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In Defense of the White Ribbon

Posted: 01/05/09 05:38 PM ET

Maybe I'm a sucker for a revolution... or maybe just for the accessories of one.

Shortly before Christmas, I attended a gay-marriage equality rally here in Midtown New York, "Light Up the Night," hosted by Join the Impact NYC and spearheaded by a group of infectiously passionate college kids. It was one of those rare, impossibly cold nights we get in Manhattan, and there weren't many of us. I was underdressed; I jiggled my toes while I shouted progressive pith and imagined some disfiguring frostbite taking hold. (Things weren't looking good for gay marriage, and they looked even bleaker with amputated or discolored toes.)

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rick Warren has got to go!"

This rally introduced me to the revolution's newest accessory, one most people haven't heard of: the white ribbon tied in a double knot. When I started wearing it, I expected, and hoped, it would inspire comments from my few conservative friends or evangelical relatives. I couldn't have been more wrong. From these people, I got questions such as, "What does that represent?" and after I explained it, respectful, if bemused, nods.

No... the real eye rolling came from other gays: "GIRL... what is that?" or "Did you burn your bra at the protest again?"

You don't need to scour the blogs to find more of this sentiment: Be happy with civil unions. Marriage is just a word. Marriage is a heteronormative institution. It will all happen in good time. Bob Ostertag's blog from December 21 typifies these sentiments:

"Is this really where decades of struggle for sexual freedom ends? With the state granting its blessing to homosexual nuclear families emerging from City Hall, husband-and-husband or wife-and-wife, with the photographer and the rice and the whole bit, finally having become just like them?"

I just don't get it.

Camp is an extraordinarily effective way to combat inequality; there's nothing like watching a master drag queen dish out a good "reading." Of course, there's a place for camp to work some of its magic for gay marriage, as demonstrated in Prop 8: The Musical. What frightens me is when camp becomes self-directed: no longer used to parody a hegemonic culture but to deride anything and everything sincere.

And you can't get much more sincere than marriage.

I wasn't around for the civil rights movements, and I'm not black, but whatever self-hatred was stirring in the U.S. black communities during that era, I have to wonder: Did black people roll their eyes at equality? Did black people argue about whether the right to sit anywhere on the bus was passé or beneath them or beside the point? Certainly, black people didn't worry about becoming too "white" when they finally achieved equal rights.

I will accept that these two movements are apples and oranges, but I imagine the problem of sincerity transcends their differences. Maybe it's not so much Rick Warren I should be directing my protests toward as all the gays and lesbians who titter at the very serious idea of equality.

Although the overwhelming support from straight people is an empowering testament to just how far we've come, I think it's a mistake to let them fight this battle alone. Indeed, I went to the rally with two heterosexual girls, while most of my gay friends, as far as I could tell, were staying inside, away from the elements.