So, here’s what I’ve been struggling with lately: I’m 42 at the moment and will all-too-soon turn 43.
It’s not my age that’s nagging me — I’ve long since learned that given the history of humanity, growing older in relative comfort is something to be prized as a luxury rather than feared. What’s nagging is my experience. I’ve been out of the closet as a gay man for more than two decades.
As is the vogue thing to say these days, things do get better. I’ve watched as they have in my own life and as they have for others. I came of age in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when things seemed far more grim for gay men, when the culture wars were being fought with a virulence that would seem out of place in today’s political climate where even anti-gay politicians often feel the need cloak themselves in the language of ”tolerance.”
There are the funerals I thought I would have to attend but never did because new treatments led to longer lives. There are the professions I had thought blocked to me that now not only welcome LGBT people but actively recruit them. There is my life outside the gayborhood I thought I would never leave, where I find myself comfortable being half of the gay couple on a surprisingly diverse suburban street.
In short, while life’s not perfect and society as a whole isn’t as accepting as we would hope (though it’s inexorably moving in that direction), I have much to be happy about.
Except, I’m often not.
I’m a big believer in the civic duties of participating in our government, so this past year has been one of exceptional frustration watching our government prove astoundingly incapable of dealing with the issues and lives of LGBT people. Like so many others, I’ve harped endlessly on the fact that solid supermajorities of Americans — anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of them — support ending ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Yet, once again, we sit and watch members of Congress squabble and grandstand as if there were actually some controversy involved.
When Cindy McCain appeared in a NOH8 video last week denouncing how politicians deny gay Americans the opportunity to serve their country, it seemed like a small, fresh breeze of honesty from the wife of the senator who has vowed to continue denying that opportunity. Then she took back the comments, saying that she ”stands by [her] husband’s stance on DADT,” and it turned out that the air was every bit as stale and musty as that coming from her husband, John.
It is another small moment among many that on some basic level push me toward despair at the state of my own government. Even someone who claims to support one of the most basic rights of equality in our nation — the right to serve — feels it necessary to give in to the language and culture of anti-gay bigotry. The cowardice of John McCain is emblematic of the cowardice of our government as a whole — Democrat and Republican, Congress and White House — on understanding the lives of LGBT people.
This is the time when our government can show it can overcome cowardice about equality. For once, it would nice to know that we can achieve change and equality through our participation in the political process, rather than despite it.