In my most-recent CFR article, I touch on an idea that I want to expand, because I’ve been feeling its truth. The idea is that intolerance, in whatever form you want to name, can grow in the mind like weeds. It’s a difficult concept, because often bigotry is broken down on a binary level; you’re either racist or you aren’t, you’re for or against gay marriage, you treat women equally or you don’t.
I’ve shared an anecdote here before, about losing interest in a book based on the race and gender of the protagonist, despite considering myself an enlightened, open-minded, tolerant individual. It’s time to share another one, shamefully more recent, but important, I think.
A good friend of mine, who for the sake of this post we’ll call Bdurdendee Hnurf, is getting married soon (in two months! Holy shit!). Bdurdendee happens to be a homosexual gentleman, and he is marrying another homosexual gentleman, making this an example of society-destroying gay marriage. Bdurdendee, was angry for a long time when I first knew him, possibly (although perhaps not wholly; I’m not attempting psychoanalysis here, but simply relating my observations) due to the fact that he was closeted for a fair amount of time. Once he came out to his friends he was a good deal happier, and once he met his partner he seems happier still.
All this is prologue to something that happened in my head the other day. I had asked Bdurdendee a couple of wedding-related questions, and he had responded, and then at some point a few minutes afterward, heading downstairs to brood fruitlessly in front of my cupboard (not literally, I had apples), I realized that for some reason I wasn’t quite comfortable with thinking of the whole endeavor as a wedding.
I was a little less surprised that a self-described enlightened, open-minded, tolerant might have a thought of this nature, because, as I said in the aforementioned article, I’ve had this kind of weirdness sprout in my mind before. It wasn’t even hard for me to figure out where this mental reticence came from and it’s actually not a bad reason, as reasons to think stupid bullshit go. The reason is simple: I grew up in an era where you didn’t see a lot of LGBT-people, pop culturally or otherwise. I’ve not been to many weddings in my lifetime, but the ones I have been to have been in what the anti-gay culture warriors might refer to as a traditional configuration (or, rather, how they might refer to it if they were firmly committed to conducting all their discourse as if they were Data from TNG). For me there’s a visual to the whole thing, and up to this point the visual has been a dude in a suit and a lady in a white dress and about thirty to sixty minutes of talking until the whole thing is over and I can eat awkwardly as close to a corner as I can manage, waiting for the bride and groom to get around to the cake so that I can grab a piece like the carb-craving monster that I am.
As we grow and change and learn more about the world we encounter definitions we have to change, based on new information. If we grow up somewhere with no pine trees and then Christmas rolls around, suddenly we have to change how we think about trees. So, too, if we’ve grown up with little-to-no cultural emphasis on dudes and ladies pairing up contra-Noah’s-Ark-style, we have to suddenly change how we think about weddings. And I can kind of understand the mind-set that has trouble with that, because the world basically sucks a lot and things are tough all over and it’s real easy and comforting to dig in your heels and say, “Nuh uh, marriage is between a man and a woman (because if it isn’t then suddenly I am exposed to the uncertainty of the universe and the sure knowledge that we will all one day perish, and that we are on one orb of many, hurtling through the cosmic void at speeds incomprehensible to my human brain; clamping down hard on this one thing is the only way I can maintain the illusion of control over a fate I have no role in determining).”
I understand it, but of course we have an obligation to overcome these feelings and rewrite our mental definitions. The world is changing constantly; technologically, culturally, ecologically. Bdurdendee Hnurf is getting married; it will be a wedding. I don’t even feel comfortable prepending ‘gay’ onto those. Two people are coming together and pledging their lives to each other, and this time they both happen to be dudes. For now, yes, there might be a little bit of a societal double-take as we all get used to the idea, but in the long run I would think we’re aiming for a world where it’s not one class of people being allowed to take part in another class of people’s ritual, but one ritual, shared amongst everyone.
Even if your name is Bdurdendee Hnurf.