Looking Forward to Answering That Question
by Debbie Hemenway
In the early summer of 1995, my younger daughter and I spent a week in New York City. We went to museums (for me) and musical theater (for her) and, on a muggy Sunday morning, went downtown to watch the annual Gay Pride Parade.
There was the usual leather-and-feathers contingent and the Dykes on Bikes and all of the outrageous folks who, for the image-hungry media and the gay-averse portion of the public, are the face of gay America. But what I found most illuminating and for my daughter, who was working out for herself who she would grow up to be, probably most significant were the literally thousands of participants who were completely indistinguishable from the men and women we all encounter every day in every corner of our lives.
They looked so normal. They were so normal.
Fast forward, Fall 2008. I was the librarian at Winters High School and that year’s crop of seniors was plugging away at their dreaded Government/Economics term paper. Because it was an election year, one of their choices was to write about the then-current campaign, the one that would eventually put Barack Obama in the White House.
At that point, I found it difficult to believe that a black man could indeed win the presidency of the United States. For me, who had been a child in the desegregation years of the 50s and a young adult in the Civil Rights years of the ‘60s, simply the fact of his nomination was a victory beyond what my younger self might ever have imagined.
I was talking that day to Oscar, a young man who was keenly interested in politics and was following the newly-launched campaigns avidly. It didn’t even matter to me who won, I told him (even though it did); I had just been so moved and so inspired to watch the Democratic Convention and to see the evening, which is always used to introduce the candidates. I had been moved to tears, I said, seeing Michelle Obama’s biography, the family album photos of a black American family on the Jumbotron, and hearing the cheers and air horns and typical over-the-top convention enthusiasm as she walked out onto the stage.
I was, I must admit, enraptured by my own sense of the historic nature of the moment.
Oscar was not enraptured. He looked at me. Blankly. And then he asked me: “Why?”
And in that moment I saw how far we really have come, that the event that I saw as the culmination of 150 years of struggle was not even on his radar. It was not an issue for him. At all.
Poet T.S. Eliot said that the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper. Perhaps he was not speaking of an Apocalypse that will devour the planet, but simply of the demise of old worlds to make way for new ones, right here right now.
This weekend, I will be going to San Francisco to watch my daughter and her Brazilian martial arts troupe perform at the Ethnic Dance Festival. The performance will be at the same time as the annual Gay Pride Parade downtown and, following her heart to what matters most to her, she will be dancing on a stage, not marching in the street.
She and her friends do not wear leather and feathers and they are not, by and large, in your face or outrageous. They are just normal people who look like everybody else, who have friends and families and jobs, who live with heartbreak and happiness, and who worry about the rent and the bills and the future.
I am proud of her every day and it has nothing to do with who she loves, just with the fact that she loves.
I look forward to a day when she tells some young person about how inspired she is by how far America has come in the struggle to accept without reservation everyone among us and that young man or woman looks at her blankly. And has to ask why. And doesn’t even really understand the answer.
Debbie is a staff writer for the Winters Express, a job to which she has returned after a 25 year detour as teacher and librarian at Winters High School.
Debbie grew up in the East Bay and attended UC Davis in the early 60’s. After a year of running away from home to Europe, she came back and completed a teaching credential at Berkeley.
She moved to Winters in 1974, where she married and had two daughters. Tiring of diapers and conversation with no-one over the age of 4, she took a part time job at the Winters Express in 1982, working in the darkroom. That grew into pasteup and reporting and eventually into a short stint as editor before taking a teaching job in the Winters Schools.
She retired in 2010 and now leads a quiet life with her dog and 2 cats. She spends a fair amount of time behind the lens of her camera and thinks her pictures say far more about who she is than her words do. Her photos have been used on various websites, as well as having been published in the Shambhala Sun magazine. They can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/prajna45/