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Dana Beyer Headshot

Some Truths Take Time, for The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Everyone Else

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I decided to see the new indie film The Reluctant Fundamentalist the other day on a whim. My sense, from the title and the poster, was that this would be a thriller about a young Muslim man being seduced into fundamentalist extremism in New York. That sense was encouraged in the opening scene set in Lahore when a western professor is kidnapped on the street while the protagonist, Changez Kahn, played by Riz Ahmed, is on his cellphone while attending a family event.

Then, with the story being told in extended flashbacks, we see Changez at Princeton and then at a Bain-Capital-like consultancy firm in New York before 9/11. Slowly I got the sense that the title of the film contained some wordplay, which was made clear by Kiefer Sutherland's character when he talked about fundamentals from the investor/consultant perspective. It turned out that Changez became a reluctant fundamentalist in both senses of the word, in terms religious and professional.

As much as I'd like to just review a movie as a film, that's not my job here, so I will now throw in the LGBT hook. This film is about an even broader issue of fundamentalism, in the sense of fundamental authenticity. As Changez says near the end of the film, in conversation with journalist/CIA agent Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), "Some truths take time." It took Changez at least twenty years to comprehend the meaning of family in his life, a family he moved to Princeton to escape. Twenty years to learn how love intersected, rather painfully, with cultural assumptions and biases. Twenty years to know how to put his inherent intelligence and academic and professional experience to use on behalf of a cause that was bigger than his drive to make money and live the "American Dream." I found the scene in university in Lahore where he asks his students, "So, then, can anyone tell me what the Pakistani Dream is," quite thought provoking. Is there a Pakistani dream, and an Indian dream, etc., or even should there be? Should every culture think about life in those terms? The students didn't answer, and I wish they had, because it would have been quite enlightening.

Most of us in the LGBT community know that "some truths take time." They take time for others to accept and then finally, affirm, but, most importantly, they take time to germinate within us and grow so that we can accept ourselves and then affirm ourselves to others. Changez was in his closet; we've all been in our closets, and sometimes even multiple ones, as the intersection of ethnicity and sexuality often leads to even more complex situations.

Last week at Black Pride in D.C., for instance, there was a town hall on dealing with homophobia in the black church. We recently saw the vote of the Boy Scouts of America to remove the ban on gay scouts, which has been received in differing manners by various Christian denominations. Fundamentalisms -- sexuality and religion -- clashing, sometimes reluctantly, but other times deliberately and explosively. Take Moscow Pride, for instance, as an example of the deliberate and violent type.

"Some truths take time." The BSA decision, for instance, comes 13 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale that the Scouts could discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That decision has not been overturned, but the organization itself, composed of members from many highly conservative religious groups, such as the Mormons and the Southern Baptists, has chosen, voluntarily, to change its policy for youth. This has come about because gay scouts, gay scout leaders, family and community members, have come out, come forward, and testified to their authenticity and desire to be fully embraced by the community. That is power, a power that does not reside in a Supreme Court decision.

Similarly, with marriage equality now law in 12 states and D.C., the upcoming Supreme Court decision next month will, in all likelihood, be a marker in progress towards full equality. Today 50 percent of Americans live in states that have some form of relationship recognition, and that number will inexorably rise as more states come on board and some states upgrade their status.

The "bathroom meme" -- the charge that we can't provide full equality to trans persons because some day, somewhere, a man will dress as a woman to enter the women's bathroom to commit a crime -- will also be recognized for the absurdity that it is. A cover for bigotry and disgust which Americans need to confront and overcome in order to form a more perfect union that includes all of us. Maybe if they realize that there are real predators out there with no connection to the transgender community whatsoever they will come to an accurate realization even sooner.

Finally, we as a people -= straight and gay, cis and trans =- need to confront the scourge of intimate partner violence. It's real, it happens, and is still too common. Too often victims of homophobia/transphobia based in misogyny, we can't allow ourselves to perpetrate harm on our partners. Just as we laugh, because we know better, when we hear from Muslim leaders that there are no gay Muslims, or from African leaders that there are no gay Africans, we must stand and confront the unpleasant reality that we as gay humans are just as likely to treat our intimate partners as badly as men treat their female partners, and vice versa. Acknowledging the reality is the first step.

Some truths take time.