From the Editor: Happy New Year

By Andy Lien January 12, 2012

Categories: Our Affairs, Politics

What a year it will be.

While resolutions are on our minds and thoughts stray to the past, I can’t help but think about where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going.  The holidays were a time when, I hope, our readers found tidings of joy rather than shame, fear, or closets…but I know that expectations need to be realistic and I’m sure that going home wasn’t a pleasant option or experience for everyone.  I thought about home as I was at the “Center Stage: Home for the Holidays” fundraising event for Minnesotans United for All Families last month (photos on 12-13 in the print and online edition).

Watching the crowd at the Center Stage event at the Cowles Center, there was a diversity in appearances—whether ages or genders or apparel or skin color be the case—and there was a comfort. An ease. A normal.  The performers and their acts were everything we expect from performers from the local stages—talent and excellence. The content varied from songs and dances to drama, spoken word, comedy, and drag.

One of the more surprisingly poignant parts of the show happened when Miss Richfield 1981 asked all the same-sex couples in the audience to stand up.  Then, increment by increment, she had them sit down…those who had been together 5, 10, 15 years until fewer were standing, but had been together for over twenty years. More, even. The house lights were up and we could see who they were.  We applauded. I felt chills and warmth all at once.

As I looked at the couples, I had another thought: There are people I know who don’t believe you exist.  Looking around the theater, I thought: They don’t believe in you, either. You as a couple.  You as a single.  You as a gay man.  You as a lesbian.  You as a bisexual.  You as not even knowing how you’d identify. It was a sinking feeling.  The realization after the high.  Where’d it come from?  Nowhere far.

Thinking to numerous recent conversations I’ve had with people who may keep rather narrow circles, they’re still asking me for scientific proof that homosexuality is natural—which doesn’t even get into anything like gender identity or the like.  It’s strictly surface and rather elementary, but that’s where they are.  Words like hippocampus and hypothalamus come up.  Genes.  Chromosomes.  Nature versus nurture.  Choice or not. It’s a place that we may consider, but we don’t stay there.  We don’t put down roots in the curiosity—because we don’t base whether or not GLBT people exist, or should exist, on the answer to the question.

Why don’t we?  Because we are them.  All around us, wherever we fall in the GLBT or A community, we’re there.  We know we exist because we exist.  It doesn’t take much more faith than that, usually.  I see you, you see you, we see each other.  Our versions of homosexuality and sexual identity are from personal experience, rather than from television or “that one guy” we knew.

After the show, I walked away from the Cowles Center and toward my parking ramp in City Center.  As I crossed Hennepin and continued on the sidewalk, I heard a man say gently, “Hey, girl.”

I looked.  I think it’s the naïveté in me that makes me look every time…not very street-smart at 11:00 at night on Hennepin. A tall man carrying a grocery bag was strolling toward me.  Behind a beard and a scarf I recognized my childhood friend, Aaron, the only person in the history of my time in high school who was ever unabashedly out.  The one who was teased mercilessly both for his way of being as well as his ability to act like any high school boy or girl can, rather dramatic and somewhat needling.  He’s wickedly smart and for a long time after high school I worried where he got swallowed up by the city and if he’d been spit out.  He’s from home and many of us from home aren’t ready for what greets us outside of it. It’s scary, it’s unknown, it’s yet uncharted…by us at any rate.  That night, he was simply walking home to Boom Island with his groceries. Very urban, very normal.

Thankfully, we’d caught up in the recent months, sharing our stories and lives and even celebrating my new job.  At the time, it occurred to me that he was the most coincidental person to run across that night after that event.  The thoughts still racing in my head, I ran them past him.  I asked him what he thought about it—that people at home don’t necessarily believe that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people actually exist, or should exist.  He very calmly and peacefully responded in agreement, but not necessarily with as much militance as I was exuding.

He may be ambivalent.  He may be more forgiving.  He may want nothing to do with them.  I don’t know.

The people who implicitly or explicitly question whether or not homosexuals exist are more numerous and intelligent than we might think.  If we’re wondering how we’re going to win this fight against the anti-marriage amendment in November, they’re wondering why they have to vote on something that doesn’t exist.  Or shouldn’t be  made to seem like it does exist, because it doesn’t without proof. There are many fights this year—and this rather hidden one can’t be underestimated.  The people who tell us to our faces that they’ll vote for the amendment to make sure the abominations aren’t given equal rights may not be the ones to worry about as much.  The people who are rational and even contemplating the questions of origin are the ones to pay attention to.

The ones that we have to be the proof to.

People who are not near us or in a more densely populated and diverse area may not have that similar awareness.  Oh, yes.  It’s a slippery slope to do anything so stupid as to pit city folk against country folk.  That’s underestimating all of us.  But, there’s something to be said for not only being exposed to people who are different, but being exposed to many of them, frequently.  Constantly.  Until members of the GLBT community aren’t seen as archetypes or all the same, it’s hard for the voting body of Minnesota to understand that inclusion is going to be the norm.  This is happening.  We’re not asking you to believe in something that doesn’t exist.  We’re right here.

But, they don’t see us.

Aaron and I are now in the city.  We left home.  Guess what?  I daresay that most of us did.  It’s why we’re so comfortable. We have normalcy.  We applaud relationships.  We walk with people who needed to know who we are—who may not have been so open-minded as we force them to be, simply by existing—but now do.

What I consider to be home is about an hour west of the Twin Cities.  My great-grandparents’ family farm was in rural Litchfield, my parents raised us in Dassel and Cokato, and Cokato is where I go home to—if you know your geography, yes, that butts right up against the Sixth District.  An hour away from the Cities.

There are a fair number of us who’ve left that home, in particular.  In the pews of my home church have sat Joe, Executive Director of the Aliveness Project; former Minneapolis council member, Scott; and new OutFront Minnesota staff member, Javen, husband of Oby.  Another of my oldest classmates and friends is political activist and Facebook sensation, Del.  Heck, HGTV’s David Bromstad went to my high school.  Not only did everyone survive, but everyone returns home on occasion.  We don’t conspire or contrive any gay agenda while we’re here in the city, but perhaps we should.  Perhaps our gay agenda should be to go home and be unapologetically normal.  Exist.  Expose.  Simply raise awareness by being there.

It’s an important year.  There is so much work to be done.  Some of it might be more passive than we think.  Because, we can’t ask someone to vote against something that they don’t know is hurting us, because they don’t know that we are us.

May you have a wonderful year.  I look forward to existing with you and everyone in the GLBT and A community.  And I look forward to more applause.

With thanks,
Andy

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