The Single Story

21 01 2010

Yikes!  My husband was NOT happy with me for writing yesterday that Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin love America as much as we do.  He explained that people like them were in it more for the money and power.  Of course, I explained that he had just described 75% of Washington DC’s residents and 98% of the media, but….still.  Maybe it wasn’t the best way to make an important point.

A point that I, increasingly, believe is the #1 challenge we face in this country.  So, I’ll try again and, as often happens in life, I’ll turn to someone else who makes the point far better than I did!  Her name is Chimamanda Adichie and her point is “the danger of the single story”.

A Nigerian author, she draws from her own experience to observe that, too often, we all have but a single story of each other.  And that “single story” approach always will lead to misperceptions…and missed opportunities.  She talks about, how when she attended college in the States her roommate “already felt sorry for me before she even met me.”  In their first conversation, the roommate–an American–asked Chimamanda, who had just arrived from Nigeria, if she could hear some of her “tribal music”.  The roommate was shocked when Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD!

Here’s a link of Chimamanda talking about “The Danger of the Single Story”  (it’s from a great website, btw, called

It’s worth the watch…and, then, try to see where you paint people into Single Stories.  Where you have a single story for all Democrats…or all Republicans.  All feminists..or all gay marriage opponents.  For a parent who you’re still punishing for wrongs done a lifetime ago…or a coworker who you dismiss because their skills are oil to your water.  Then, try to see beyond the Single Story (note use of the word “beyond”…vs, say, “ignore”).  Don’t hurt yourself (or your ego!), maybe just start be seeing Two Stories…and, then, as Chimamanda explains, see how your vision of others..and yourself…changes!


What I learned from Adam Lambert

16 06 2009

I’m always amazed at how our very human tendency to judge keeps us from learning and growing.  Case in point:  Adam Lambert.  For days, my husband has been on my ass about reading the Rolling Stone cover story in which runner-up American Idol Lambert comes out. Now, I can’t stand American Idol (glorified karaoke just isn’t my thing) and I’ve read more than my fair share of “Yup, I’m gay” cover stories. So, I judged…and I resisted.

Now, you can’t resist a Bulgarian husband for very long, so last night, I gave in and read the story.  Most of it was what you’d expect, but one line–one line–jumped out at me as a great gift for our times.  Lambert was describing an “epiphany” he had at Burning Man, a moment where he realized “…we all have our own power, and that whatever I wanted to do, I had to make happen.”

To Lambert, that line meant he should audition for American Idol.  For the rest of us, it suggests a refreshingly clear lens with which to view the challenges we face today–individually and collectively.  An alternative to the very submissive way Americans view just about everything:

  • “Let me hire a trainer to get me in shape” OR “Let me take a pill to lower my cholesterol”
  • “Let me turn on the TV so Oprah can tell me how to be who I really am” OR, better yet, “Let me turn on the TV so it can live reality for me!”
  • “Let me bitch about how corrupt the Massachusetts legislature is” OR “Let me demand the President and Congress give me my rights”.

Well, that’s one way to live.  Wait for others to make something happen.  No, not wait, somehow buy into the illusion that you simply can’t have what you want until others give it to you.

As a friend of mine likes to say, that’s just AFU.

You want to get in shape?  Get your ass in gear and go to the gym on your own.  They’re not that tough to figure out and, really, do you need to pay someone to cut your food for you?  And, while you’re at it, give that money you pay your trainer to a non-profit that serves people who have real problems.

You have a dream?  Live it. Period.  Billions–yes billions– of people have lived their dreams just fine without Oprah, Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and the like.  Maybe it’s time to stop padding their dreams and start creating our own.

And, finally, frustrated with the political system (as I most certainly am).  Easy.  DEFEAT–or at least give a credible THREAT to defeat–those who are pissing you off (even Massachusetts has stopped screwing around with corruption at the voting box).  Mad that Beacon Hill won’t pass true ethics reform?  Easy.  Rally opposition–not Republican, but Democrat and unenrolled opposition in the Speaker and Senate President’s home districts.  The smell of defeat to a politician is like a whiff of garlic to a vampire.  It gets their attention.  Pissed about gay marriage and Obama?  Easy.  Organize in Pennsylvania and Ohio–two states he MUST win in order to be re-elected.  Show him that we’re exercising our power to (potentially) defeat him and I just bet he’ll do more than “file” legislation.

We still live in a democracy.  Unfortunately, many of us have been willing to cede the power that keeps a democracy alive.

As Adam Lambert–that most glam man–reminded us, we have the power to change that.

Questions raised by Obama’s DOMA defense

15 06 2009

“The greatest thing…is just to love and be loved in return.”  I have thought about those words (from Eden Abhez’s 1947  song “Nature Boy”) again and again the last few days.  Because, while love indeed IS the greatest thing, it is NOT all you need when you choose to live in a governed society (a choice I’m reconsidering with great intensity since President Obama defended DOMA last week).

If you don’t know:  the President’s Department of Justice argued in favor of DOMA last week in a California case.  In their argument, President Obama’s team compared gay marriage to incest, to sex with minors.  And, my personal favorite, they argued that–in these tough economic times, the President has an obligation to protect our country’s scarce resources and, thus, can’t support granting of equal rights that carry a price tag.   As my friend David Mixner said, it was as if Pat Robertson snuck into DOJ and wrote the brief.

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue the “case” against DOMA.

For me, the Administration’s actions have raised some very basic questions.

Questions for you, Mr. President:

  • How does it feel to be the first president who could not have held office if prior presidents had not signed laws granting you equality?
  • How can you, a man who 140 years ago would have been viewed as property, not a president, how can you give an economic excuse for denying civil rights?
  • And, Mr. President, when you tuck Sasha and Malia in at night, how does it feel to know that your legacy to them very well could be that you took that man-given right and used it to prevent others from having the same rights?
  • When they ask why you, Mr. President, the man who won an office on the words “yes, we can”, turned around and told millions of Americans, “no, you can’t”?

Of course, you are not just a father, Mr. President. You are the President of the United States.  A man who is a quite public student of his predecessors.

So, I ask you to look to President Johnston and recall the Civil Rights Act of 1964–the act that granted you equal access to employment and education, Mr. President.  An act that was passed in the midst of the Vietnam War.  An act that Johnson readily acknowledged “will cost us (as in Democrats) the South” for at least a generation.

  • When you recall that Act and its consequences, ask yourself, was it worth it for you and your fellow African-Americans, Mr. President?
  • Was Johnson right to tirelessly work the phones for the Acts passage–in the midst of a war?
  • Was he right to stand up to Democratic leaders who said, “No you can’t” and say, “Yes, we can…because we must”? Was it worth the sacrifice of lost political power to ensure your equality, Mr. President?

If the answer is “yes”, then why can’t you be a little more like LBJ, Mr. President, and a little less like Bill Clinton?

Because it was Bill Clinton who gave us DOMA in the first place.  Probably while Monica Lewinsky was on her knees blowing his…marriage vows.  That he felt compelled to protect with a federal law.  Guilt’s a funny thing, huh?

Now, I have some questions for our community, too:

  • Are we Democrats first and g,l, b or t second?  Why else would we willingly drink the partisan Kool-Aid that tells us it’s because of the Republican that we don’t have equal rights?  See Bill Clinton above.  See how the Democrats control the White House AND the Senate AND the House.  And, yet, Nancy Pelosi said as recently as April that repeal of DOMA was not a priority.  If Newt Gingrich had said that, what would our response have been?  Would we have gladly given him millions upon millions of dollars to keep fighting the good fight?
  • Why is our community—lovers of instant gratification–so content with postponed gratification when it comes to our rights?  When Barney Frank et al tell us that the time’s not right to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, why do we say “OK, no problem.  Please let us know when it’s convenient”?
  • And, when our friends, co-workers, and family members tell us to cut President Obama some slack, why don’t we ask them to replace “gay” with “woman”, “Jew”,  or “Black”?  Why don’t we say, “OK.  so if the issue wasn’t gay rights, but Israel, would you still argue that the President has more important issues on his plate?”  OR “If  Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination had been a white guy instead of a Latina, would women’s groups and Latinos have cautioned their communities to be patient, because they president’s a busy man?” ” Would the media outlets have ignored such a move…as they have ignored the President’s DOMA arguments?”

Which raises two, final questions:

  • Why do gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders allow those who SAY they are our friends to ACT as our enemies?
  • How long are we going to take it?

Taking Obama’s Cairo speech to heart in America

4 06 2009

I hope that every activist and politician in America reads the speech President Obama gave in Cairo today.  The topic was the tensions between America and the Muslim world.  But the message–the speech was called A New Beginning–should be taken to heart by every activist fighting for (and against) gay marriage, abortion, immigration..really any and all “third rail” issues in politics today.

Here’s what President Obama said:  So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.

Right after he said these words, the president made crystal clear that he wasn’t some naive optimist who thought he could just wave the wand of his charisma and change the world.  Remembering RFK’s charge to be an idealist without illusions, the president explained that the “new beginning” he envisioned was one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; one that acknowledges the sharing of common principles–principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. A new beginning where we say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

Now, imagine if the head of the fight for gay marriage in CA heard those words this morning, picked up the phone and called—I don’t know–Rick Warren or someone from the Mormon Church and invited them over for a cup of coffee.  No cameras, no press releases.  Just a conversation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. A conversation where the gay activist put herself in the place of someone who truly believes it is God who defines marriage as between a man and a woman…and where the Mormon puts himself in the place of someone who simply wants equality before the law, not a church.  I wonder what would happen?

Imagine if someone from the National Right to Life organization went, not only to express condolences to George Tiller’s family, but also to explore ways the abortion debate in this country could make room for acknowledgement of tolerance and dignity of all human beings.

Those conversations wouldn’t be easy.  After all, there are plenty of people on BOTH sides of the gay marriage, abortion and immigration debates who promote conflict over cooperation.  It makes better tv, raises more money and, most important, preserves their power.  But who needs tv, money or power if you’re working from common ground?

And, if we really want to be daring and crazy, imagine if Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner or, perhaps, Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh launched a national conversation about the similarities between liberals and conservatives,not the differences?

A conversation that was “a new beginning” of  a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.

Most of America was sleeping when President Obama gave his speech.   Maybe, today, we can wake up…from the easy slumber of divisiveness. Maybe we can wake up to the hard work of truly listening to, learning from and respecting each other.

THAT would be a “new beginning” worth getting out of bed for!

Why gays should rally behind Miss CA

7 05 2009

Gays across America should wake up this morning and rally behind Miss CA Carrie Prejean. And it’s not just because we’re preternaturally drawn to anyone in a tiara.

There are three other reasons:

1. Sex. Prjean’s lingerie photos and gay marriage both come down to one thing: sex. And, let’s face it, when it comes to sex, Americans are prudes. We pretend sex doesn’t exist (at least not in OUR homes) and that, on the rare occasion when it slithers into our lives, it’s ONLY for the very pure purpose of procreation. Gay marriage opens the doors to our bedrooms and raises all kinds of images that folks prefer not to have conjured up. “Racy photos” puts sex in front of the camera–not in the distant projection of a movie, but the intimacy of a camera lens. Never mind that the reality of gay sex isn’t as racy as folks imagine (I mean, really, there just aren’t that many possibilities!) and that Prjean’s “racy” photos are as racy as the Miss USA swimsuit competition (to quote CNN). Gay marriage and Prejean’s photos intimate intimacy…and America wants none of that!

2. Rights. Now, of course, if you can stop your ogling and get past the sex, gay marriage and the photos come down to rights. Equal rights. Giving gays the same LEGAL rights as straights (despite the best efforts of the Rick Warrens of the world, this isn’t about religious rights). Giving Prejean the same rights to do with her body whatever she wants to do with it. Neither is about whether you APPROVE of what gays do in our bedrooms (or elsewhere) or Prejean did in front of a camera. Both ARE about our right to do it, whether it meets with public approval or not. And any gay who takes to the streets to fight for the right to marry should burn up the phone lines today protecting Prejean’s right to pose however she wants. It’s called “democracy” people.

3. Snarkiness. Which brings me to my final reason we gays should rally behind Prejean: to strike a blow against snarkiness. American discourse currently has two sets of rules: there’s the set of rules we claim if you’re with us; and then there’s the set we apply if you’re agin’ us. Case in point 1: teen pregnancy. Republicans love to beat up on Democrats for encouraging teen pregnancy. Then Palin’s daughter gets pregnant and….uh, welll…it’s different…because, you know, she’s a good (read: white) girl. Case in point 2: Dems love to beat up on Repubs for being out-of-touch, rich elitists (Palin’s Repub. Convention anyone?). But, when Dems are out-of-touch, elitists…when Michelle Obama wears $500 tennis shoes to a homeless shelter or the First Family buys a designer dog (instead of the promised mutt)…well, uh…you know…that’s different. Now, if we were talking about Laura Bush’s shoes (or, God forbid, Lynne Cheney’s!) or Bush’s dog, do you think the liberals would be so quiet?? I say, enough with the snarkiness. It’s time to start saying that there’s zero–ZERO–difference between Perez Hilton and Nik Hilton (who’s running the Prejean photos) and Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter. Zero. Each feeds their own insecurities by knocking down others. Is that how we want the gay marriage fight to be waged? Is that really a path worth taking on our march to equality?

I don’t think so. That’s why I hope Prejean keeps her crown (and maybe, just maybe, as a reward she’ll let me wear it!)