Sometimes I get so used to hanging out with all my scientist geek liberal friends that I forget there is a whole world of conservative people out there. Lately I've been trying to be more vocal about what I believe. Especially with gay rights issues. I'm not gay. In fact, I'm about as conventional as they come - I'm a woman who has been with the same man for 7 years. I don't do drugs, I go to school. I rarely drink. I'm your basic good girl (except I guess that the fact I'm not married and living with my boyfriend - but does that even count anymore?). As a boring, straight-edge person, I feel like it's important for me to voice my support of gay rights. No one can point at me and say, "Oh, that Alexis sure is a slut and a party girl." Of course, people like Rush Limbaugh would probably still call me a slut, but I've been with the same person for five years longer than ol' Rush. It's irrelevant to me, but it does go to show how inconsistent his logic is.
On Facebook, as opposed to on Twitter, I am friends with many people from my childhood. As I've grown up, I tend to spend time with a less diverse group of people. Over the last five years, most of my time has been spent with fellow science graduate students. I'm living in a bubble. When I talk about my views on Facebook, I get feedback from the world outside the bubble. Even though these discussions can seem futile, I believe that sometimes we find common ground.
I was originally thinking of posting the actual conversation onto my blog (names and profile pictures blurred, of course), but I felt very uncomfortable with that. I even felt uncomfortable with anonymously paraphrasing people's comments without or without their permission. I just don't think it is fair for me to speak for others.* Do onto others - what a great segue into a conversation about gay marriage. So I'm just going to talk about why I started this conversation in the first place, and why I think other people should, too. I am still going to include what I said, and if anyone who wrote in the original post wants to chime in on the comments, please do. Again, I just didn't feel like I could speak for you.
After this facebook exchange (which increased my Klout score by 1 point, w00t w00t!), I had several interesting follow-up conversations with other people. One person I spoke to said that they could post something like this on their wall, but all their friends would be agreeing with them, so they would be preaching to the choir. Several people I spoke to told me that they agreed with me, but that they don't post anything political on Facebook because they are afraid of stirring things up. I'll address this second issue first.
Part of why I made this FB post in the first place is because of daily show interview with Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org (a website where people can start petitions about things they believe in). In this interview, Ben says that he started Change.org his senior year of Stanford, after his bother came out as gay. His brother told him that the worst thing was not that people were hateful to gays, but that his friends and family didn't do anything about it. Ben, his brother, was one of those people, and he decided to dedicate himself to never staying silent again. Although I do occasionally post about gay issues (refer to my klout page if you don't believe me), I am not sure if I have ever come out directly and said, "Hey, anti-gay sentiment is hurting my friends and family (the Hawaiian word for this is Ohana). I love my Ohana. If you are anti-gay, you are hurting my Ohana, and you are hurting me." I think that the reason I did get so many replies to this post was that is WAS personal.
Do I feel like I took a risk in making this post? Yes, I do. There are people on my friends list who will judge me, including some of the people who replied. There may be repercussions from people I work with. I asked the advice of a tenured professor that I know and respect, and he said "the best rule of thumb is don't put anything online that you would be afraid of anybody in the world seeing. I recommend that you think twice before sharing your opinions, but if it seems fine to you the second time around, then you will probably be OK." I've thought twice about this blog post, and more. What made up my mind in the end was President Obama's interview yesterday. If the president, with the entire nation's eyes on him and an election ahead, can be courageous enough to speak out for equal rights for gay people, then I certainly can. Of course, my professor has tenure and Michelle can always be Barack's sugar mamma. I've got no tenure or sugar daddy to fall back on.
Matthew Shepherd, who was murdered
for being gay.
There is even some small threat of personal violence: not, I believe, from the people who commented on my post, but the internet worldwide and there are plenty of people out there who are willing inflict anti-gay violence. Of course, compared to the people who are actually gay, I really have nothing to worry about. People like Matthew Shepherd, who was beaten with a pistol and tied to a fence to die. People like some of the girls I went to high school with, who we mercilessly taunted on the bus. People like one of my elementary school friends, who was endlessly picked on because he wasn't "tough enough." Throughout all this, I said nothing. I wish I had been strong and confident enough in high school to stand up for these people, but I wasn't. I am sorry. You deserved better, and we (myself, my friends, and my teachers) failed you.
One of the influences on people's views on gay rights is their friendships with gay people (and no, I do not think that Sarah Pailin has any real gay friends - you don't take basic human rights away from your friends, sorry). In addition, young americans are increasingly seeing anti-gay sentiment as bigotry. By posting and defending gay rights and my viewpoint, I hope that I am making some people think about theirs.
As far as stirring things up, I can't say that I feel upset. As much as am conflicted about it, I still feel affection for the people who posted anti-gay sentiments above. It is similar to how I felt about my racially-bigoted grandmother. Yes, she was racist, but she was a part of my life story and my family, and I loved my grandmother. There is a fundamental difference here, though. My grandmother died when I was 18. At that point, I wasn't really knowledgable enough to have an informed discussion about racism (and arguing with a critically ill grandma is just not a great idea). I am now. I also think that some of the people who disagree with me are really thinking about the points I'm making - which is the whole idea of a discussion! Stirring things up a little is better than failing my gay friends and family (and myself) again.
Onto the first issue: preaching to the choir. Almost immediately after this person told me they thought they would be preaching to the coir by advocating for gay rights, they received an email from a close relative defending traditional marriage. You may think you're preaching to the choir, but if you don't discuss it, you'll never know.
So, that's my experience with "the bubble." If you want to burst your own bubble, the best advice I can give you is to be logical, consistent, and polite. Illogical thinking and inconsistency are some of the big problems with bigotry - don't repeat this mistake. And being rude never got anyone anywhere.
*Anonymous paraphrasing of the Facebook conversation removed on May 11, 2012.