I’m trying really hard to write about gay marriage. The thing is, I can’t stop thinking about the speech President Barack Obama just made about “fixing” our immigration system. I can’t stop thinking about all of the LGBTQ undocumented immigrants whose names and safety were not implied in his speech.
And when I can stop thinking about the speech, I am thinking about Michael Brown. And then I can’t stop thinking about the image of Michael Brown’s body, mid-fall, and the black youth in Ferguson with their fists held up in the air, mid-pump.
And when I can stop thinking about Ferguson, I’m thinking about the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place as I write this, Nov. 20. It’s a day when trans folks and allies huddle in many small solemn gatherings to read the names of transgender people who have been brutally murdered. And when I think about the Day of Remembrance, I think about fierce transgender activist Leslie Feinberg, who died last week, whose last words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist,” and who wrote the classic novel Stone Butch Blues.
I can’t stop thinking about an image from Stone Butch Blues, where the main character, Jewish, butch, working-class Jess Goldberg sinks into a hot bath after being released from jail, arrested for being at the wrong place (a gay bar, New York) at the wrong time (1960s, pre-Stonewall), and then subjected to violence and torture at the hands of policemen.
And when I can stop thinking about Jess Goldberg, I finally think about the photos trending down my Facebook feed — a young white lesbian couple in hoodies saying their vows in downtown Charleston; a middle-aged white gay couple facing each other, holding hands in front of a minister; another middle-aged white gay couple beaming in the afternoon sun with their marriage license, the first one to be obtained by a gay couple in my hometown of Greenville, S.C.
A complicated win is still a win. Importantly, we should look behind the win and ask who brought it to us? Like the complicated (and much more significant) win we witnessed in President Obama’s decision to grant administrative relief to up to five million undocumented immigrants, South Carolina’s gay marriage victory has been brought to us not merely by several fair-minded judges, but by the hard, years-long work of everyday people all across this country who have come together to demand fairness and a sound defeat to the insistent asshattery of disillusioned gentlemen like S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. It’s clear that this win is so sweet for so many LGBT South Carolinians because we have fought for it and taken risks for it and prayed over it and believed in it. And that is something to celebrate.
But I wonder, when we look back at this political moment, what will we see? We humans are very forgetful beings. We have a tendency to yield our memories to dominant historical narratives. This win for the gay community in South Carolina must not be taken out of the historical context we are witnessing it in. When we look back at this moment, will we remember the 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ immigrants in this country who were not named in Obama’s decision? Will we remember Michael Brown? Will the name “Ferguson” bring images of resistance, horror, and hope to our memories? Will Stone Butch Blues be widely read, Goldberg’s story woven into our collective memory?
Toward the end of Feinberg’s novel, Goldberg speaks at a rally of fellow queers, urging gay people to join forces with transgender people to fight for a broader vision of justice. In a moment of hope and vision, she asks, “Couldn’t the we be bigger?” This political moment is asking us the same question. Our wins are only as strong as the movements that create them.