There’s a certain amount of shame involved in civil rights. To stand up for your own personal equality requires having a conversation with people who literally believe that you are in some way entitled to less in life than they are. For me, and I’m sure for others, this brings up insecurities that I’ve spent the majority of my life creating coping mechanisms for. It reminds me of being an overweight kid and being made fun of. It reminds me of the false hope I would feel throughout my school years when so-called popular classmates fooled me into thinking I was included, only to then deliver a painful punch line. It reminds me of my traditional, Roman Catholic Italian upbringing that constantly conditioned me to believe that, as a woman, I did not deserve the respect that my male relatives enjoyed, even if I worked harder than they did to earn it. And it reminds me that there are people out there who actually believe that the love I share with my wife is offensive, immoral, and undeserving of equal treatment under the law.
No matter what age I’ve been, or what social construct I’ve lived within, there have always been people out there telling me I am “less than,” undeserving, misguided, and my personal favorite, arrogant for believing that I should be respected and appreciated for who I am. Sometimes, these people have been those I should have been able to trust the most. Other times, like right now with the gay rights debate going on in our political system, they are complete strangers who pass judgement on me without so much as a conversation.
Whether personal or impersonal, family or stranger or anyone in between, my most common reaction is to downplay the pain, in favor of maintaining a positive attitude. As they say, “where attention goes, energy flows,” and no good will come from wallowing in self-pity. But sometimes, for whatever reason, I look at it. I stare the pain right in the face, and I offer a quiet “fuck you” to anyone or anything that has ever made me doubt the amazing, loving, beautiful, generous, kind, and devoted person that I am.
If that sounds like self-love, like conceit, good. Because sometimes I get angry. And sometimes, we have to hold ourselves up with strength and compassion because the world has forgotten how incredible we are. Someone has to remember. We are all born beautiful, intelligent, compassionate individuals with an astounding ability to love each other. And if the world has forgotten—if the social and political climate is such that certain people are deemed unworthy—then we have to stand up for ourselves. We have to speak up and say, “I count. I am deserving. In fact, you’d really like me if you gave it a chance.”
To look someone in the eye and say, “No, you do not deserve more in life than I do” is a terrifying thing. But it is necessary. It is the only way social progress has ever been made. So cheers to all of us who have ever been underdogs in any way, and have stood up to the bullies out there who have attempted to keep us in “our place.” We are stronger than we often think we are, and the muck we trudge through will be worth it. History shows us that. We are an evolving, relatively young society here in the west, and we WILL get it right.