Until her gay friends and family members can hold hands with their loved ones without fear of discrimination, and book wedding venues in the town where they live, Emily Heist Moss will not stop fighting on their behalf.
I don’t remember the first time I met a gay person. Instead, I remember sitting around a fire pit on a lake in New Hampshire with my godfather, my dad’s best friend. I was about 10, and I was relaying in excruciating detail the entire plot of this awesome new book I was obsessed with, Harry Potter. During a rare lull in my unrelenting narrative, my godfather jumped in, “Hey, Em?” He paused, “You know I’m gay, right?”
And the funny thing was, I did know. I wasn’t sure how I knew, or what it meant exactly, only that when my godfather and his friend showed up at family dinners they were just like all the other adult couples I knew, boring and old. I said, “Yeah, totally,” and kept talking about Hogwarts. Because of his presence in my life, the “gay thing” was never a thing at all, it just…was. I was an ally by default.
But I was lucky. I grew up in Massachusetts in a progressive community where gay people were not uncommon. I knew more than one kid with same-sex parents. My public school had a Gay Straight Alliance and celebrated an annual Diversity Day. Most kids in America still don’t live in places like that, but this week we took a huge step towards a world where more kids will be allies by default. By overturning DOMA, the Supreme Court validated that discrimination against gay marriages is unconstitutional and that there is no legal basis for creating second-class unions. We still have a ways to go, but the path is looking clearer and clearer.
This month, alongside our LGBTQ friends, we allies celebrate Pride, the annual excuse to wear glitter, wave flags, and cry when ancient veterans march by out and proud. Pride is also the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, referenced alongside other historic civil rights triumphs by the most famous ally, the President, in his recent inaugural address. In addition to partying under rainbow flags, Pride is one of the most visible ways that we can demonstrate our progress. Whether it’s the endless string of politicians who now flock to march with this growing segment of voters or the expanding list of mega-corporations that plaster their logo all over a float, it’s clear that Pride, at least in urban centers, is mainstream. The parade is one of my favorite days in Chicago; it’s when I feel surrounded by “my people,” folks whose values and vision of the future most coincide with mine.
But let’s be honest, they’re not my people in one very specific way. I have all the markers of an ally, the buttons and the stickers, the duct-taped NOH8 portrait and the donation receipts from Equality Illinois. I’ve signed my name to petitions, phoned elderly voters to ask their stance, and left polite messages for my representatives. My voting record is clear and my name is on a dozen pro-equality screeds floating around the Internet.
The thing about being an ally is that under the rainbow flags and temporary tattoos, I bear none of the scars. I’ve never been harassed while holding my partner’s hand, never been afraid to show public affection, never been called “faggot” or “dyke” with the intent to humiliate. If I daydream about a wedding, there is no legal barrier blocking my path. Both the best and worst what-ifs—adopting a child, falling in love overseas, illness and death—hold only the average level of complication, nothing exacerbated by my status as “other.” We are allies, but we are not trapped under the same thumb of injustice.
There are plenty of injustices to go around, however, and fighting the man in one capacity trains you to fight the man in another. Feminists are accustomed to questioning gendered assumptions and pushing back against tradition as a rational argument for law. Historically, feminism and gay rights (particularly for men) haven’t always played nicely, and some people still wonder how these two movements work together.
My feminism is rooted in the idea that we should avoid making assumptions about preference and ability based on gender, and instead help people find what they’re passionate about and how they can contribute to the world. My feminism is about creating equal opportunity for happiness and fulfillment regardless of the lottery ticket you drew at birth. That’s my big picture feminism, my if-I-were-Queen-of-the-Universe-feminism. So of course equal rights for all are part of that platform. Of course ensuring that whatever legal protections I’m entitled to are extended to everyone. Of course removing any unjust roadblocks to the happiness of my friends and family is my agenda. Why wouldn’t it be?
It is insane to me that I could drag one of my lousy online dates down to a courthouse and walk away husband and wife, with all benefits and legitimacy those labels confer, and my friends in committed relationships are still being given the runaround on basic equality. That’s madness. But in the end, it’s not about marriage, right? Marriage inequality is a symptom of greater inequality, of a system that has a moral agenda that does not treat all of its citizens equally.
The upside, though? That moral agenda is fading fast. The next generation of kids won’t meet their “first gay person.” They will never have to change their minds, or “evolve” their position to realize that equality is important. I lucked into early exposure to a gay person, but by virtue of pop culture and a more visible community, the next generation will all be allies by default.
At Pride, the soldiers always have me weeping first, but the waterworks don’t really get going until I see the kids. They are with their parents, or in support of their teachers, and they almost—not quite, but almost—don’t know why they’re marching. In a few decades they will tell their children about the time they walked in Pride parades and handed out flyers and petitioned at the statehouse. Their children will look at them blankly. It will seem like ancient history.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says&tt;/a>, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.