My mere existence is political. I just can't “go along to get along.”
My sibling witnessed my Mother being raped by a distant relative of the family who always used to show up at our family reunions. She never did anything about it because she “went along to get along.” Back then, women were expected to stay in the kitchen and not to “make waves.” Although I have no personal memory of it, I know that this same man that raped my mother, and his brothers, also molested my sibling and I when I was about six years old. I'm sure WE were taught to “go along to get along,” too. Somewhere along the line, though, I learned not to “go along to get along” and that is what I am writing about today which will hopefully answer the question of why politics are so critical to me and why I am a “progressive” and a Democrat and why attending my family reunion being planned by the politically right-wing of my family would be difficult for me.
When I was in third grade in an integrated school in Spokane, Washington, my best friend was a black boy who's name I have long forgotten. I remember very little about him other than going with him to his home one time and waiting for him outside as he was not allowed to bring anyone into his home. I know I felt something like affection for him.
Then, the very next year, I was moved to Abilene, Texas for fifth grade and went to a segregated school for the first time. I had never experienced that kind of racism and hate in my meager ten years of life before then. I just couldn't bring myself to “go along to get along” with that sick culture in Texas and my one and only friend in that school that year was a Hispanic boy, who's name I have also long forgotten. Throughout my life, I would always be drawn to people of color. I have never been able to tolerate racists, whether I am related to them or not. I know that several of my relatives in Spokane continue to be racists and so that makes it difficult to enjoy a "reunion" with them.
When I was thirteen years old, I had a Beatle haircut and the school's Principle sent a letter to my house before the school year began that year and I was told I needed to conform and cut my Beatle hair and “go along to get along.” I didn't do that and my Mother supported me in that decision. I was allowed to stand up for myself and my beliefs and preferences and this would not be the last time in my life that I did so.
The same year that I was expelled from 8th grade, while living in Escondido, California, we were seeing on our black and white television, "White America" beating on "Black America," spraying African-American's with water cannons and beating them with billy clubs. I heard about someone's “dream” that led to a “mountain top” and that dream didn't include “going along to get along.” I admired that so much and became increasingly aware of the injustice in the world and the need to struggle against that injustice. I remembered the horrible, hateful white children of Texas and was so grateful that I had only had to suffer through one year of “The South,” and was so glad to be out of there and in California! It was a big disappointment for me to learn that some of my own relatives in Washington State were racists and dismissed those fighting for their civil rights as "communists." It seemed anyone that didn't agree with these right wing relatives were considered "communists."
A few years later, I remember being at a cousin's funeral in Coulee Dam with some of my extremist right wing relatives and hearing them refer to my brother and I as "communists" merely because of our long hair. These men were drunk as they often were and seemed menacing and threatening. Of course, my brother and I were just kids with no politics but the vitriol I heard from our relatives then would define that side of my family in my mind for the rest of my life. They were ignorant and hateful and to be avoided for the most part.
All of my life I knew there was something different about me from other boys. I was absolutely tortured
by the fact that I didn't “fit in.” I was uncoordinated and I couldn't catch a ball. While my brother and a male cousin played with their little plastic army men, and loved to “rough house,” I preferred playing with my sister or my female cousins. I just couldn't make myself to be like other boys and was just incapable of “going along to get along” no matter how desperately I tried. By the time we were living in Escondido, I began to realize that I might be an aberrant monster and struggled to push out of my mind, what I perceived at the time as demented and abhorrent thoughts and feelings I was having in my thirteenth year, that I couldn't discuss with anyone and didn't understand. My own body seemed intent on betrayal of my horrific secrets I could share with no one. I was isolated, alone, confused and depressed.
When I was 18, I finally began facing the reason that I was different from other boys throughout my life. I began to confront what I had known for a long time but had refused to acknowledge, that I was a “queer,” a “faggot,” a “homosexual.” I begged God not to be but it felt like God had turned his back on me long before then. Nobody, or at least very few, used the word “gay” in the late sixties and there was no such thing as a “gay community.”. There were only brief sexual encounters and self loathing. I even considered suicide at the time which was the only way at that time to “go along to get along.” If it wasn't for an incredible psychologist that I saw for only one session in San Diego at that time, and a sister that loved me unconditionally when I needed it most, I would have been dead. I just couldn't do what society back then would have preferred me to do “go along to get along.”
(Years later, I would hear of a second cousin that may have also been gay and did commit suicide. He had often visited my right wing relatives in Washington and experienced their homophobia and hate directly. I am so sorry that I never meant this second cousin to let him know that life could be better- that there was a whole other world that existed in which he could be supported and loved as he was. It was with much sadness that I heard years later that his suicide was probably related to his sexuality and the cruel homophobia and hate from some of my right wing relatives. I recognize that I was lucky not to have spent very much of my youth with these hateful, homophobic relatives that would have probably destroyed me, too)
When I moved to San Francisco in the late sixties, I was a flower child, hippie. As it turned out, many of the other male flower child hippies I had met, turned out to be just like me. Men could be gentle and kind and empathetic and compassionate. (This was so different than any of the men I had known in my life that all seemed to aspire to the "John Wayne" kind of male image). We started referring to ourselves for the first time as “gay.” We became a “community.” We thought positively about ourselves rather than continuing the self hate of the closet that society wanted us to stay in to “go along to get along.” Instead, we celebrated ourselves, fought back in the Stonewall riots of 1969, started holding parades of pride in the seventies and elected Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to the San Francisco City Council.
In the eighties, a plague hit our wonderful “gay community” we had created and we started dying quickly. The B-list actor, Ronald Reagan and his Republican Party ignored the plague when there would have still been time to save thousands of lives and ultimately millions of lives. He was too busy selling arms to the Iranians and Contras, throwing the mentally ill out into the streets and redistributing the country's wealth from the working poor and middle class to his rich cronies. Reagan and my right wing relatives denigrated Nelson Mandela in South Africa and supported Apartheid. As usual, they would be on the wrong side of history.
In 2009, finally the country came to it's senses and elected the best president in my lifetime, Barack Obama. His administration brought the end of “don't ask, don't tell” and the end to “the defense of marriage act.” He saved our economy and his actions directly led to my ability to finally retire and to marry Milton. Obama accomplished so much in his eight years despite constant obstruction from an out of control, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic Republican Party that would continue to be illogically embraced by my far right relatives in Washington State! The same relatives that were now planning another "family reunion" in the summer of 2016.
I just want you to know that I didn't just “go along to get along” for many reasons throughout my life. I am just not willing to “bend over” and take whatever is dished out by the far right, including those to whom I am related. I believe in making waves, (and the mere fact that I am gay in a 34 year relationship with an African-American male, my mere existence makes waves for many in my own family).
It is those of us that make waves that have moved our country forward over my lifetime. African-American's gained civil rights by not “going along to get along.” They made waves. They raised the consciousness of the country. Women are no longer relegated to kitchens and motherhood anymore because some of them were willing to stand up and "make waves." They are doctors and lawyers and represented in almost ever field of endeavor. Gay people can marry and serve openly in the military and be proud of themselves rather than cutting their own throats because the were willing to stand up and speak out and "Act-Up."
So now, it is 2016. A family reunion is being planned. My Republican Mother passed away years ago and I believe her rapist must be, too, after all these years. The last time I was to a Walling Family Reunion, I specifically asked that he not be invited but I have no clue whether he will be invited this time. Darlene, Roger and I would find it extremely difficult to come face to face with him.
During the last "family reunion" in Spokane which I brought Milton to, I had made some dvd's that contained family pics and videos to give as gifts. I approached one of my far-right cousins to give him a dvd, he recoiled and seethed and spit out the words, "I'm a Rush Limbaugh fan and I agree with everything he says!"As he took the DVD from my hand, I felt like he was saying, "get the fuck away from me you liberal faggot Democrat and take your nigger with you!" Although those were not his exact word, THAT was exactly how it felt to me and I felt that others there felt the same as he did. But, that time, I swallowed my pride and "went along to get along."
Over the years, a few family members have sent me friend requests on Facebook. Before I accept that friendship, I always feel compelled to tell them that I am a progressive gay male in a 34 year relationship with a black man and that I am a registered Democrat. I have been pleasantly surprised by those that turn out to be Democrats, too! There were some Republicans that friended me early on but after a couple of liberal posts from me, they unfriended or obviously don't follow me on Facebook because of my political posts. For a while, I would still follow them because I was interested in their lives outside of politics but these just became one way relationships, my following them but them showing no interest in my life outside of politics. Maybe, again, because my mere existence IS political to them. How can they "like" my vacation pics or posts when they remind them that I am everything they object to? So, I get no "Happy birthday" from any of them, or "likes" for any of the happiest moments in my life. It just became my wishing them "Happy birthday" or "liking" some new accomplishment or even of theirs. This becomes tiresome after while. What's the point?
As I get older, and the 2016 election nears, and I feel more threatened by right wing fascism that disrespects me, my life and my love, it becomes increasingly difficult to put politics aside to spend time with right wing relatives that I barely know otherwise. Milton says to "go along to get along." He says he has "conservative" relatives, too, despite their being African American. Other relatives of mine that I think may even be gay or lesbian seem to be able to "go along to get along," with no problem, apparently resigned to living in their closets. Why can't I? For me, there is no returning to the closet, ever, but I guess just being silent for a couple of hours is not necessarily going back into the closet. Or is it?
Milton insists, it is only for a "couple of hours." Can I "go along to get along" for just a couple hours when I know that some will be looking at me, wishing I wasn't there at all... or worse. Oh, well. My Mother was silent "to go along to get along" for the rest of her life after her rape. I remember attending a family reunion where her rapist and molester of my sibling and I was attending and my Mother was so "gracious" to him and no one would have ever suspected him of being the monster that he was. Later, she would confide the facts to Darlene, Roger and I and I would be told of our own molestation by this same man and his brothers.
EVERYTHING is political. As I have said earlier, my mere existence is political. Standing up and speaking out against injustice is political. When people talk about suppressing their own thoughts or views and "going along to get along," I just can not comprehend it. Can I subject myself once again to the ignorance, racism, and homophobia with a big smile on my face at another family reunion that includes rapists, pedophiles, NRA gun nuts, racists, misogynists and homophobes? To "go along to get along?" I think, ultimately, the answer will have to be "no."