01 July 2015

We're Not Finished Here

Seventeen years ago this week I had recently finished my PhD and had signed a contract to begin a job at a smallish private university in New Jersey. I went off to the International Dyke March in New York City. A photographer with a press pass pointed his huge lens in the direction of my friends and me, and I panicked.

My job talk had been a queer reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, on the theory that if they didn't want to hire me after hearing it, then it wasn't the right institution for me.

Still, the university is in a pretty red county in a deep-purple state, and a careful academic analysis is different from photos with a bunch of women in various states of dress. Or not. I had met most of my future colleagues only at a long day of interviewing, and I had no idea how they might react if they saw that photo. And it was a tenure-track job. I didn't want to screw it up before I even arrived on campus. After I'd been on campus for a few months, the department rattlesnake let me know I wasn't the first choice candidate. Who knows?

The Supreme Court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land brings us a long way away from that day. It followed some smaller steps. Clinton's dictum of "don't ask, don't tell" for gays in the armed services now seems completely backward, as does Obama's slow movement toward gay rights.

But like the removal of the Confederate flag from many municipalities and state houses in recent days, marriage equality is a beginning, not an endpoint. Gays and lesbians can still be fired in many states. Churches are burning across the South, and people in power are silent.

We still have a lot of work to do. I don't want any gay or trans kid to fear coming out to her parents, or be shamed by his classmates, or get beaten up by acquaintances. I don't want any mother to have to fear for her sons. I want full inclusion for people who are disabled, who are trans, who have chronic illnesses. Not tolerance: acceptance and respect.

And I want us to quit using plastic and eating the animals.

Does that make me an outrageous idealist? Well then.