On the Freedom To Love Any Person Or Machine You Wish

Discomfort is natural. Shame is unnecessary. But understanding is absolutely necessary.

Man.  Man oh Man.  Fifty people gunned down, lying dead in a club, their cell phones going off from desperate friends and family trying to reach them. 

Where to start?  

OK.  

NOT OK.  

Deep breath.  

Well, let's just wade into this river of blood.

I grew up in New York City, on the west side of Manhattan.  I was raised in a secular fashion, in a liberal Democrat civil rights family.  

My friends and I, in junior high, we used to hold our breath when we passed Christopher street.  Yeah, we were homophobic.  I was homophobic.  Yep, me, the guy who's now a rainbow flag waver with a bunch of awesome friends of all different sexual orientations and gender identities.  Back then, I was a homophobe, but as a liberal, I felt shame about it, so I tried not to let on.

It wasn't until I was in college that this started to change.  I took a course called Sex and Society.  I thought it would be fun and easy.  It wasn't.  I got a C minus, if I recall correctly.  But one of the required assignments was that I had to interview a person of a different sexual orientation than my own.  I put it off until the last minute, then finally got my courage up and walked into the GALA office (Gay and Lesbian Alliance - this was before they included Transgender in these acronyms), and asked if there was someone I could interview.  The young man behind the desk said "Sure, I'll talk to you".  I don't remember that man's name, but thank you, wherever you are.

Hopefully not lying in a puddle of blood in a club in Orlando.  GOD DAMMIT.   Am I allowed to curse on HuffPost?  F**K.

OK.  

NOT OK.  

Deep breath.  

Back then, a lot of my assumptions were contradicted during this interview and I learned several small but important lessons, and I was on the road toward being comfortable with my own sexuality, and the differing sexuality of others.  It took many years.  I had to learn real facts, and get to know real people, and to understand their lives.  This is true of understanding Transgender issues and race issues too.  It's hard to learn to overcome our discomfort and learn enough to understand.

But there's a lot of money to be made and a lot of power to be gained by telling people they don't have to work hard to understand, that their discomfort is actually moral clarity, and that their shame can be blamed on others.  This is Donald Trump's bread and butter, isn't it?

We make Trump's job easier when we pile on all of the shame but none of the education.  When you encounter someone yelling about how they're sick and tired of having to be "politically correct", you've encountered someone who's been shamed, but not educated, not helped to understand, and they've fallen in with some trickster or like-minded group that tells them that they don't have to learn to understand, that they are morally justified in dismissing, criticizing, or hating someone that makes them uncomfortable.  We, as a nation, need to do a better job, as educators, as journalists, as citizens.  We need to ease up on the shaming, and work on educating people by helping them along the long, hard road to understanding.  We need to do this with compassion, and in the face of adversity.

This is really difficult work, but there really is no alternative. Trying to force people not to feel what they feel doesn't work.  It's never worked - it can't work. It's not that I'm some hippy liberal idealist - I've just looked at the alternatives to acceptance, and they involve making people miserable and non-productive, spending every free moment following our teenagers around, putting security guards in bathrooms and asking them to guess what's in someone's pants, and other things that no one wants to do which don't work anyway, and which were dreamed up by people certain that they've figured out the will of God.

Meanwhile, there are people out there that are trying to steal from us, trying to deceive us and trying to exploit us.  There are real threats to our safety and happiness.  One of those dangers is people who gain power or wealth by convincing us to blame our discomfort on the supposed immorality of others.  When you fall prey to these people, you alienate someone that could be your ally.  By the way, this happens on the liberal side too.  Before you get whipped up into a frenzy looking down at the 'Rubes' at the Trump rally, think about who benefits from that.  The long road to understanding our Republican co-citizens may be a worthwhile road indeed. Discomfort is natural.  Shame is unnecessary.  But understanding is absolutely necessary.

Part II - The Tools for Turning Radicalized Discomfort into Innocent Dead.

Thirty rounds in thirty seconds.  One man killing 50 people before he can be subdued.  That's quite a powerful machine.

One thing I've learned from my life so far is that a lot of people really love machines.  It could be their Apple computer, or their new phone, or their new car, or their camping gear, or their musical equipment, or their guns.  I have friends that are really into one or more of those things. My friends often go into debt buying these things or spend a lot of money they could spend another way, and one commonality I've noticed is that there is always some rational reason being offered for why they do this.

There's not really a good rational reason, as I see it, for spending an extra thirty thousand dollars on an automobile, but people insist there is: I need power to get out of potentially dangerous situation, It had the highest safety rating, I deserve this, et cetera et cetera.  Can we just be honest?  Your new orange Mustang with the big fat tires that cost $200 each is freaking cool and spending $2000 to fix the transmission on your Corolla is pretty boring.

Similarly, I find my gun-owning friends engaging in similar rational justifications: When that burglar enters your house, you're going to be wishing you had a Glock like mine, there are mountain lions in my part of town, blah blah blah.  Yeah, yeah.  You know, I've fired a gun before.  It was pretty exhilarating.  Your new gun is pretty freaking awesome!  You love it!  I get it!

But just like the new car owner that doesn't want to have the power of their vehicle choked off by smog reduction equipment or fuel economy regulations, the gun owner doesn't want to be prevented from owning and firing all their cool machines  So therefore, it's, you know, necessary to defend my home and my family, and besides, it's my right as defined in the Second Amendment to the freaking Constitution, so for you to impinge on that would be un-American.  

You know, the Second Amendment, "A well regulated militia, being.."

Wait, what?

So before they even mention guns, or even a group which might fire a gun, words two and three are "well" and "Regulated".  

If you were building a well regulated militia, would you give a big powerful gun to a guy who hated gay people when there are gay people in your group?  Or who expressed sympathy for a group that considers your group a sworn enemy?  Or who hadn't displayed a rudimentary knowledge of gun safety?

It doesn't say "Unregulated", or "Minimally Regulated", or "Partially Regulated" or "Sensibly Regulated".

You have a gun fetish.  Let's call it what it is.  It's OK, I fervently believe in your right to love any person or machine you wish.  I support your freedom on this, I really do.

But here's the thing: When your fetish leads to other people getting hurt or killed, people that never signed up to be a part of your scene, collectively we have to put the kibosh on that.  

For example you can have a shoe fetish, or a fetish for really hairy guys, or a cafeteria fetish (ahem).  Live and let live, bro!  But if you have a rape fetish, or a fetish involving children, or a fetish for running red lights, we can't allow that, see?  

Similarly, if your gun fetish leads to hateful, unstable people coming into easy possession of a firearm capable of killing 50 people in seconds, we have to do something about that.  Sorry.

I've been a participant in a conversation in which it was pointed out that if the Republicans allow open carry at their convention, all our problems might be solved.  That's sorta funny, until it isn't.  Let's not do that.  Let's be well regulated.

Conclusion

1. Try to understand

2. Try to help others understand

3. Try to understand why it's so hard to help others understand

4. Be well regulated

 

That's about all I've got.  

 

CONVERSATIONS