A lesson from my daughter on the power of reasoned discussion.
My daughter caught a taxi to visit me on Mother’s Day and brought with her a wonderful gift: an unexpected insight into the content of her character and a good example of the power of reasoned, respectful discourse.
While it’s traditional to pay tribute to our mothers today, I’d like to share the conversation my 25-year-old daughter had with a white Australian taxi driver in his late 50s about gay marriage.
The cabbie asked her what she did for a living and she replied she is an actor, currently rehearsing for a production at the Stage Door Theatre in Brisbane, which I’ll be spruiking relentlessly on Twitter in due course (*fair warning*).
“Acting, that’s full of fags, isn’t it?”
My daughter told me her first instinct was to respond in like manner to his reflexive bigotry but instead she replied, “Well yes, we often are flamboyant people.
“If you think about it, the qualities which help us cope with being different and isolated are often the ones which go with the performing arts.
“The masks we’ve learned to wear, the way we try and be accepted by our peers, the fears we go through that we won’t be accepted, these are all strategies we learn really young and probably really help in becoming a performer.”
The driver thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well alright but why do they have to be so in your face with it all the time? All that prancing around and Gay Pride and rallies – why can’t they just keep it to themselves?”
“Well, think about it. We have a really hard time sometimes just being accepted and of course we want to celebrate how far we’ve come and how much things have changed.”
By this time the cabbie had noticed the ‘we’ in my daughter’s conversation and asked her a very simple question. “Why? Why would you want to be with a woman?”
“Well, why did you marry your wife?” my daughter said.
“Because I love her.”
“Exactly. Isn’t that enough?”
They talked about religion and whether the traditional view of marriage needed to evolve as society changed or whether we should cling so tightly to a book of rules that includes marrying your daughter to her rapist.
When she arrived at my door the driver shook her hand and thanked her. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I have a lot to talk about with my wife,” he said.
My daughter was very struck at how different the cab ride would have been if she’d given in to her instinct.
Instead of the instant and fleeting feel-good of the indignant response, she started a discussion.
President Obama moved the discussion even further along in the same week, when he came out for gay marriage and, in so doing, increased the pressure on other world leaders, including our own Julia Gillard, of course.
In the US, there’s been much made of the traditional antipathy towards gay marriage among black voters but this article at the Daily Beast showed there’s at least one 75-year-old black woman who’s prepared to think about it, simply because the president has finally given his view.
It’s lovely to think that on the other side of the world my 25-year-old daughter managed to get a middle-aged Brisbane cabbie thinking about it too.
Also this week via The Washington Post came the news that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney led an attack on a young man he believed was gay when they were at high school.
The most telling aspect of the story was the response it drew from Romney, who initially claimed to have no recollection of an incident which clearly traumatised the victim and the people who witnessed the assault.
The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson spelled out very well in Mitt Romney, bully why Romney’s non-response matters:
“How he talks about this incident will be impossible to divorce from how he talks about same-sex marriage in the wake of President Obama’s announcement, and about questions of basic dignity for gay and lesbian Americans. “But unless he deals with it soundly, it will also be present as people wonder about his compassion for anyone not as well situated and cosseted as he has always been.
“Who else might he walk away from? Until now, the campaign has talked about his fondness for pranks as a way to humanize him; his wife called him wild and crazy. Is this what they think that means?”
It’s a truism that everyone’s the hero in their own tale and Mic Wright @brokenbottleboy put that aspect of the Romney story well on his blog Intercourse with Biscuits.
“Bullies remake their childhoods. No adult wants to slip themselves onto a timeline that includes a vicious little creature.”
Americans must decide what the high school story reveals about the character of the man who would be president and whether it’s relevant to the man he is today.
Whatever it says about Romney, it also offers a graphic account of the cruelty and violence so casually meted out to vulnerable gay young people, even to this more enlightened day.
For their sakes, this Mother’s Day I celebrate the fact that my daughter has not suffered like that young victim of Mitt’s and I make a pledge to follow her example and speak out for gay rights, including the right to marry, at every opportunity in a reasoned and respectful way.
Whether our children are gay or straight, the primary maternal concern is for their happiness.
All our children deserve their shot and, for most of us, we seek it in the arms of a loving, committed relationship.
If you think so too, please join me in my Mother’s Day pledge to support all our children in the pursuit of their most basic human rights.
Debate will rage but as long as there’s reasoned discussion and people like that wonderful cab driver, that lovely old black lady and yes, you and me, prepared to join in then commonsense and humanity may yet prevail.
Happy Mother’s Day!