.  Consider men and women who meet and fall in love in their 60s, 70s, 80s, or older: they probably have no intention of starting a family!  There are also infertile couples, and couples who marry and simply don’t wish to have children.  And there are the less frequent marriages between, say, an 80-yr-old millionaire with 20-something-year-old gold-digging wife.  In addition, once a woman in a heterosexual marriage is beyond child-bearing years, shall the couple be required to divorce?


  • (S) “Every child deserves a mother and a father.”
  • (R) Is this still true if the couple included a physically abusive mother and a neglectful father? Is it in the best interests of the child or children to remain in that household for the sake of having both a mother and a father?  What if both parents were active alcoholics and emotionally absent? How does that compare to every child deserves a stable, loving parent, whether there’s one or two committed parents, whether two men, two women, or a woman and a man, as long as the parent or parenting couple is loving, present, available to the children, demonstrating mutual care and generosity of spirit?
  • UPDATE:  Please read the comments for an additional response about this point.  –Liz
  • (S) “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman.”
  • (R) More and more countries, and six states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, allow and affirm marriage equality, indicating that marriage is between two loving *people* who make certain commitments to each other.  And the institution of marriage is far from perfect.  There have been shot-gun weddings, pre-arranged marriages, and strategic marriages in order to protect one’s land, wealth, and royal lineage.  It wasn’t too long ago when women  in the marriage were married off as property, transferred from one male-headed household to another.


  • (S) “They’ll impose the gay lifestyle onto heterosexuals and religion.”
  • (R) Just as no one can force religious communities or clergy to perform interfaith wedding ceremonies, no one can force those same communities to be required to provide same-sex marriage ceremonies. Marriage licenses are obtained through city hall or the county clerk’s office, not at your preacher’s pulpit.  Not to mention, so far it’s been heterosexual politicians, clergy, and supporters of reparative therapies who have been imposing the *heterosexual* lifestyle onto gays and lesbians.
  • (S) “They’ll teach the gay lifestyle in school.”
  • (R) The wholeness of humanity, not a select range of lifestyles, is what’s presented in our classrooms, including our collective history based on skin color, gender, nationality, and more recently, sexuality.  In addition, the heterosexual lifestyle has been over-represented, and until recently it’s been left unexamined, just as picture books and history books in the U.S. had been over-representing White society in the face of a diverse culture. Gay people and same-gender marriages exist, as do single-parent households, multi-racial families, extended families living under one roof, adoptive families, etc. Mentioning in a fictional or non-fictional story–even in a children’s book–that a child has two moms or two dads gives a snapshot of reality to balance out what otherwise would be an inaccurate portrayal that all of society is and has been White, able-bodied, middle-class, and male.


  • (S) “Gays are pedophiles.”
  • (R) If this were true, there would be headlines everywhere every week about “another gay person is arrested for pedophilia.”  There have been far more stories about sex scandals involving clergy and even politicians than about gays or lesbians.
  • (S) “Gay marriage will destroy the social fabric of our lives.”
  • (R) Again, where are the headlines from Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, the three other U.S. states that provide for marriage equality, and the District of Columbia, pointing to such unraveling? It appears that if the social fabric is deteriorating, it’s because of systemic racism, structural classism, Islamophobia, elitism, violence, and a national financial crises.  And if marriages fail, it’s because of adultery or irreconcilable differences, not because of two men or two women across town getting married.

Long-term, stable, committed couples who love each other and have a generous spirit lead to cohesive households, which in turn lead to cohesive communities.

When all the doctors were men and all the marriages were straight

There’s a link between White male doctors and heterosexual marriages. I’ll get to that connection in a little while.

. . . . . . . . . .

A number of years ago, my 80-something-year-old White heterosexual father began supporting marriage equality for all loving, committed couples regardless of the gender of the partners involved. (Why his change of heart is a subject for another post.)

More recently than that, in May this year I was explaining to my dad that a question to define marriage as only between one man and one woman would be on the Minnesota ballot in November 2012. He said, “Polls show that most Americans now support same-sex marriage, so that proposed constitutional amendment should be soundly defeated.”

I told him it wasn’t that easy. He asked me why not.

For one thing, I told him, not every heterosexual Minnesotan personally knows a loving, committed same-sex couple. Research shows, I added, that when a heterosexual person knows someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, or knows someone in a stable, loving same-sex relationship, that knowledge makes a big difference when it comes to who supports same-sex marriage.

But simply knowing someone in a same-sex relationship isn’t enough to get those same straight Minnesotans to begin to consider the issues tied up with the question of marriage equality. Some of the issues include which households get to have guaranteed visitation rights in the hospital during a health crisis–a very real issue for my spouse and me; which households are guaranteed the opportunity to make funeral arrangements for their loved one in the event of her or his death; and which households are guaranteed certain inheritances and social security benefits, without question or taxation, after said loved one has passed away.

Most heterosexual people think those guarantees can be achieved through civil unions or domestic partnerships. But not all states have these “separate but not quite equal” alternatives to marriage–and only marriage conveys the delight, hope, commitment, and public witness that so many–and so few–are able to enjoy. Furthermore, only a civil, legalized marriage is recognized from state to state, something that doesn’t happen with civil unions or domestic partnerships. Even some contracts that bestow certain qualities of marriage can be nullified, as in the state of Virginia.

The media itself clouds the issue by talking about proposed constitutional amendments that would “ban gay marriage.” Guests on radio shows, columnists for major newspapers, and pollsters calling homes at the dinner hour talk about or ask about if we are for or against banning gay marriage.

But when Minnesota voters go to the voting booth in 2012, we will not see the question, “Shall Minnesota ban gay marriage?” We won’t even see the word “ban” or the word “gay.”

Instead, the question for voters to consider will be printed without any context or commentary provided. It will read along the lines of:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”

Had the question on the ballot been “Shall Minnesota ban gay marriage?” or “Shall Minnesota allow two people of the same gender to marry?” it’s unlikely that it would have passed, based on statements made by Maggie Gallagher, a Republican leader with ties to an anti-gay group.

This is where the doctor comes in.

When I was a child in grade school, I remember hearing discussions about who could or couldn’t be a doctor or a nurse. I remember hearing that men were doctors and women were nurses, and that certainly was my experience as a kid.

More specifically, given my upbringing in White suburbia, White men were doctors and White women were nurses, period.

But society was changing, and there was a push to expand the gender roles both in professions and at the home. Women could be doctors and lawyers; men could be nurses. Women could be attorneys; men could be flight attendants. Women could hold a job; men could change diapers and do laundry at home.

Even today, though, some 35-40 years later when I am nearly 50 years old, when someone asks me to picture a doctor and imagine what the doctor looks like, I still think of a White man. I need a beat or two to remind myself that there are in fact women doctors and doctors who aren’t White, but who are Asian, African American, East Indian.

So when Minnesotans come across the question about defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, those Minnesotans who haven’t thought about the issues thoroughly, or those who don’t have the historical context from which the question arises may not stop for a beat or two to remind themselves that there are in fact same-sex couples who have been married in religious ceremonies, who have acted as married couples for years or decades–but who haven’t been able to apply for a simple piece of paper that would affirm their love in the same way that their heterosexual peers can.

Minnesota voters may not stop to think about same-sex couples who have been married in other states or in other countries and whose marriage has had little or no harmful impact to their own conception of or direct experience of marriage.

We may not even equate that defining marriage as between one man and one woman is, in fact, a ban on same-sex marriage.

All it takes is the word “marriage” and bingo: Minnesotans think man, woman, married.

It fits with our initial, unexamined image of the fairy tale of the prince and the princess, and we quietly check the Yes box–even if we support marriage between two people of the same gender who love each other and want to grow old together.

I say, it’s time ramp up the cognitive dissonance:

Doctors don’t have to be Caucasian males, and marriages don’t have to be between heterosexual partners.

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