It’s been stunning how sociocultural worlds collided the past few weeks in essentially the blink of an eye – but I’m not referring directly to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling legitimizing gender-neutral marriage rights, which in turn “suddenly” triggered long-festering anti-gay reactions and ugly religious showdowns. Nor am I speaking of the “sudden” widespread wave of movements to remove vestiges of the Confederate Flag after more than 150 years, before that racist symbol of white supremacy vaulted to the front of news reports because a lone gunman had repeatedly brandished that banner and decided that nine churchgoing African-Americans shouldn’t live, along with all other blacks.
No, I’m referring to that other battle: the Congressional one about whether the U.S. government should be allowed to continue to collect private data and phone records on basically everyone. The tie-in is that, with the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage — or, more accurately, marriage without regard to gender (don’t forget, this was a victory for transgender marriage rights as well: marriage without regard to gender, as far as I can tell) — the court, in Justice Kennedy’s ringing ruling of affirmation, in essence was saying “queer” was no longer queer, i.e., unusual: Being nonheterosexual was legitimate, LGBT relationship are legit and worthy of respect and LGBT people should “not…be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The constitution grants them that right.” That is: the 14th Amendment clause of equal protection, which had been lingering in the U.S. Constitution for a mere 147 years or so (give or take the argument that the amendment was never properly ratified).
So, if inherent in the ruling is the underlying acceptance that everyone is equal under the law and that our relationships are legit, therefore there is no reason to hide our relationships or enable others to hide: This is the “new” gay-positive/post-bigoted America: The court has basically said so.
But, OK, that’s overly simplistic: It ignores history, ignores truly-felt revulsion and “gay panic” about all things gay including seeing men kiss men, ignores deeply held religious beliefs and so forth. But by the same token, here we are: We’re not going back into the shadows, we’re not going back into the closet, we’re out, we’re proud and we won’t live in fear: Legions of LGBT activists and allies have shows incredible courage for decades if not centuries to get us to this point; there’s no turning back.
…But then there’s this concept called “privacy.” Well …why do we need “privacy” if the whole LGBT marriage battle was about NOT living in the shadows, not living a lie, not living in fear, not having to “pass” as straight? Is “privacy” a code word for enabling people to remain closeted?
I’m of course being a bit facetious, and I’ll disassemble part of my argument in a moment, but for now let’s look at why so many Americans are so concerned about the government looking over our shoulders — as queers, let alone as straights, if we’ve now been given the top court’s green light to be ourselves openly. As many national-security advocates note, if you have nothing to hide, then you should have nothing to fear from full discovery and disclosure by government surveillance, especially if the government is looking for terrorist plots. And since being queer is no longer a legal stigma, supposedly we can’t be blackmailed and we can’t be blackballed, right?
Well, of course not: There are still bigots aplenty and job discrimination, housing discrimination, relatives’ discrimination and so forth. Nor am I advocating a total end to privacy because, as we all know or maybe fear, we’ve collectively been scarred either actually or figuratively by the object lessons of literature’s Orwellian Big Brother or the Nazi/Stasi/KGB/McCarthy histories. But in the eyes of progressives, or at least some progressives, we’ve come such a long way in America, or certain parts of America, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling should in turn have greased the skids of societal acceptance by pointing out the inherent injustices and in essence said: Get onboard the human rights express; we’re moving on.
…Except…: What if certain closeted people are not yet ready to be out? What if the government, in seeking to find terrorists in our midst, happens to also find out that someone is gay who’s been keeping this aspect of themselves from family and friends? Well, since the government wouldn’t have any reason to disclose this to anyone, is any harm done (other than the principle of the matter)?
Back up a bit. If queer is no longer queer, and gay is now legally OK, can a “fag tag” be used for blackmail anymore? In the past, the mere mention that a person MIGHT be queer was grounds for a defamation lawsuit, or, vice versa, discrimination. Can such a suit ever again be upheld in court if it’s no longer a slight? (Actually, as I recall, that’s been the case for years in certain jurisdictions: that calling someone homosexual or even implying such is no longer seen as defamatory because, well, there’s nothing wrong anymore with being LGBT, in the eyes of the law.)
So back to the question of why queers — and anyone else, for that matter — need privacy. Well, I can think of at least one reason offhand: surprise-birthday-party planning – I’d hate to be the government spy who lets that cat out of the bag inadvertently. (OK, I’m being a little silly there.) And I don’t like anyone watching me poop, but maybe that’s just me being inhibited because of old social conditioning. (Less silly, but still silly.) Here’s another, though: Say I’m in a straight marriage and haven’t told my spouse that I’m bi or gay or whatever — shouldn’t I be allowed to disclose that, if at all, at a time of my own choosing and in my own way? Why should the government know something about me that my own spouse doesn’t yet know? Or my paramour? Or my bigoted boss? Or…you get the idea.
… On the other had…after 9-11, I’ve personally had no qualms about the government knowing everything there is know about my (boring) bi life, even my occasionally salacious word searches in Google — it’s not as though my (unimaginative) sexual fantasy life is going to overthrow the very government that I want protecting my freedom and liberty to do such word searchers or have such a (boring) life. More to the point, I’ve had virtually no qualms about the government trying to ferret out nefarious people; in fact I’ve even proudly ended up working as a technical editor for a nonprofit agency that deals in part with national security, and — irony of ironies — I’ve also ending up being a board member/officer for that nonprofit’s LGBT employee affinity group: Talk about an entity coming full circle in a field that used to drum out queers, destroy livelihoods and exist with the haunting excesses of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI or other agencies.
But I get it: I don’t want secret police storm-trooping into my bedroom to arrest me for certain consensual acts if some antigay zealot gets into office; the abuses against personal liberty in the name of national security or some such other excuse have been rampant in the past. And I respect others’ rights to privacy — some folks just want to keep personal things personal, or as they say in Las Vegas, “What happens in Las Vegas,…” well, you know. …But you SHOULDN’T know, if you know what I mean.
I guess, though, I’m at that point in my life where I’ve either become cavalier, indifferent or fearless or all of the above, because I’ve had decades to get accustomed to being out, and while I haven’t always been happy being outed on occasion at times not of my own choosing, in the long run I’ve usually been happily relieved that the “secret” was no longer secret (if it ever was). And now, with the Supreme Court ruling, it’s almost downright de rigueur to be queer or queer-friendly. No need to be secret and private about that. But that’s me, that’s not other people who might not find an invasion of their privacy to be convenient, to say the least.
So this “new nation” of queer acceptance will take awhile to trickle down into the souls, behaviors and conditioned responses of those who still react negatively, and maybe that’s reason enough to take a go-slow approach to personal-data collecting while still trying to find all the terrorists under our beds (as long as we can still do what we want on TOP of the beds). I don’t expect folks to instantly adjust their attitudes and perceptions (including LGBT people who have internalized homophobia); these take time to unlearn. So I respect their right to privacy and the lessons of past governmental abuses. But I still hate surprises, whether it’s terrorists attacks, birthday parties or privacy invasions. It’s a dilemma, there is no “right” answer and it’s all a balancing act as we try to protect ourselves and our nation from terrorism (both internal and external). But I still wonder: In this day and age, with social acceptance on the rise, do we really need to be all that secretive and private anymore — as long as no one steals my credit card numbers and personal identity, of course… Oh, and I’ll keep the details of your next surprise party a secret from you. Just me and the government, yuh know.