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The Power of Know

June 28, 2015

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My parents were a Jazz Age couple, the Kit Kat Club, The Onyx and 21 were where they wanted to be, but World War 2, thence children, suburbia and any number of decisions ended that life focus by the time I was born.

But their Party Time friends were a legacy they did not reject. My brother’s godfather was “Uncle Louis” ironically Jewish (my father was fairly anti-Semitic) and “single”. Very early on we kids all knew he was “a homo” (the word “gay” still meant elderly folk being happily amused by something). He was funny, nice and my parents and he laughed almost the entire time he was in our presence.

Like the rest of their friends Louis’ time in my life was limited by my parents’s choices, as he ceased visiting in the 1960’s, but my mother was a decorator in New York and had many “queer” friends – odd how that word was whispered then, trumpeted now.

Knowing Uncle Louis, knowing he was gay, liking him, seeing my parents like him, was one of the billions of data points any child gets dumped in their empty brain by observation, thought and conclusion. Having seen my father eat sardines dumped from can onto Pepperidge Farm, slathered in Hellman’s, I could never, ever, eat them.

Knowing what I knew, when I was leaving my pot-scrubbing gig at a Cornell frat in 1974 and saw Risley College’s Gothic presence, I asked the sophomore next to me what it was, he shrugged and said, “oh, that’s the Gay Dorm.” My mind raced, I remembered someone had said Risley was co-ed, 50-50, and not knowing any gay women (well I knew them, I just did not know they were gay) I was totally psyched to live there: any number of gay men increased my odds at finding success in a place where there were more available females than men interested in them.

When a gay student had relations with his soccer-playing roommate in my freshman dorm, my small all-male dorm went a little nuts: it was a jock-heavy place (2/3’s of the occupants had been captains of high school varsity teams (including me)). Several loudly wanted to put a beat-down on “Hairy Fag” as they now called him, the soccer player’s mother was bereft and came to pick him up, and confided in me that her son would be “turned” by “this homosexual”. For the same reasons I became a Resident Adviser I talked to the angry dorm mates, distraught Mom, very confused soccer player, and “Hairy Fag”.

There was no beat down, the soccer player remained in school, though relocated,  everything passed on, without change in the hatred of the presumed seducer by a few in the dorm, the confusion of the seduced, the terror of the soccer player’s mother and the orientation of the former roommates. When the initiating gay roommate asked why I was so comfortable talking to him and my fellow athletes who wanted him beaten, I shrugged and noted that I knew both worlds, and yet was not gay, and did not want to beat him.

Knowing tempers reacting.

It is easier to react than to think. The extreme reaction against any definition of “marriage” by an overwhelming majority of the population evaporated as the “who cares” attitude of millions of gay people was just in the day-to-day of the ebbing Greatest Generation and Boomers.

The former group was churched into definitions that meant marriage was a specific and necessary construct. The latter group, my Boomer brethren completely voided any structural necessity for marriage. Sex was part of life, not marriage, children were optional and singlehood was a choice, not a sad result.

The fact that a word “marriage” had a definition that precluded legal status for the gay members of  future generations who value marriage even less than we Boomers would seem to mean a “who cares?” attitude by both gay and straight about changing its definition would be a natural outcome.

But knowing tempers reacting. Gay partners needed civil agreements to confer tax, death, medical and ownership rights to each other. Words matter and the clumsy “Domestic Partnership” had zero hope, love and permanence of “Marriage”. “Partnerships” happen all the time – transactions, deals, and quid-pro-quo’s are legalized and defined.

Bloodless, fearful, and cynical “partnerships” are anything but “Marriage”.

Once millions stopped being like my “Uncle Louis” -closeted, compartmentalizing every emotional, sexual, and romantic reality into a lock box – and simply said “Who cares?” and hundreds of millions began to know humans as just human, like them – not a different specie – “marriage” made sense, and “partnership” seemed pretty silly.

Of course political movements focus, legalize, process and promote an agenda, and every agenda is intended to change the day-to-day we experience.

But in most cases, the day-to-day leads the movement in the rest of the population: I knew “Uncle Louis” for every year of my life until I was shuttled off the Buffalo at 13: funny, smart and energetic. He was not a different specie. He, like my parents would have been shocked that “marriage” would ever be anything but man-and-woman.

Because they never knew anything else.

But knowing can undo movements too. Most of us now know babies are babies and not internal organs pretty early in their creation. We know know more about why some of us are “crazy”. We can see into our genomes and predict behaviors, eye color and about when we are likely to die.

What do we do with that knowing?

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