Queer is Normal, Shannon Mustipher reflects on Saturday`s Prop 8 rally

I am pleased to introduce a new writer, Shannon Mustipher. This is her very personal and intesting reflection on the recent Prop 8 debate and rally.

Fight H8 at NYC City Hall, November 15, 2008.
The Kids Are Alright
By Shannon Mustipher

Saturday November 15th was a remarkable day that was personally significant for a number of reasons. First, the whether was strangely beautiful, unseasonably warm: I barely needed the jacket that I had on, and I even saw a few folks in shorts and flip flops.  There was a kind of drama in the air, due to the threat of intermittent, heavy downpours. You knew that at any moment, you might have to dash for cover or get soaked.  So even though it was nice, the streets were fairly empty and that, along with the thick blanket of grey overhead, gave the day a moody romantic quality more befitting London than New York.

Second, (bear with me as I jump forward in time,) the bar I worked at later that night was teeming with queer boys and girls…it seriously looked like a gay night.  One of my friends got invited on a date (I am proud to say that I get the assist on that), and I made a few new acquaintances as well.  Not that our bar doesn’t have a number of queer regulars…it’s just that most are couples, who come in together and chat among themselves.  My job is not historically a good place for us to make a love connection,  but that was turned on its head Saturday night!  I like to think that Fight H8 had a hand in this, but we will have to come back to that later.

Finally, and most importantly, Saturday the 15th was the day that I became truly proud to be who I am.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’ve been out from day one:  I told my family the same week I realized, (I was 15 at the time). Soon after, I started sporting a rainbow patch on the backpack.  Mind you this all took place in Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the 90’s. The KKK national headquarters was five minutes away from my house at the time.  There was no Queer as Folk, no L Word. It was not cute to be a lesbian there.  A few people even threatened to jump me.  My younger sister, bless her heart, slugged a guy she overheard saying something to that effect. (Thanks, Tamika!)

Later, I was out to my church, where there was no legitimate way for me to express my sexuality within its theological framework.  I really wanted to learn about G-d, and to be part of a faith community, and the price I paid for that was being single. I was ok with that, for a certain amount of time.  A few people did talk to me about seeking reparative therapy (I didn’t), but most of them did not.  And if you’re guessing, I left.  I don’t know for certain what the Bible says about homosexuality.  I know how the text has been traditionally interpreted….and my church’s interpretation of the text could not support my being romantically involved with another woman. Most of my friends from church are married, some have families.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted that per se, but I begin to feel that I was missing out on something that might prove to be very good for me, so I left. All that, is to say I have always known the importance of being out, especially in places historically hostile to us. My silence would have made me a co-conspirator in shame and hate.

I wear a number of “identity hats”: Daughter, Sister, Woman of Color, American, Artist/Creative, Believer. Queer, Southerner, Liberal.  I care about the world, believe me, and I’ve chosen a very specific area in which to make my contribution to the greater good:  I am a visual artist. Still, I might also point out that I never felt like I had much personally at stake in the debates about queer rights and what we need to be able to fully function in this society, as I have felt, up until now, that the social climate is ‘open enough’ for many of us to live our lives as we wish, and certainly an improvement over how things were even twenty years ago in some places:  I’m not afraid to kiss, or hold hands with a girl on the street.  If I’m speaking to someone and it becomes clear that they might think I am straight, I don’t take the easy out and ‘pass’, I’ll find a way to come out, mentioning my preference for women as casually as I would my preference for anything else.  I live in NYC, after all, and it’s not easy to live this way everywhere.  Still, I haven’t done much to involve myself in a larger queer culture and the dialogue about our issues. I haven’t felt called to actively participate in the work for change. I chalked this indifference up to temperament and my thinking that, “well, I’m queer, but that’s not the only thing I am, I have other things I want to focus on.”

A darker, less flattering read of my lack of participation could be that conservatives have succeeded on some level in their desire to repress me: maybe I’ve sublimated my need to engage my identity politically into nerdy philosophizing, art making, and the pursuit of success.  The more I think about it, the more it seems like conservatives don’t just want us in the closet, they actually want us to be gone.  We have to show them that they cannot banish us from existence with laws, as if being queer is a debatable issue, not a fact of life. Some of you may feel sorrow (or anger, depending on your temperament) as you read this.  Might I be the queer equivalent of an Uncle Tom? Could my approach to being out be less about self-acceptance and more about political correctness?  Let’s face it, being in the closet is not only viewed as cowardly these days, but for the most part unnecessary, if not just silly.  I might be a lot of things, but I try to keep my silliness to a minimum.  If my being out was just about being P.C, those days are done.  What I like to think is more true is that I’ve always figured that we are basically free to live as we please anyway, so who cares what the laws actually say about marriage?  You live in a place hostile to queers?  Leave, move to a big city.  You love someone?  Commit to them and make a life together.  You’re family has a problem with your sexuality, or the fact that you’re dating so and so?  Well, don’t talk to them, leave them alone.  Fine.  Easy.  Wrong

Wrong, because by leaving, and ghettoizing ourselves, we make it easy for hate to be justified.  By settling for domestic partnership status, we agree that there is something fundamentally different about us.  By making all the concessions and accommodations, we make it ok for the people who think that they have a problem with us to stay that way.   If you don’t like me, why should I leave?  Why should I need to change, while you get to stay the same?  Forget that.  The Fight H8 rally was the first time in my life where I could stand there and feel like being gay was normal.  Can you believe it?  15 years of loving women and I feel this way for the first time?  The crowd was great, and the vibe of the rally was positive, passionate, and life-affirming.  Not a hint of anger and hostility in the proceedings…it was about focusing on enacting change in our society, to make it more livable for all of us.  Anthony D Wiener (D, NY) gave a rousing speech at the start of the rally, his booming voice and familiar accent beckoning me from three blocks away and affirming my pride in my Brooklyn zip code:  “We are not going to rest at night until every citizen in every state in this country can say, ‘This is the person I love,’ and take their hand in marriage!”.  Kim Stoltz from MTV News declared, “I am done with being a 2nd class citizen,” while Daniella Sea admitted to us that she’d never considered that she might want to be married someday…until now. Former Ms. America Kate Shindle, who made a point to identify herself as conservative and Catholic, emphatically declared that she has always said yes, two people who love one another, regardless of gender, should be allowed to marry.  One speaker gave us the phone number of a state politician from the Bronx who is moving to enact legislation that will ban same sex marriage in New York.  His name is Senator Rubin Diaz Sr, and the number is 718 991 3161 Call him right now to let him know how you feel!

Over and over, the speakers exhorted the crowd to just talk to people.  Talk to your family, talk to the religious and conservative people that you know, let them see you for who you are: lesbian, gay, genderqueer, trans, but most importantly, human, and a person who can fall in love, and who might want to consummate that love in the same way that straight people have been able to for years, by getting married. The people voting for Proposition 8 probably didn’t have any people who were out to them in their personal lives.  I don’t know how you could see your friend, sibling, son, or daughter in a loving, healthy relationship with someone and not want them to stay there and to be supported in it.

The crux of the message I heard at the rally: it’s time for us to do everything we can to contribute to making this country a good place for all of us to be.  We don’t need to blame, or to hate those who hate us. We need to be out in a fuller sense of the word, and in so doing, we will make a compelling collective case to put an end to the toxic fear, hate, and ignorance gripping our society. I feel so proud, and lucky, to have been there, and I have only begun to think about it’s implications for my own life, and some changes I need to make for myself.  That afternoon, I started texting all my friends, looking for someone to share the experience with.  Unfortunately, everyone was at work, or at school, or otherwise engaged, and so unable to join me. I could also only stay for a brief time, as I still needed to pick up my mac, feed the cat, and later on open the bar.

But no matter, I got my chance to celebrate later, by holding court over a queer night that felt ‘normal’ in a typically straight bar, because, guess what?  Queer is normal.  I was born into a culture that has gone to great lengths to tell me otherwise, but after Saturday, there is no room inside of me to harbor those attitudes any longer. Maybe the folks walking past my work that night could sense this from the street, and they knew that my bar was a good place to be.  I don’t know….maybe I never will. What I do know is that I’d like to thank all the organizers, speakers, and supporters of Fight H8, for providing us with some new models on which to base our pursuit of a fuller, more meaningful equality.  I am excited to see the changes taking place in our country and those that lie ahead.

SM

For more information on how to join in the creation of positive change go to http://www.jointheimpact.com

4 Responses to “Queer is Normal, Shannon Mustipher reflects on Saturday`s Prop 8 rally”

  1. Deana Lawson Says:

    Damn girl, you can write! I remember telling you how good you can write when you sent me the text about your work.

    Your thoughts are fluid, I can understand and relate. At the same time the article is informative and personal. and real.

    rock on,

    deana

  2. thebrooklynsocialite Says:

    That is what I told her too! Thanks for joing the dialougue Deana!

  3. i’m right there with you, shannon. i too feel the power in the movement without feeling the need to identify myself as something more than myself. i’m not just queer. i’m dave. and dave deserves every right as everyone else.

  4. […] Queer is Normal, Shannon Mustipher reflects on Saturday`s Prop 8 rally […]

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