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To Be an American

I always wanted to be a Canadian, one of those sensible, pleasant people huddled together for warmth throughout the long winters, tittering in their parkas at the antics of the brash and aggressive neighbors to the south. This international dynamic mirrors perfectly the one within my family: a gay boy with four horrifyingly straight brothers, begetters of such extraordinary chaos as to leave me huddled alone up in my room, separated by an imaginary line in the earth, praying for rescue by a Mountie.

It didn’t help that I never felt American. My lifetime has paralleled the rise of a base and paleolithic conservatism whose visions of “liberty” and “justice” and “pursuit of happiness” did not leave room for the likes of me. I grew up hearing people in power lie about who I am and what I wanted out of life, and these lies rendered their other ones even more obvious to my ears . . . and, apparently, to my ears alone. Nowhere within my family or the media we were exposed to was there much dissension with the party line. To be American meant to be white, to be straight, to get married to someone of the opposite sex, to buy a house, to have lots of kids, to buy! buy! buy!, to buy even more!, and to cheer on the wars that furthered the interest of our corporations. America never told me it was all right to be gay, or that I might one day exercise the personal freedom to marry a man that I love; indeed, these most basic things about my life were actively maligned and outlawed and dehumanized in state houses across the land. And I reciprocated their disgust, outraged that my pursuit of happiness was actively thwarted by such cold-hearted intellectual midgets who, with all of the actual problems in the world, would expend so many resources on denying their brothers and sisters this major source of comfort and security. 

As with many minorities, my electoral calculus was not focused on who might make my life better, for that was unfathomable, but who might hurt it the least. I watched wiser nations, including my fantasy homeland of Canada, enact sweeping protections for gay people, legalizing our marriages, celebrating our loves, and it literally never occurred to me that it might happen here, even as more politicians pandered for our money and a few lonely states started coming to their senses. When my own state legalized same-sex marriage last year, I wept for days afterward as it sank in. Nationally, I was still a second-class citizen, but this was the first glimmer that there might be something other than an endless political struggle to legally make the most personal decision that any two people can make. 

Still, when I heard Windsor v. United States was going to the Supreme Court, I felt mostly dread. I put it out of my mind as much as possible. I avoided conversations on the topic and erased all of the rabble-rousing emails without opening them. I just couldn’t envision success in any institution that depended on the cancerous values of Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts, and I couldn’t bear to think of failure, of more torment and wrangling and insults to my battered spirit.

And then, the ruling.

As I write this on the Fourth of July, stray fireworks are booming in the humid Baltimore night, indistinguishable from the gunshots. The same Supreme Court has effectively blocked the votes of some of our most vulnerable citizens. The government is tapping into our private information. Our robot airplanes are raining death from the sky on innocent people around the world, and our pollution is dooming millions more to climatic cataclysm. I face all of this for the first time as an American citizen who is recognized equally by my government, a government that, for the first time, can claim its  actions are fully in my interests. It is an awesome responsibility, with the full awareness of all of those who yet to have this standing, including those LGBT citizens of less progressive states and the people of color who are profiled and targeted in endless ways.  

I am lucky. 

Honestly, I was lucky before, as well, in so many ways, but it has a new flavor now that I am no longer an alien in this land, whose full equality to his fellow citizens was dependent upon northward emigration. I’m not proud to be an American yet, but for the first time ever, I do feel like I’m American. Mr. Spock is free to marry his Captain Kirk; I don’t yet know what that means for my own life, but I do know I will not abandon my mission to spread logic to the masses. This is a moment to pause, acknowledge, refresh, ponder, and set our sights anew.