Periodically some bit of headline news excites comment all over the talk shows and editorial pages as to how whatever just happened proves once again what a great people we are here in the U. S. of A. and how it is all onward and upward and nobody since the dawn of time was ever so - goddamn it, let's just admit it, good - as us-here Amurricans. I recall one old news sensation years ago that received this kind of commentary when a toddler fell into a well in Texas or Kansas or some such place where folks are true Americans and love their Jesus. The entire community rallied round and as tense hours passed and people prayed and worked round the clock, especially the newsmen, to finally successfully get the child safely out. People stopped what they were doing; in Texas hundreds of black men were NOT dragged to death behind pick-ups for a full week as every thought was turned toward the safe extraction of the baby. It seems in my memory that the baby's name was Jessica, although I could be confusing that baby with some in vitro kid - it seems that all babies were named Jessica at the time, just as all the young actresses famed for their hotness now seem to be named Jessica Something-or-other. Implicit in all the coverage seemed to be the idea that if the baby had been Baby Indira in India or Baby Ingrid in Sweden, the locals would have passed heedlessly by on their way to work saying, "Hmm. baby in a well? Good luck with that!" But we were the wondrous, caring Americans and we, well, dammit, we CARED!
I have this attention span that is akin to that of a mayfly; I get sick of just about any news story somewhere around the second time I hear it (third, if it involves nudity) and I tend to read the OTHER news when one of these stories breaks (and breaks and breaks and breaks) which leaves no columnist or newsman or talk show host so filled with non-stop self-congratulatiory bloviation. So in my quest to find out what America is all about, I was following the OTHER news story that was going on about the time of Baby Jessica's descent into a well, where every effort was being made in Florida to keep two little boys who had tested HIV-positive from going to any school where other, more decent children might come in contact with them. That deep faith in God's protection which Floridians are so wont to proclaim when somebody ELSE is at risk did not seem to come into play when the issue was HIV, so the good citizens of Florida felt that that do-it-yourself spirit, which is such a hallmark of the American character, must be relied on. What these enterprising parents and their allies did was burn down the home of the the two little boys. "If yuh don't live int this-heah district, yuh cain't send your kids to ouah schools!" was the general consensus. And, of course, who can live in a burnt-out house? So God's will was accomplished without God having to lift a finger.
This habit I have of reading ALL the news came into play again this week when I could hardly get within ten feet of an opinion spewer, if he wasn't on one of the Murdoch enterprises, without hearing about the triumph of the American spirit of fairness when the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy was scrapped. Apparently there are gay people who want to die for their country and - hey - at last we are going to let them do so. I shall leave aside the illogic of people who hate gays supporting a position which actually saves gay lives (if I felt that way, I'd FORCE them to join the military and to fight in the front lines). At any rate, as I say, my attention wandered after just a few minutes of these chatty folks pissing all over themselves in the sheer ecstasy of America once again showing the way to such countries as hadn't already integrated their gay citizens into their armed forces without nearly such a struggle or subsequent orgy of self-congratulation. So I looked at the other news to see where we as the greatest nation that ever lived under the special dispensation of a loving god, and lo! what did I see? Well, for starters, just down the road from me a piece another young boy was hounded to death because he was perceived to be gay. This boy, who was 14, had been bullied for years because he was gay. So let's say it started when he was 10 or 11. How gay can anyone be at that age?
The Catholics, Ku Klux Klan, Mormons, Focus on Families and similar Christian groups seem to take the position that being gay is a decision that someone makes at some point in his or her life. Outside of rape, having sex IS, of course, a decision, but that doesn't seem to be what I hear from these sects and organizations. Their position seems to be that a person decides what he or she will want, not just what her or she will actually do. One apparently decides ahead of time what will flash across one's mind when one glances at a person or object. I was raised a pretty strict Catholic; in fact, I was a much stricter Catholic in my youth than my parents were at the same time (with my bi-polar Dad it was an off and on thing - one week a pagan hedonist, then next week sack cloth and ashes - but his median mode was slightly less all-or-nothing than mine was when it came to sin and issues of right and wrong). So I know a bit about this type of thinking.
The reason - I suspect the ONLY reason - I did not commit suicide when I was a teenager was because nobody seemed to know I was gay. I had a lot of friends; and my family, on down to the cousins once-removed, liked me or so I felt at the time. Kids who were uncontrollably and visibly effeminate had a much harder time than I did, but there were so few of them and the general awareness of homosexuals in my school was so vague and non-specific. Now there is such awareness at such an early age, that fewer kids can skate by the issue as I once did. My belief, when I was young, was that were I to be exposed as gay, my family and friends and everyone else, without exception, would feel nothing but repulsion and disgust. As soon as I reached an age where I understood the concept of Judgment Day, my vision of it was of a horde of people I knew gathered in a vast arena (I visualized something like a great colosseum with people on rising tiers so they could get a good look) staring in horror at me standing alone in the middle as they saw written across the sky by celestial planes of some sort spewing the text in smoky letters like an ad for beer or suntan lotion, of a minute by minute account of what I had been thinking all my life. Not what I had DONE, because I hadn't done anything at that time, but of what I WAS. I recall that for some reason the faces I was always most aware of in this vision were not those of my family or fellow Catholics but of the Lomaxes, our neighbors who were a byword for probity in our town and whose five sons were popular and athletic and just such darn real men. I found this vision almost unbearable, but like those people who are scared of everything yet can't resist renting every horror flick that comes out, I couldn't turn my inner gaze away from it. To this day, whenever I hear a reference to Judgment Day that is the first visual that crosses my mind.
I just can't see that poor kid in Buffalo CHOOSING to embark so unpopular a course. And why would he? What would possess a 10 or 11-year old to be something that didn't even promise any physical gratification anytime in his near future? I know that if I made a choice as to preferences in my partner's gender, these preferences were in place when I was three or four years old, because I clearly remember what still feels, when I recall it, like a physical yen for certain men in my surroundings. I liked a lot of girls, but there was never an erotic tinge to this liking; with many of the males there was that element of lust, as far back as I can remember. I flat out KNOW, in short, that I had no choice and I am equally positive that this boy in Buffalo never had a choice either, as to who he was and what he was drawn to. And one of my great take-aways, the great gift that I was given by this knowledge, was that those who spake in terms of certainty on this topic were either lying or were willing to to state as fact something they did not actually know anything about. When someone tells me as fact a thing I know to be false, then I know that someone is not to be trusted in pronouncements of any sort. Maybe other races or other nations or other beliefs are NOT inferior, maybe I do not have to be in church every seventh day, maybe there is not some guiding - let alone loving - intelligence running the show and totting up my performances for later punishment.
It took years to work this through of course; more fear was instilled in me by Holy Mother Church than anything else before or since, and fear is the hardest thing to eradicate. I have heard the argument that the safe course is to believe because if you are wrong you get nothing, whereas if you choose unbelief and are wrong you get the Judgment and it ain't gonna be in your favor. Of course, this is a false hedge. If I choose to live as a believer in the unbelievable I give up entirely the only life I have for nothing. Maybe those beans WILL grow a giant beanstalk that reaches riches in the clouds, but this kid ain't betting his cow on that proposition.
So I am waiting for the next chapter in the breathless tale of the specialness and gosh-darned goodness of this here America and its specially selected by God - and designed just for us! - mission. And I'll fill the wait with all those OTHER news stories - the floods, the mothers killing their kids, the tornadoes, the coal mine disasters, the hurricanes, the fires, the droughts, the recessions. I understand that these little bumps in the highway to our apotheosis are there because we don't believe ENOUGH and so forth, but still, I am strangely unpersuaded to send my love offering (and nothing says 'love' like a cheque, we thank you and God thanks you) to the would-be chroniclers of this destiny. There is an urge in each of us to be lackeys, to get that autograph, get our picture standing next to someone greater than ourselves, to be told what to think, but I am holding out for something just a tetch more comforting. And think of the special pleasure I will provide for all the godly when I am burning in the afterlife along with all those gay kids and foreigners, while they can watch and withhold their help, just as they did in this life.
It'll be just like Earth all over again for them. Not just Earth: it'll be just like America!