I’m coming out.
Not as gay. Though I would come out if I was gay. No, I’m coming out as liberal.
Yup. Liberal. Tree-huggin’ hippie liberal. Socially liberal. Fiscally liberal. Tax and spend liberal. Liberal, liberal, liberal.
But more on that later.
Most of you probably already guessed that I’m liberal but in case any of you are gasping and clutching your pearls and wondering how a nice girl like me wound as such a flaming liberal, I’ll tell you: I was brainwashed by liberal lesbians. In church.
OK, just one lesbian. It was my best friend’s mom’s partner Pat. She used to come to our Sunday school class at the Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY with her guitar and sing songs to us while my friend and I behaved like total harridans because we were 7 years old and thought it was hilarious to misbehave in front of one of our parents. The brainwashing part came in when Pat taught us a Unitarian version of “This Little Light of Mine” that went – and I swear I’m not making this up – “This little liberal light of mine”. I was in high school before I realized that word had been added by Pat.
Pat wasn’t the first gay person I had met. The choir director of our church was gay, too. He lived with a nice man who had a beautiful tenor voice. He also gave me piano lessons and is good friends with my mother to this day. Unsurprising, because my mom sang in about three different groups he directed over a course of 30 years and you can’t make that much music with a person and not love them.
I have no memory of ever formally learning about what those gay relationships meant. They just were. Like the straight relationships around me. They just were.
I do remember my best friend telling me her mom is a lesbian. I was the first person she told because in those days her mom told her to keep it quiet. People weren’t as far out in the 1980s as they are now. There was more fear of negative repercussions then. It made sense to tell a child to mask a fact that could cause her hurt back then.
But it’s better, now. Now, my son is in a playgroup with three same-sex couple families. You’ve probably interacted with a couple of them – some of the moms read my blog. Though you might not be able to tell they’re lesbians when they comment on things I write about the cost of diapers or fun places to take kids in DC. They sound just like every other mom.
Funny, that, huh? Moms who sound like moms. Imagine.
Then there was the other night when I ran into an old friend who adopted a baby a few months ago. He was rushing home after work to go check his son’s Similac to see if they needed to toss it after the latest recall. He sounded just like a dad. Not like a gay dad even though he is gay. Just a plain old dad.
Yeah, it’s better now and there are tons of good examples of families with same sex parents that I can use to demonstrate to C that gay people are just people and same sex relationships are just relationships.
Which is why this guest post at Scary Mommy’s blog where a mother worried that a lesbian teacher would bring her personal life into her classroom in an inappropriate way simply because she’s gay upset me so. It cracked at the parts of my heart that are given over to my gay friends and family members, all of whom are living their lives, and doing their jobs, and raising their families, not executing a nefarious plot to corrupt the children of nice Christian moms in Texas. This woman doesn’t think of gay people as people first, she thinks of the gay part first. She thinks there is something inherently wrong with being gay and that gay people should hide who they are because of it. She doesn’t believe that those relationships can just be; she thinks they are bad for her children to see, that they should be hidden away. Because she wants good role models for her children and she believes that means heterosexual role models, preferably Christian ones.
This woman in not tolerant though she really, really, wants to believe she is.
And I have to be ok with it. I have to be tolerant. It’s my burden as a liberal.
My version of tolerance, what I need to struggle to remember, is that different belief systems must exist on level ground and I must treat them all as equal, provided they are not being used to hurt people. I believe that all religions are equally valid and do not hold my own religion, Unitarianism, above the rest. I believe all political viewpoints are equally enlightened and my liberalism isn’t the only right answer (thought I acknowledge my knee-jerk reaction to call some politicians names and shout at the tv when they start talking – I’m not proud of it). I believe all consensual adult relationships are equally correct and I don’t think my heterosexual marriage is the ideal. So, I need to tolerate what this woman believes and file it away under “Things that are different from what I believe” and do my damndest not to go all smug and think about how much better I am than she is.
I have to let her live her life as she chooses and I have to expect that she will let me live my life as I choose and we should both allow our smugness to come out only when we think about how great it is that we live in a country and an era where is it permissible to go about our business with no worry that someone will slap their value system in our face and tell us ours in wrong and we must conform to theirs.
The imposition of a value structure onto others who may or may not share it, the assertions that that value system is the best one and everyone should accept it, the use of a value system to remove those who do not hold to it from an environment – that is intolerance made manifest.
You see I think, and I don’t have an academic studies to back this up, but I think that if you believe your religion is the best one, then you might think it’s ok to belittle people because of their religion. I think that if you think your political party is unerringly right and all others are misguided, you think it’s ok to mock people because of the bumper stickers on their cars in election years. I think that if you believe that your relationship is the only right kind of relationship then you think it’s ok to deny people in other kinds of relationships rights. I think that merely “tolerating” difference while still allowing yourself the arrogance of believing that you’re actually better than those you tolerate leads to bullying behavior. It leads to disenfranchising behavior. It leads to abusive behavior. It leads to discriminatory behavior.
It leads to harm unto others. And that I cannot tolerate.
For another great take on tolerance, check out Mary Mac’s post from yesterday at Pajamas and Coffee. She tackles the subject with a heck of a lot more humor, and a lot of wisdom from kids.