9 November 2012

Day 9: I Can Show You the World

Day 9 – Friday, Nov. 9
Community Care Package. Create the perfect care package for your members or fellow patients
Tell a descriptive story about a memory

This is not a story about illness. The historic election on Tuesday brought this memory to mind.

It's 1992. I'm in college, and the girls on my dorm hall are painting a mural. It's Aladdin and Jasmine on the magic carpet, with the genie nearby. We have little cups of paint. There's one accident with the carpet. I worry that we'll be billed for it at the end of the year, but we never are. We're laughing about how Jasmine's waist is the same size as her neck. At some point, we end up taking a break, sitting on the floor and leaning against unpainted bits of wall. My mind is drifting a bit from the conversation, and when I drift back in, I realize that Bev is telling us that she is a lesbian.

It's an electrifying moment for me. I'm 20, and I've never met a gay or lesbian before. (Or so I believe at the time. I know now that I must have known dozens, but growing up where I did, and as sheltered as I was, no one was out.) Bev is the first.

We all take it well. Or as well as a group of girls in a southern state at a religious college two decades ago can take it. Some of us are supportive. Some of us are silent. I fear I am in the latter group. Gradually, we start painting again. Someone turns on the cassette player again, with the Aladdin movie soundtrack playing. One Jump Ahead. Friend Like Me. A Whole New World.

Bev's looks were that of the stereotype 'Butch'. She was large, and not feminine in appearance. She occasionally had a few hairs on her chin that needed to be plucked. A couple of years later, when she was my roommate, I asked what she would do if it turned out that she just needed more female hormones. What if that would make her straight? Would she do it? I wince now at my youthful insensitivity. I knew so little then about the LGBT community. I don't even know if the term 'LGBT' existed then. 

I lost touch with Bev after college, but since then, I've seen a whole new world emerge. Gays and straights have come together to the ballot box to vote to allow same sex marriage in three states. Civil Partnerships have been legal here in the UK for years. There is a younger generation who doesn't understand what the bit deal is about homosexuality. They'll never remember the first time they met a gay person, anymore than I remember the first time I met someone of a different race than myself. 

There's still so much hatred. So many people who feel threatened. The state where I went to college, where Bev grew up, has an anti-gay amendment in their constitution, as do more than half the states in the US. The Church of England is opposing plans by the legislature to convert Civil Partnerships into full marital rights.

But on Tuesday, three states voted to allow same sex marriage. It won't be long before bigotry against gays goes the same way as racial bigotry and sexism, and it's thrilling to watch those walls crumble. But it will never mean the same to me as it will to Bev, and to the millions of gays and lesbians out there who simply ask to be treated as equals.

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