Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tact or Cowardice?

When it comes to speaking my mind, I suck. Not exactly.... I mean, I find some way to get what I think out there. Usually it involves this blog or reams of notebook paper or the word processor on my computer. Sometimes it involves a more public forum, something like Twitter or Facebook where family or friends can see what I've written and more easily respond.

This is where it gets sticky.

I have friends who fall all along the political spectrum on all manner of issues. Guns, animal rights, taxes, abortion, creationism vs. evolution, censorship, sex education, gay marriage, the death penalty. You name the issue and I guarantee I've got very good friends as far to each extreme of it as you can go.

How does this work, exactly? I'd like to be able to say that if a serious subject did come up in conversation and tempers started to flare that we'd just back away from it, "agree to disagree." But such an idea implies that I not only have an opinion but am willing to voice it, which is... untrue. In fact, I usually do the exact opposite: I avoid these subjects at all costs.

Of course, people don't necessarily have to talk about these issues all the time. There are plenty of other things we can agree on: television shows, favorite ways to spend a rainy afternoon, best ice cream flavors, amazing books you have to read, etc. But when the subjects do come up, when the times come around when such remarks are only natural... well, I fall back on silence.

Tonight my twitter feed was filled with celebratory messages about the vote approving legalized gay marriage in New York. I scanned all the messages and retweets and felt jealous and a little sad. I envied these people their ability to speak their minds without fear.

Because inevitably if you speak an opinion, someone whom you love and respect is going to disagree and will call you on it. It's awkward and uncomfortable. It often involves arguing back and forth, each trying to prove your point to the other, to get the other person to change their minds. I hate arguing. I try to avoid it at all costs. Thus: silence.

It's not just the arguing. It's that I hate disappointing people, and I feel like if I speak my mind someone will inevitably think "Oh, she's been brainwashed into that school of thinking..." When you're silent, when you're a blank page, when you're an empty vessel you can navigate throughout your sea of diverse friends and family without ever making waves or causing problems. I call it tact because I don't want to hurt anyone, and I don't want to lose anyone's respect. But I think it's really cowardice because it is rooted in a desperate, panicky kind of fear.

There are times I will speak out: I call out racist and homophobic comments, oppose people who advocate censorship, and even occasionally get the nerve to remind people who gripe about their taxes that without them we wouldn't have schools, roads, and libraries. If asked about guns, I'll tell the truth: they make me really uncomfortable, I never want to have one anywhere near my house, and I would have no problem at all with hand guns being completely banned in the U.S. I'll often quote Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring to explain my stance on the death penalty: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” I will gladly list the reasons that I despise Sarah Palin. I may even revisit the Gandalf quote to tentatively enter a discussion about abortion.

But for some reason this gay marriage thing has me stumped. Maybe it's because it isn't as clear-cut to my mind as these other issues are. I can see very clearly how both sides see their way of thinking as logical, and why both sides would be offended or disgusted by the views of the other.

I love C.S. Lewis; I think he was a very wise man. In one of his works, probably Mere Christianity, he talks about homosexuality as if it were a sexual disorder. As if it were a logical thing that might occur if the original design were to go awry. As horrifying as it sounds, I get that. If the original design is two biologically unique individuals whose combined anatomy creates new life and perpetuates a cycle of a romance/sexual relationship followed by the creation of a family, then yes... I can see how homosexuality would put a kink in the works. The logical and scientific part of my brain could see how an aberration from the biological norm would be seen as a disorder or flawed way of life. In a Darwinian sense, lacking the ability to procreate would definitely negatively affect your status when it comes to "survival of the fittest." And that's not even getting into the psychology of relationships, traits of gender or personality, roles within the family unit, etc.

But the creative part of my brain says, "Wait a second! Is that really how you're defining relationships? Can you even define relationships? And since when has 'being a couple' been only about having kids? Not to mention, why be limited by old-fashioned ways of doing things when modern technology has given us the tools we need to perpetuate the cycle regardless of your significant other's gender?" There's also the old, rather romantic refrain of "But why would you want to stand in the way of LOVE?" The idea is to paint those who oppose such a notion as hatemongers or ignorant, prejudiced fools. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of those in the world. But many of the people I know who oppose gay marriage aren't hateful in the least, they're just very entrenched in their definitions of traditional gender roles or are trying to make sense of a religion that calls for us to love one another, even our enemies, and yet calls homosexual behavior an abomination and advocates the death of those who engage in it.

I don't think people who oppose gay marriage are all evil close-minded bigots, and I don't think the people who support it are all sex-obsessed hippies with loose morals. I think people are confused. I think a lot of changes are taking place in terms of gender traits and identity and that it's redefining the way we think about ourselves and our relationships with other people. I think there are waaaaaaaay to many other issues at play here for us to be flinging mud at one another.

So here's what else I think, the things I was afraid to say on twitter and facebook: I'm so happy they legalized gay marriage in New York. I think in terms of our government and the way that it is set up that it is ludicrous to deny a citizen basic rights allowed to other citizens because of a single distinguishing factor like sexual orientation. What's more, I like seeing people make each other happy. I love seeing people in love getting a chance to express their love publicly and without fear, and to have it recognized by the government. This picture makes me happy:

But at the same time, my mind is not completely made up about homosexuality. I know it seems backwards of me to say this, but there is so much logic in the way the natural world functions that I sometimes wonder if the "thinking-outside-the-box" mindset humanity brings to the table will do more damage than harm in the end. (I know, I know... homosexuality does exist in nature. That's a whole other rabbit trail I'm not going to go into right now.) Basically, if we take this step to redefine relationships, marriage, love, sex, gender, and family, then we're going to have to live with the consequences, good or bad.

See how many different people I've managed to make angry in just those last two paragraphs? This is why I keep my mouth shut. Before I called it tact or cowardice, but maybe it's just self preservation. Maybe it's just me realizing that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, so perhaps I should just keep my opinion to myself.

I don't know. But for now I'm done. So let's return to silence...

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