It is the latest summer of America's discontent: Despite the wonder and glory of the upbeat London Olympics, 2012 is proving to be a horrific year of fires, droughts, mass shootings, hostility, and inflammatory rhetoric, the latter two even among politicians in this political year, when what we really need right now from office seekers and office holders is role-modeling of tolerance and compassion to help lessen the tension and smooth the tenor of the times.
Instead, many politicians and supporters have chosen the unpatriotic paths of vitriol, division, and antagonism, the last things we need at this time. In this era of high partisan passions, why aren't Obama and Romney recognizing that they have a golden opportunity to set aside their weapons and instead lead by example: meet with each other, lunch together, tour the nation together, express their differences cordially in joint appearances, and patriotically calm the waters? I know it's a naïve notion, but it is doable. The polarized Congress, meanwhile, has adjourned amid rancor, inaction, and (dare I say) apparent incompetence. I know there are all sorts of Machiavellian machinations going on, that this is more about political positioning and posturing than impotence, especially in a presidential election year, but that is the very time we and our leaders must -- must -- rise above the fray and take the higher road, agree to disagree, and -- gasp! -- actually compromise and find win-win solutions.
So it is up to all of us out here, the 99 percenters, to show leadership ourselves and set our own examples of compassion and civility. Bi people are accustomed to having to be our own leaders and our own role models, so we'll try to help get this ball rolling again. You see, even though Celebrate Bisexuality Day -- aka Celebrate Bi Visi-BI-lity Day -- is still over a month away (Sept. 23), bi people continue to have trouble finding role models, because media outlets and other community forums insist on keeping us invisible, essentially erasing our identities and our very being, by referring to us as "just" gay (even on The Huffington Post, my blogs on bisexuality run in the Gay Voices section, despite the fact that I'm married to a woman and have eight grandchildren -- not that I'm not grateful to have this very visible platform from which to pontificate, but you catch my drift); we're rendered moot and mute by those who don't acknowledge a public person as bi, instead insisting on referring to them as gay or lesbian (that happens a lot), and even by having algorithms that remove or demote "bi" and "bisexual" from search terms (see Faith Cheltenham's examination of Google equating bisexuality with pornography and thus deprogramming us from its existence, or certainly diminishing us). So, in such a climate of intolerance, suppression, and denial, bi people have had to find our own ways to come out, be out, stay out, and be role models of equanimity. We need to take those "lessons learned" and apply them to the broader world.
Now, there is no one "right way" to be tolerant, admirable, openly bi, or openly a bi role model. I aspire to be urbane, refined, proper, patrician, genteel, and gracious, with my bi identity secondary to my comportment and personality. (The fact that I will never be able to fully embody any of those characteristics doesn't mean I don't keep trying, albeit in fits and starts). Other bi people are wild partiers; still others are quiet, private, retiring, and shy. There are those who are out as bi but don't make for very good role models (a few celebs come to mind), yet there are others who are out, mellow, high-energy, or unique and make others want to say, "Hey, I want to be just like that person" (certain celebs come to mind there, too).
But the modern bi "movement" -- advocating for an alternative way of relating to humanity -- is now more than 25 years old at the very least, so, while we aren't quite at the postmodern state of the bi movement, we can more fully turn our attention to broader issues and behaviors. And the most urgent issue confronting America (and it seems the rest of the world) is hatred and intolerance: intolerance of poorer people (dismantling of school systems, leaving vast swaths of the population without adequate educational opportunities; lack of safe, wholesome housing and communities; lack of jobs, income, health care, and so on); intolerance of gender/sexual minorities (enough said there); intolerance of different ways of thinking (the political year); and on and on.
So I'm here to call on my fellow bi people to step up; set good examples of openness, compassion, and tolerance; contact hostile local politicians, the local NRA chapter, the local Tea Party group, your neighbors, etc.; step out of your comfort zones; and invite members of the public to discuss our "mutual differences" and appreciate those differences, or at least start to openly practice the art of tolerance: Ask folks with whom you disagree to have coffee with you; have guided discussions; have face-to-face, low-key chats; go for a walk with someone; get to know your enemy, frenemy, or others. Ask the local mosque, church, synagogue, or other houses of worship to host or convene a local colloquy or other type of gathering to discuss all the violence, hostility, and hatred we've been seeing. Be open about yourself when doing so; be as serene and friendly and accepting as possible; model the very behavior you want to see in others ("model unto others as you would have them model unto you," if you will). You won't agree with much of what you hear; indeed it might be diametrically opposite of what you believe. But this exercise isn't about changing minds, outlooks, opinions, or political allegiances; it's about changing behaviors. House Majority Leader John Boehner the other day observed that one reason Congress is so divided is because it reflects the divisions of the country that elected it; fair enough, but that doesn't mean we have to be as uptight, haughty, arrogant, condescending, uncivil, uncouth, and lacking in compromise and social graces as the current Congress is. We're all better than that; even congresspeople know that. I know they think they must "show" they're tough -- well, it is a show, all right, but it's a show that doesn't serve the country well, and we must bring the curtain down on such bad behavior and be our own bosses, our own handlers, our own role models. And we must act now as if we are missionaries or crusaders, not the zealous, religious kind, but perhaps with a kind of quiet urgency and fervor, proselytizing (gently) the concepts of tolerance, kindness, and evolved civility. At least we need to rededicate ourselves to such an effort. It has to be genuine and sincere, not a mere "kill 'em with kindness" ingratiation and temporary detente, but ongoing. Please begin now.
(There are many resources that can help guide local peacemakers, community organizers, and "just plain folk" get this effort of ongoing tolerance and acceptance moving, if it doesn't already exist in your community; perhaps some of you can comment below with posting of such resources? A few of many include No Labels, Museum of Tolerance, and Teaching Tolerance; others?)
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