Change doesn't happen overnight, although the morning after election day, it seemed like it had. I was talking to a gay man I'd met at my recent reading at Giovanni's Room Bookstore, and he mentioned that the marriage equality victories were the "icing on the cake" of the election results.
Marriage equality was legalized through popular vote in three states (Maine, Maryland and Washington), and there was also a win in Minnesota, where voters opposed an amendment banning gay marriage.
That the Obama campaign strategically used marriage equality to encourage young people to vote is nothing short of amazing. Historically, same-sex marriage has been used against us by political "strategists" (Karl Rove comes to mind) who haven't shied away from using the tactics of schoolyard bullies.
Fairness and decency have prevailed -- and it's about time.
The results of the election restored my faith in the system. The gender gap prevailed -- and RuPaul called it. On the Wanda Sykes election special, RuPaul predicted that suburban, straight, married women who were being polled were sitting in their living rooms and saying what their husbands wanted to hear and that once they were in the privacy of the voting booth, they would come to their senses and vote Democratic.
When I think about marriage equality, I remember the older lesbians I met when I came out in the early 1980s who predicted that same-sex marriage would be legal someday. The expatriate lesbians who lived in Paris in the early 1900s, Natalie Barney among them, also predicted that some day in the future, society would come to accept gays and lesbians. No doubt Sappho felt the same way. To ourselves we have always been normal.
Over the years I have come to realize that my sense of history has been informed by having had older parents. Both of my parents were in their early 40s when I was born, putting two generations between us. In Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books 2012), I chronicle the last months of my mother's life, when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was taking care of her. In one conversation she said:
"I'd feel better about this if you were fifty. I thought if I waited, I could bring you into a better world. I really thought things would be better and in some ways they were. No one talked about racial equality twenty years before you born, there was no environmental movement."
"And no women's movement." I met my mother's unwavering glance.
"Yes, no women's movement." My mother was silent while she looked at me intently. "I tried not to interfere too much with your life," she added. "I figured once you give someone something you shouldn't try to take it back."
For the first time I saw my life not as a fact, but as a gift.
My mother raised me right. I have always looked beyond my own life to have compassion for others. Even considering my own interests, I find that there are reasons to have voted Democratic in this election other than feminism and LGBT equality. There's Social Security, just to name one. But when the dust has settled, when the Big Bird emails (saying, "Whose unemployed now?") have all been forwarded, having compassion for others is what matters most to me.
Recently I have taken a temporary position working on a children's literacy project in the inner-city schools of Philadelphia and Camden. For the most part, I am working with a group of retired teachers and have found myself in good company. In these few weeks I have learned that smaller classes do make a difference, and that Head Start programs do matter.
Many wealthy people may be doing everything they can to hold onto their money, but the fact is that they did not get rich in a vacuum, and the poor need extra help. Many who need this help are 5- and 6-year-olds who, every day, enter institutions that are charged with their care -- large, overcrowded buildings with signs in the hallways saying that guns are not allowed on the premises, where school supplies are in short supply, set in surroundings of abject poverty.
The morning after the election I was in a class of first graders. I looked down into the large, brown eyes of a 6-year-old who was shyly yet proudly saying to me, "I know who the president is." I looked back at him and smiled, saying, "I know, too -- and isn't it wonderful?"
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.