My mother didn’t ask me if I was gay, she asked if one of my friends was.
“I don’t understand where you’re coming from, that’s all.” She replied to my question of ‘Does it matter?’ “Why do you care so much?”
We were sitting together watching a rerun of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Last night we missed the original airing and my cousin had texted me to ask if I had seen the episode. She told me that I simply had to. Mike Huckabee and Jon Stewart debated gay marriage. At seven that evening I rushed downstairs to catch the reairing of the interview, my mother joined me.
She cheered each of Stewarts’s points.
“Yes! Exactly, Jon, Exactly!” She’d exclaim. And then she noticed that I was crying. This was when she began trying to ‘understand’. She didn’t ask if I was gay, but if my friends were. She wanted to know what personal experience I had with the issue of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transsexual) rights. And so I told her,
“I don’t know if any of my friends are gay, you don’t exactly ask. And I don’t think I need a gay friend to care about gay rights. Gay people are people and so am I. I don’t need a reason to empathize with the plight of a fellow human being. I don’t need a gay best friend to care about the rights of others. I just need to be human.” I was crying because a group of people had to argue and defend themselves on the street and in the courts just to get a little respect. They could be denied very simple things all because they were different and no matter how obvious or logical the point being made people could still hate them.
For a moment my mother was silent, I took the time to get a handle on myself. This was a complete revelation even to me. I had never had words to put with my feelings before. But what I told my mother said it all. This wasn’t about gay or straight or even about people. This was about my definition of America and of humanity. To hate was inhuman, to deny people rights was un-American. My country and my humanity was – is bound to every American; every human. Empathizing with the pain of people does not make me immature and idealistically naïve (my mother’s eventual response), it makes me human.