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Letter to younger myself #1: The anti-gay rights amendment

You think that leading the “gay lifestyle” is sinful. You believe the laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “recognize” and therefore legitimize that lifestyle. That’s your real objection to those laws, and that’s why you support Amendment 2, which would overturn them. One reason people support the anti-discrimination laws in the first place is that they are one step toward legitimizing that lifestyle.

While I think you’re missing the point that these laws are more about guaranteeing access to things you take for granted than they are about legitimizing the “gay lifestyle” and that these laws can theoretically protect straight people as well as gay people, your objection is still an honest one, honestly come by. You see through the “special rights” argument that most public supporters of the amendment claim to believe. While you don’t put it in quite these terms, this amendment is a power play and you see it as such, without much pretense that it’s anything other than a battle between your values and theirs.

It won’t suffice to tell you that you’ll change your mind eventually. I realize that at 18, you’re not ready to make the same claims that I am at 44. If I were to insist on that, you might double down on your current position. (And you’ve seen enough Twilight Zone episodes to know that you can’t go back in time and change the past, except for when you can, and then probably in some way you weren’t anticipating.) Instead, I have some thoughts that start with where you are right now.

Listen

I know the “No on Amendment 2” activists come off as insufferably self-righteous. Some of them seem to be just as hateful as the people they believe they are fighting against. And like most activists, they often resort to lazy reasoning. Whatever my own commitments right now, I still agree with you that activists of all kinds ought to abandon the “myth/fact” sheet for being almost completely useless. As a sometime target of these activists, just remember that all activists have to walk a line between raising awareness, rallying those who already agree with them, and convincing others.

More important, remember you have a lot to learn from the “No on 2” people, even if you don’t agree with them. Try listening.  You think you already “listen” to them enough. That’s not true. You hear their slogans and hear them pontificate, but you don’t actually listen to them. Listening means going to some of their meetings, or actually asking questions and making it easy for them to answer. To listen better, don’t offer your own opinion unless asked. That’s not always good advice, but for you, on this issue, at this time in your life, it’s excellent advice.

Listening will do two things. First, it will force you to answer for yourself exactly why and where you disagree. You can uncover and hone your true objections on this issue. Second, it will help you see those you disagree with here as people with their own difficulties, hardship, and sufferings.

Remember your religion

This might seem strange coming from me–but keep going to the weekly Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. Better yet, start going to church, even one that opposes homosexuality. Learn the reasons behind the objections to homosexuality or “the gay lifestyle.” Consult more faiths on the issue. If you do, you might find that the best thought-out reasons for opposing homosexuality aren’t quite what you think. They’re based on sometimes positive views of sex, or non-judgmental views, or judgmental but in a way you haven’t thought of before. I’ve come to reject those anti-gay views anyway, but if one accepts the assumptions on which they’re based, they’re not always and in every way wrong.

Before you get upset, I’m not saying your views are good for you and my views are good for me. I believe my views on this issue are (ultimately) right and yours are (ultimately) wrong. We may both be wrong or we may both be partially right, but we’re not both wholly right.

Also, remember that your religion isn’t only about opposing homosexuality or even opposing “deviant” sexuality. It’s about much more. To mention only one thing, it’s about not judging lest you be judged yourself. You believe homosexuality is wrong. I now disagree, and I can’t change your mind. Instead, I ask you to remember something you’ve long known. We all have our besetting sins. You know yours, or think you do.

Write your sister a letter

In one sense, I don’t have to remind you not to judge others. You don’t judge your sister, not really. You harbor the intellectual thought that she’s in rebellion against God’s plan, but you don’t condemn her or claim any prerogative to condemn her. She and her partner have been too much a part of your life for you to bear them any real animosity.

I’m not saying that you love your sister and therefore Amendment 2 is wrong. I realize what you realize. It’s possible to care about someone, and even forgo judging them, while opposing what they do and believe in.

But reach out to her. Write her a letter. Tell her you look up to her. Tell her how much you enjoyed it when you used to work together at that restaurant and how happy you were simply to be spending time with her. Tell her you look up to her.

You’re damn right it will be awkward. I don’t know how she’ll respond. There are things about her life and about your family that you won’t know for a few years. Even 26 years later, I’m still ignorant of much of it — and for what I do know, it’s not my story to tell. I can say, though, that in about a decade, you’ll become closer. That will be nice, but it also will mean that you’ll have lost about ten years of a friendship that both of you could benefit from.

Beware your tenth plague

I don’t know quite how to say this, whether it’s telling you too much or too little, but I will say that a number of developments will prompt you to question your beliefs about gay rights and about your faith generally at a very visceral level. It won’t primarily be a logical challenge. The shell of your views will live for a little while.  And it won’t be a particularly new challenge. Even now at 18, you’ve been dealing with the roots of this challenge for several years now. What you’re about to face will continue and intensify the seemingly unremitting loneliness and sadness of which you’ve already had many glimpses.

I don’t believe anything I can say now will adequately prepare you for this process. I’m not entirely sure I ought to prepare you for it if I could. Even now, I’m not sure if it was/will be caused by something external to you or by your own choices, or both. It may be a random happenstance, a “just world” doing its magic, or something in between.

This challenge will both soften and harden your heart. You’ll improve your capacity to feel others’ pain but you will often double down in ways that hurt others, sometimes the same people. Whether that will eventually shake out for you the way I in retrospect think it did–I cannot say or know. Eyewitnesses aren’t always the best historians. But just remember that you will know some of what you now inflict on others.

Image credit: Mpls55408, “Colorado No on Amendment 2–1992 Button.” Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic. [CC BY-NC 2.0]


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Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer. ...more →

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11 thoughts on “Letter to younger myself #1: The anti-gay rights amendment

  1. This is wonderful. There is much I would like to say to my younger self as well. I had some uninformed and overly-simplified views, too. And my 60 year old future self would probably feel the same way about current day me.
    Well done.

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  2. This is a beautiful piece, as others have said. I admit it was hard for me to read the first time**, but every time I’ve read it since it’s grown on me.

    ** My letter to myself circa 1998 on this topic would have gone something like:

    Dear younger self,

    It’s OK. This place isn’t as scary as you feel like it is, having just moved here. Not every single person who voted for Amendment 2 actually hates you.

    And also, in 20 years many of them will be fervent supporters of gay rights. Just keep doing you and gently pushing, and things really will be better for people your age when you are twice as old as you are now. It’ll actually be easier in some ways to be LGBTQ in Colorado Springs then, than it is in Montreal right now! So much easier I can’t even tell you because your brain will explode :).

    That said, if anyone is hateful to your face (and there will be many), don’t feel bad about standing your ground. You have good instincts about how in your face it’s okay to be with people, and when to let things slide instead – you don’t have to second-guess yourself so much after the fact, for either reaction.

    Love,
    Maribou

    PS I know Poor Richard’s is “the competition,” but you need to go there and eat pizza in the front room while you watch women flirt with each other. It will up your feeling of safety about 500 percent, reduce your feeling of alienation likewise, and there’s no need for that to take 3 years longer to happen…

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    • And also, in 20 years many of them will be fervent supporters of gay rights.

      One thing I worry about is that my change of heart tracked so closely with others’ changes of heart that I wonder if I’m in some way like those people who 20 years after the Civil Rights movement were “always opposed to racial segregation” when they had probably been at least lukewarm in favor. In other words, I changed my mind about things at about the time it was less dangerous to do so.

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      • FWIW, as someone who was negatively affected by the fear on this issue, I find it far more reassuring than I do worrisome. Needing to feel safer than you presently do, to be able to change your mind about something, is a pretty human trait, and one that to me offers promise, rather than threat. (I mean, obviously that doesn’t excuse any kind of violence, but that was never you in the first place.)

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  3. Gabriel, that was a lovely letter. On consideration, I didn’t mind the cryptic allusions to things you know that neither your 18 year old self nor I know; it added a lot of texture to this reader’s sense of your feeling toward younger you.

    I admire your compassion toward and sort of steelmanning of Gabriel at 18, e.g. specifically crediting him with straightforwardly acknowledging Amendment 2 as a power play – I don’t know him except through you, but I must say I have met exceedingly few 18 year olds who had that level of self awareness: I suspect you might be crediting him with more than he really had.

    But I could also feel annoyed on behalf of your younger self contra-temporally getting the letter – when I was younger (turning 60 soon) I did not generally mind hearing “you’ll see it differently when you are {older, a homeowner, a parent, random other different life circumstance}”, although I often doubted the likelihood of that person’s prophecy about me coming true – so far relatively few of them have, but there have been a couple. But being teased with specific, nonpublic facts 18-year old me doesn’t know but in the hypothetical 44 year old me does know would be infuriating.

    Em,

    There is much I would like to say to my younger self as well. I had some uninformed and overly-simplified views, too. And my 60 year old future self would probably feel the same way about current day me

    I’m guessing that your current day self is early to mid thirties? It’s funny – while my underlying worldview about most things has not really changed very much since my early twenties, I find that consistently for almost forty years I can pick any era over that interval and think that the me of that era would be disdainful at best, more often contemptuous, of the analytic and decision making skills of the me of five years previously. I see no particular reason to expect that to change much over my remaining twentyish years – I hope not in the sense that I hope to avoid too much mental rigidification until pretty near my end.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Scott. While memory is always suspect, I do feel that I *knew* amendment 2 was a power play. I probably didn’t think of it in terms of “power play,” however, so much as, “right vs. wrong, but right must use the power at its disposal to express disapproval.” (I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

      It’s also probably the case that I’m crediting my 18-year old self with more than I should. I *DO* know, however, that I’m crediting my 44 year old self much more than I should. I can talk a big game in my letter about love and acceptance, but I still fall short, even on this issue.

      But I could also feel annoyed on behalf of your younger self contra-temporally getting the letter….But being teased with specific, nonpublic facts 18-year old me doesn’t know but in the hypothetical 44 year old me does know would be infuriating.

      That’s one of the narrative needles I’ve had to thread. It would be much more of a problem ifI write more “letters to myself.”

      Again, though, thanks for reading and commenting.

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