Monday, November 21, 2016
Ranting On...Mike Pence & Hamilton
Growing up, I was the kind of teenager you pointed to your kids (internally, hopefully), and said "be more like him." I was courteous to all adults, and had a part-time job that I was good enough in to eventually become a manager. I was persistently, exclusively on the Honor Roll, and was in every school band you could find. I went to national competitions in our local business club, regularly volunteered at our church, was accepted at every college I applied toward, visited my grandparents, and was in National Honors Society. Aside from not picking up a football, I was pretty much what you'd hope your kid would turn out to be (and even then, I swam after school for several miles most days when I wasn't working). I was a quintessential good kid.
I was, in fact, what Mike Pence would probably have pointed toward if he said he wanted an example of a good kid, aside from the Gore/Lieberman sign in my window. Conscientious, studious, hard-working, and kind to others, all things that if he saw them in a resume would have made him proud, were I his son or his constituent. But I was also something that Mike Pence wouldn't have been able to move past: I was a closeted gay kid struggling with that identity even if externally I was what my community expected me to be.
To people like Mike Pence, all of the good things that I was don't matter once they find out that I liked other guys. How do I know this? Simple-I grew up in a community of Mike Pences.
"Good people," people who would point to me and say, "what a great kid" and then in different breaths, but ones that I was listening for, also complain about the "others." One of the strange things about growing up gay is that you get to see the other side in a way that you don't if you're a person of color or a woman-you know what people say about your community before they realize that you are, in fact, gay. I heard friends of my parents talk about "weird" or "immoral" or "sinful" or any other more colorful word you can think of to describe gay people. I was told I would "go to hell" indirectly more times than you can fathom. People that you would normally describe as honest, good Americans, but they would say detestable, indefensible things about the gay teenager in their midst, and the only reason they did was because I was "one of them."
Mike Pence is one of these people, though I don't know him so can't personally vouch for his being a "good person" otherwise, but he fits the mold. However, he frequently has made targeting gay teenagers and gay Americans a cornerstone of his time in office. He has frequently denied gay people rights, gay people medical aid, and perhaps worst of all, espoused gay conversion therapy. Yes, that's still a thing, something the Vice President-elect wanted funded instead of giving help to victims of AIDS. He literally took money away from people dying of a disease commonly associated with gay men, and gave it to a practice that teaches gay people to hate themselves through physical and emotional abuse. I shudder when I think of this-I know gay people who have gone through this process because their parents, people like Mike Pence, thought that there was something wrong with them, something to correct. People like Mike Pence are the reason that I waited until college to come out, denying my true identity for years, because I knew that once he saw that I was gay, all of the good things that I was, all of the things that people like him found so commendable would disappear since I wanted to kiss men instead of women.
I'm aware that booing the Vice President-elect isn't a classy thing to do, particularly when he's not doing anything in an official capacity, and I'm aware that the cast of Hamilton went out of their way to make Pence feel welcome in the Richard Rodgers. It was the audience, patrons of the arts (of whom I've been a part of more times than I can count, including at the Richard Rodgers), that booed him, and perhaps that wasn't the best course of action. Perhaps they should have tried to welcome him in, hoping that through a connection with the art and its inclusivity he might find some sense of what the hateful things he's done throughout his life have done to communities like those of Hamilton, like those of gay people everywhere. That is the point of art, that is the point of Hamilton or Saturday Night Live-to entertain, but also to occasionally shine a light on what we know in our hearts as a society, and point out that it might be time to change something in said society.
But I also understand their urge, and I want to be very clear to every person, typically white, straight liberal thinkers, that are thinking this is bad optics and took away from Trump University or Jeff Sessions over the weekend: you ask us to be silent a lot. Constantly. Exclusively. In fact, this entire pivot to the economy may be smart to turn back Obama voters who went to Trump in hopes of victories in 2018 and 2020. It's the core message of Tim Ryan's run for Speaker. But it's also about making that gay teenager I was invisible again. It's about making the cast of Hamilton stay just onstage and not say anything that might upset the "acceptance" of their play being a hit. I'm tired of having to turn the other cheek every time a straight person feels uncomfortable with who I am. I have spent my entire life being asked "to give them time to adjust," never having someone recognize the ridiculousness of asking me to be the bigger person while they're saying and doing horrible things to me and my community. Tolerance is something that should be natural-it wasn't something that my parents excluded from their personal education toward me. I'm not asking for an extensive vocabulary on social justice from everyday citizens like Mike Pence (I am asking it from him though because he's in public office), but I also think that you need to look in the mirror a bit and realize what you're doing if you chastise people for booing Mike Pence, and also more thoughtfully questioning why they're booing the Vice President-elect. In thought, deed, and action, he has been booing people like me my entire life. And unlike him, I did nothing to deserve that.