DOMA, DPchallenge, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Empathy, Equality, gay marriage, George Michael, In A Town Called Malice, love, marriage, Music, Prop 8, San Francisco, Supreme Court Ruling, teachable moment, The Jam, What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding
I’ve been a teacher for twelve years, and we teachers know lessons when they bonk us on the head. Ok, let’s be fair–we know them before they actually arrive. Last night, I thought about today’s newest decision from the Supreme Court. We Californians, especially San Franciscans, knew that a verdict on the legality of Prop 8 would be coming up before the summer recess. We held our breath, like we have done from the bittersweet moment Obama was elected (progressive) and Prop 8 passed (regressive).
I need to make it clear my personal stake in the overthrow of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). I am fortunate enough to be a straight, middle-class, well-educated white female. If I were a man, I would maybe have only a slight leg up. I have always known my fortune in life–my parents granted it to me, and made it clear that I should use it to my advantage but never abuse it, or hold it over anyone else’s head. I am not married. But I hope to be someday. If I am lucky enough to find a good person, one who loves life, and completes me in some small way, I hope to share what so many of my friends and family already experience.
But, I have other friends and family members. Hell, we all do. We all have at least one friend or family member, regardless of how distant, that is gay or transgendered or bi-curious. They may not yet be born. They may or may not be out of the closet, for their own sake, or–for ours, but most of us in the US, the World, know. And whether or not we believe in same sex marriage or domestic partnerships, or whatever–we know, deep down, despite how we were raised, despite any Big Books that we feel obliged to take literally–that it is wrong to tell another human that they are not good enough to have what we have. Period.
When the news came on the radio this morning on my way to work, I wasn’t shocked. But I was thrilled. As someone who has music running through her life all the time–both literal and mental–my head began swimming in Freddy Mercury’s “Somebody to Love” and even INXS’s “Original Sin”. But then two songs, and I swear to you, that must have been dropped down from the heavens (or else, of course a same-sex marriage supporter DJ), played in a row. The first one, a fast-paced, instant dance-in-your-seat (and let me tell you the looks I got exiting the freeway) tune, was The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”. I was first introduced to this song in 2000 in the form of Billy Elliot, not the musical, but the movie. Billy is so angry with his father for not letting him dance that he literally flips up the sides of his Yorkshire alley to this song. It’s even more dramatic on stage, although the song is different. But the point is, the song, being so upbeat, is talking about oppression. In a town called Malice.
The second was my Elvis–Elvis Costello’s “What’s so Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding”. Seriously, what is? No explanation needed on that one. I choked up, I’m not going to lie.
As an educator, today would be what we refer to in the Biz as a “teachable moment”. And it doesn’t have to boil down to sexuality. This morning, I woke up to the news of badass Wendy Davis, who filibustered her way through the night in Austin to defend a woman’s right to choose. To my 8th graders, I wouldn’t dare teach them about my personal position on a woman’s right to choose. But would I teach them about determination and standing up for what a person feels is right? You betcha.
And so I think of no other word than Empathy–a word that we try and teach in 8th grade, but let’s face it–a Supreme Court ruling cannot teach it to our children. They have learned it multiple times, way before 8th grade.
It takes the form of the Brownie badge I earned in 1984–one that I still have, sewn on a tiny brown sash–called “Take A Walk In Another’s Shoes”, where we experienced first-hand what it felt like to be in a wheel chair, or blind, or deaf. It takes the form of the kickball field in 6th grade when picking teams, where a kid sizes up another kid, and goes on their ability, instead of their size or popularity. It takes the form of a beyond-awkward student in 8th grade, who was left for dead in the streets of Mexico, to reach out and say to a crying, class president who is scared to leave the shelter of all she’s known in her small California town for a new life in Boston because of a parent’s job, that moving is Hell–aloud–with 29 others staring at him. It takes the form of 7 close friends, friends for 18 years, all who are married and have their own children, who put their arms around their only single friend and tell her that someday, regardless of how or when, she will be a mom, whether she does it via surrogate, or adoption, or artificial insemination.
We teach our children from age two to put themselves into other’s shoes. To empathize, to know that it’s not right to judge someone’s differences if they don’t add up with our own beliefs. I mean, let’s face it. We can continue our morality and our religious beliefs and our social mores without judging those same morality and religious beliefs and social mores of others. We do this EVERY DAY without thinking. Friends who are Protestant, Athiest, Jewish, Agnostic, Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Black, White, Asian, Indian. And we don’t bat an eye. We sit at the same table. We converse. We relate.
It’s time to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. They may not fit, but we can feel what they feel through the rough climb, and know that empathy is a true, human instinct.
Jimi Thing–Dave Matthews Band
Where We Gonna Go From Here–Mat Kearney
Have You Seen Her–The Chi-Lites
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me–Elton John
My Love–Paul McCartney