I believe that people, and nations, change slowly. It’s hard to admit this, because the world would be a kinder, safer place if change happened quickly. If, on cue, America extended full civil rights to all of its citizens, or withdrew troops from Iraq. If, that swiftly, the estranged were invited back into the home and long silences were broken.
But these things take time. We humans can be stubborn as stones, idiosyncratic and willful in our self-determination. And when we act collectively, as a nation, these tendencies are exaggerated.
As a lesbian from North Carolina, I can be preoccupied by change. It isn’t always simple, but I’m grateful to call home a region of our country that is wrestling mightily with the issue of gay rights. This is where the debate is most alive and, in time, this is where it will be won or lost.
In July, my partner, Meghann, was injured and rushed to an emergency room in Nashville. Walking through the hospital’s metal detector, I realized that, as her girlfriend, I might not be allowed to stay with her in the coming hours. In the waiting room, I simply tried not to think about this. Next to us, a family, eight members strong, laughed and ate McDonalds take-out.
Tennessee is one of five states in which citizens will vote on proposed marriage amendments this November. If 2004 election results are any indication, these amendments are all likely to pass.
It will happen in our lifetimes, but it will take many more years to achieve equal rights, and it will require us taking the risk of opening up our lives to one another. We accept that those who are different from us are also human when we witness their humanity directly. Which is another way to say that as I wait for my fellow citizens to change their minds about me, so too must I change.
When you are marginalized, it is natural to assume a habit of shielding yourself. But as long as I do this, I cannot fairly ask my neighbor to see me as her equal. The challenge, always, is to love even those who reject you. To name plainly the humanity you share with a stranger even when she insists it does not exist. To hold a faith that, however glacially it may occur, change will come.
That day in the ER, I sucked in my breath after telling the nurse I was Meghann’s partner. In response, she nodded and ushered me into the exam room with Meghann. It was that simple, and I was lucky. In time, I believe, this will be a matter of rights instead of luck.
Sometimes we cannot change quickly enough and sometimes, the rate at which we change is dazzling. But most often, change takes slow time and, along the way, it exhausts and unsettles us. It rewrites and transforms us. Like love, it makes us more human each time we recommit to it. This I believe.
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