Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Choices We Make

During Thursday night’s Democratic debate on GLBT issues, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was asked if he believed being gay was a biological fact or a personal choice, and his immediate response was “It’s a choice.” He was asked the question again (since “choice” was not the right answer), and he spiraled into the Bush 43 parallel universe where ignorance rules and language is brutally mangled.

It has been firmly established that sexual orientation is inborn, not selected, but that’s not the point. What if being gay was a choice? Would that justify gay-bashing, discrimination, and a complete lack of civil rights? Why aren’t people entitled to make personal choices that other people may not approve of without being reviled? Why should demands for social justice always be couched in terms of “don’t hate me, I can’t help being what I am.”?

This matter of choice and its intimations is a sore point with me, because I’ve been confronted with it all my life. I’m bi-racial (white mother/black father) and I was raised to never deny or be ashamed of what I was; in fact, I was raised to define myself as black (actually, Negro). I didn’t deny it and I wasn’t ashamed, but I was confused, because I look white – not light, white. I’ve always had problems with some black people about this. If I defend my heritage, they’re irritated because I have the option of copping to it, or not, a choice they don’t have. If I don’t make a point of it, they’re offended because they think I’m trying to hide something – and anyway, I’ve never experienced racism because I can pass. This no-win situation was brought into sharp “you can’t make this shit up” relief back in the 60s, when I was harassed by members of the local Black Panthers for not being black enough, then asked to join an elite corps of members who were given special assignments because they could pass. I declined.

Right now, America is in a stranglehold of rage about choices – the cars we drive (no SUVs!), the food we eat (no red meat!), the energy we consume (watch those carbon footprints!), the words we use, the lifestyles we live. I firmly believe the reproductive rights movement really started having trouble when they adopted the term pro-choice. It accurately describes the position, but it hits hot buttons among the anti-choice contingent (they’re pro-life in their dreams), because, in their estimation, there are some things one should not be legally allowed to choose.

Chief among the other things that shouldn’t be legal choices are cigarette smoking (aaagh!), pot smoking (maybe medical marijuana is okay, but you shouldn’t be able to have it just because you want it), teenage sex (abstinence only!) and not being as “green” as Kermit the Frog. Ironically, being fat is considered by most people to always be a choice, even though it rarely is – but then, not choosing to be obsessively healthy, compulsively fit and hysterically environmentally friendly is simply inexcusable.

It’s no wonder that people are largely indifferent to the myriad ways in which the Bush administration has shredded the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is out of fashion. “They hate us for our freedom!” GWB is always telling us. But our freedoms have been eroded and our social conversation has devolved into a polarized screaming match. Can we turn the tide towards rational debate, compromise, mutual acceptance and respect? The choice is ours.
This post is illustrated with the Tarot's Seven of Cups because this card is all about the choices we make.

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