Thursday, May 30, 2013
As someone who is "different", I know I have to "step up" to meet real needs, sometimes, regardless of my "choices"
I noticed today that the introduction to my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book had been titled “You Didn’t Ask, but I’ll Tell Anyway”. And one particularly critical reviewer on Amazon noted that I didn’t give her a reason to “care” about my views, on anything.
Actually, I thought that the first chapter, giving the chronicle of my William and Mary “expulsion” in 1961 and setting up my stake in the debate three-plus decades later on “gays in the military”, imputed a reason to care. The reviewer didn’t mention that incident in her discussion of the book, yet it’s the most critical of all.
But, in “retirement”, fifteen years later, it’s a fair question that I get. Why do I keep “speaking”, regardless of the lack of financial compensation and perhaps declining audience numbers (so much competition with newer social media) . Why don’t I join up in groups so I can “help people” more directly? Why won’t I embrace some of the other compelling specific causes of others – when, as one can see from the media every day, there is so much “need”?
It’s a bit of a course reversal. In the past, if I had presented myself into various personal situations, I would have had to fit into someone else’s bureaucracy (still true) and run the risk of being seen as “butting in” when not personally welcome. You have to develop your own voice first before you have something to offer others, right? Yet, I get these entreaties, some of them coming with veiled threats. Free entry may not be around forever.
I did have my own talents, even as a kid (starting with music). But you kept coming after me, to learn to take care of other people, even physically and taking risks, first. Over time, that morphed into “demands” that I enter the world of emotional complementarity with other people. When I did not comply as much as "you" wanted, you sometimes called me a coward or mooch, words not used much today like they were a half-century ago.
This was not a matter of being responsible for the consequences of choices. These were pre-existing conditions of socialization. To not fulfill them would leave the physical risk taking to others, and disrupt (at least by distraction) the complementarity that sustaining families requires.
But what I think is important is that “you” (that is, everyone who interacted with me over the years this way) be able to articulate what you really want and need, without leading yourself into contradictions. And I think that the progressive part of the social and political spectrum, which might see “your” behavior as bullying or a bid for social control and superiority, should listen to what you say.
I think “your” idea is something like this: People have to “step up” to challenges, related to the real needs of others around them, often in circumstances that they don’t get to choose. (A particularly striking example in my own life concerned the Vietnam era military draft, countered by deferments.) “You” believe that navigating this test satisfactorily tends to lead one into stable, permanent relationships that express emotional complementarity or “polarity” – usually tradition marriage with children, and responsibility for other generations, in both directions. In time, the unchosen challenges become more about emotion and domestic needs, and less about external threats – for example, the increased need for eldercare with longer life spans (when people have fewer children).
At some point, my reaction to all this, as it played out with considerable irony in my own life, suggests principles – moral or ethical, social, political, and maybe legal – that would apply to a lot more people than just me. Call it a use of “inductive reasoning”. It becomes a systematic examination of the question as to how people who are “different” should behave and deploy themselves. People like me. Oh, I know, we are all “different” in some way.
But the basic reason that this “matters” to “all of us” is renewed concerns about sustainability of freedom, from all kinds of influences (climate change, and terrorism driven in part by indignation).
I’ve always viewed the questions around “dangerous difference” through a moral lens. That’s how things were seen as I grew up in the 1950s. The idea mandatory sharing of sacrifice was very real then. In more recent years, as appreciation of diversity has grown, there has developed more interest in learning the science of “disability”, which often masks hidden gifts that add to diversity.
I don’t have a clear medical explanation for my own physical difficulties, which kept me from physical competitiveness, learning to swim, and making normal social competition a source of shame – meaning I needed an alternate path in life – which in my case worked, but which could be taken away if I have to fight other people’s battles. Was my problem a kind of mild autism or Asperger’s? Maybe. Could it be circulatory? Possibly. Motivational and attitudinal? At some point in my later life I should do a full medical workup to find out.
I certainly see that recalcitrance in going along with the need for interdependence, forgiveness and acceptance of attention from others when really needed, can put others in jeopardy, too.
I’d like to summarize the progression in the “direction” of my thinking since my first book.
The 1997 book started with an effort to anchor basic fundamental rights to “private choice” for “homosexuals” (whether the term refers to immutable traits or deliberate desires). It focused on “due process” rights, protecting people with certain patterns of adult intimate interest from government (or systematic societal) intrusion. Quickly. I saw how protecting these rights correlated to anchoring fundamental rights of individuals in all kinds of context s (particularly self-expression, self-defense, and faith or its lack thereof). The ideological underpinning for policy direction would be an almost fanatical dedication to the idea of "personal responsibility", regardless of mitigating or immutable circumstances.
There used to be, a few decades ago. a cloudy perception that “homosexuals” might undermine the reproductive future and emotional solidarity of a community, even though (ironically), “they” didn’t directly threaten specific marriages in the usual sense. (The detraction seemed to be a more dangerous threat them.)
So police raids and the various tactics of McCarthyism were seen as making “examples” of nonconformists based on presumptive (but not direct) evidence of supposed wrongdoing. (We saw that thinking with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.) So the basic personal rights of “homosexuals” needed to be protected. At the same time, the practical problems that “traditional” families faced in an increasingly permissive and individually competitive culture need to be faced. These were posited in terms of the economic aspects of most “family” issues. For example, “inequality” in wages benefits and taxes or even partnership (marriage) rights of “single” people (loosely equated to the childless) needed to be balanced against increased disposable income.
After 9/11, and the evolution of many issues during the past decade (including the way social media is interpreted) and my own prolonged experience with eldercare (which I could not “choose”), my view of the whole process went into retrograde, rather like a palindrome. The basic moral conflicts came between the need for the individual to be and express himself, compared to a valid need for society to have people submit their egos to the common interest sometimes (often posed in religious terms, like Allah). This conflict seemed to co-exist with an increasing need to treat people as equally as possible in public policy with regard to any characteristics (Biology class!) that seemed largely immutable and beyo0nd the purview of choice (sexual orientation). But the biggest concerns go deeper than econo,ic parity, derived from equal protection, which had followed behind due process (for example, Sandra Day O’Connor on Lawrence v. Texas). This dichotomy had morphed, away from economics, to following a map of the human heart.