Where is the LGBT movement heading ultimately, now that so much has been accomplished in the half-century of the modern movement? What would the ideal ending be to the struggle?
We know the homophobe's dream. As Joseph Epstein put it in Harper's magazine in 1970 just as gay people were emerging from the shadows, "If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth."
Epstein's comment will forever remain a footnote in history -- one of many. We are all familiar with the gains made by the LGBT movement since that comment was made. But progress is far from complete. There is still no federal anti-discrimination law, and 37 states still bar same-sex couples from marrying. But enough progress has been made for people, whether gay or hetero, to envision a truly just society. From our vantage point of progress already achieved, we can now see more clearly into the future and ask, "What would total liberation for LGBT people look like?"
Let me suggest an answer that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.
Think about a society that views being gay as we now view being left-handed.
Like being left-handed, homosexuality knocks on the doors of the rich and poor alike. It is indifferent to race and social status. It visits with a regular frequency, regardless of the society or station -- and it visits everywhere and randomly. It is a minority characteristic that about 10 percent of population has, but it carries no implications.
Today no one gives a damn who is left-handed or who is right-handed. We don't even comment on people's handedness, except as an idle observation, the kind that makes sense when you are buying a baseball glove for yourself or your kid. My friends who are golfers can tell me which players are lefties, but I wouldn't have noticed.
That is exactly the point.
It wasn't always this way. There was a time when adults thought that demons were in left-handed people. The ancient Roman word for left-handed was "sinister," the French word is "gauche," and we still use the word "right" to mean correct.
Until early in the 20th century, parents panicked when a child appeared to be left-handed. Many took radical and brutal measures to convert the child -- an early version of "reparative therapy," forcing left-handed children to write with their right hands. Only late in the 20th century has the concern diminished.
Today when we notice that Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or George H. W. Bush are left-handed, it is an idle observation -- not a loaded one. No one would today draw conclusions from that truth, as people drew conclusions about left-handed people for thousands of years.
You see where I'm going. The goal is for homosexuality to lose all its negative connotations -- to become not worth mentioning or worth mentioning only in special, neutral contexts.
It is still surely a good thing for gay people to come out. Saying "I'm gay" can dispel one's own homophobia and combat other people's.
But the goal -- the vanishing point in this painting that we know as the gay movement -- would be a society where the movement itself isn't needed.
Ultimately, the goal must be to see being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender as like being left-handed and not even to announce sexual orientation where it isn't needed or relevant. We don't say, "Maria is running for Congress. She is left-handed, you know." Anyone who said that would sound bizarre. Our ultimate goal is to put being gay in that category. And we definitely will.
We aren't there yet, obviously. People who call me to interview me still on occasion introduce themselves by saying, "Hello. My name is So-and-so. I'm a gay American." I told the last one, "I don't give a damn if you are gay or American." We went on and met the following week. Being gay isn't a debit, and it isn't a credential -- though being out of the closet still takes some guts, especially in more conservative precincts.
We have a way to go, but we can at least look at the citadel toward which we are headed. It is one in which one's sexual orientation is a matter of indifference. Gay people can hasten the arrival of that day by acting when possible as if it has already arrived. It is a great thing not to have to declare yourself. "I'm a New York Jew." Who cares, really?
I know it's early for this talk of an end point, especially when so much homophobia remains embedded in our culture here and in societies around the world. People still need to define themselves as gay for many good reasons. They need to clear the atmosphere within them and outside them. But keep in mind the analogy with left-handedness, and in certain company, start assuming -- as many are starting to do -- that it doesn't matter. As William Blake once observed, "What is now proved was once only imagined."
Where possible, assume that other people don't care, and if they do, assume that there is something wrong with them. It is their problem, not yours.
I see signs of this ideal society coming to pass already -- glorious signs. A teenager told me nonchalantly that she met a friend's parent with the parent's same-sex partner. The teenager assumed that it wasn't a crucial fact, and it wasn't.
Some will miss the days when being gay was a special secret and gay people lived in a subculture where they managed to find sex and love and friendship against all odds. There was something thrilling about that for many who survived it. But what went with it for too many was also a lot of horrible self-loathing, anti-gay violence, discrimination and second-class citizenship. Giving up the feeling of specialness because you are in exile amounts to giving up very little. Left-handed people are doing just fine without the stigma. LGBT people deserve to be free of it as well.
The late Dr. Frank Kameny, who pioneered gay liberation in the early 1960s and continued doing so for 40-plus years, coined the slogan "gay is good" to lift up his brothers and sisters.
I think my friend Frank would have welcomed the day when being gay had become as unremarkable as left-handedness - -a day when people had become free to concentrate on correcting other social injustices and could stop thinking about this one.