Suppose you lived in a pretty how town with good schools and well-established churches. A local industry that employed nearly everyone who hadn’t already found jobs with the local bakeries and auto shops and various small but relatively prosperous businesses scattered here and there. Your children were healthy, kind and intelligent. With any luck, a few of them were funny. It livened up your day. Most mothers were home all day and a few appreciated that. There was a country club, but even if your parents weren’t members you were friends with kids whose were.
There was also a section of town where the colored folk, as we called them in those days, lived and worked. We had no idea of their lives, but we assumed they were all just as happy as we were most days. I might have known kids with uncles who never married, but if there were whispers we never knew about them. We wouldn’t have understood them if we had. The same goes for families with alcoholic fathers or mothers, with unwanted pregnancies, with private scenes of domestic violence. I had no idea.
Yes, kids. That was a quick picture of the town I grew up in. I was the oldest of six children of a small businessman and a stay-at-home mom. It was the 50’s and we were living the dream.
Just as in the e.e. cummings poem anyone lived in a pretty how town, referenced above, we all sowed our isn’t and reaped our same, said our nevers and slept our dream. Sun, moon, stars, rain.
We never went to the colored part of town (and they never came to ours), the uncles who never married never told us who they really were and we could have gone right on, as so many had done before us, living in this dream world in which all of us were perfectly happy in this town that, like Jim Carey’s world in The Truman Show, said, “Good morning, “Good afternoon, “Good evening,” and “Good night” in a routine that rarely varied.
But off in the distance, we began to hear other voices. The first ones insisted that “Black was beautiful,” and some of us, although we had never considered it before, started to see that yes, of course it was. But then we already heard rumors of other little towns, in which beautiful black folk, who had not been allowed to drink from public fountains or use public restrooms or be served in public restaurants and cafes (but we had also heard that they had their own so it was all right) were being beaten out of public places for insisting on their right to be there. Beaten away from registering to vote. And not only were these actions reported in the newspapers, they were also shown on TV.
Some of us began to wake up.
Some of us were also beginning to wake up in another way. We were the women raised in the 50’s. Many of us, of course, did as we were expected to do and married. I know of at least one such who married and years later, when I met her again at a highschool reunion, seemed to have found in her seemingly unprepossessing husband a loving joy that I had always hoped for and never found. Many of us, however, were the first generation of feminists. We were the ones who devoured The Feminine Mystique. Who poured over Our Bodies Ourselves. Who formed small covens of The National Organization for Women. I joined one such group in Door County, Wisconsin, sometime during my second marriage. These women helped define me for the rest of my life. I have never forgotten them. We woke each other up.
There was a harder awakening awaiting me. Not that I didn’t know anything about gays or lesbians. One of the Door County women, one I considered a bestie in fact, came out as gay while I knew her. I was fascinated with the idea and totally accepting. I did not, in fact, have any erotic fantasies about sex with women – I was always desirous of men. There were many times when I wished that wasn’t so irrevocably so. It was that fact that helped me understand that homosexuality was not really a choice. Because if it was, I might have “chosen” it.
Waking up to the rights and issues of the LGBTQ+ community took a little longer. Even for those of us open to the idea, it was hard to understand the demands for more acceptance from the broader community. Those of us of a certain age remember when the idea itself was unacceptable, to the point of refusing to believe it was true of anyone we might know. Couldn’t we all go on as before? It seemed so much easier. After all, no one really knew who they all were. Even I was uncomfortable with it. I didn't understand it.
For years, science fiction movies, fantasy movies, and horror movies have posed the possibility of aliens living among us, inseparable from the people that we know. And then they began to come out. So many, sometimes they seemed like toadstools that had sprouted in our midst overnight. Brothers and sisters, friends, doctors, dentists, athletes, actors, even members of congress. Teachers! , marching down our city streets, shaking our sleepy consciousnesses and crying: WAKE UP!
And then I realized that I didn't need to understand it. I just needed to believe them. So some of us heard them and joined them, marched with them, arm in arm in love and pride until you could not tell one from another. Which was how we felt it should be.
And yet I understand that there are those who are still asleep. Are still dreaming that their uncles and brothers, their teachers and dentists are all who they have always appeared to be. Perfectly “normal” in every way. Either that or they are not uncles and brothers, teachers and dentists. They are alien. They don’t belong among them.
In a way, it seems as if the issue of the LGBTQ+ community broke something in these sleepers. If this was a community that demanded the same respect as women, as people of color, then perhaps neither women nor people of color deserved the rights, freedoms and respect granted to them. They are all one of a piece. They have all destroyed The American Dream because they insist that we wake up. And as we wake up, the dream fades. We all know what it’s like trying to catch a fading dream. It’s gone. Just gone.
So maybe these people, MAGAs as some are called now, aren’t really sleeping anymore at all. Maybe they have woken up, but they aren’t happy about it. It makes them angry. We hear them raging every day. But they might as well be angry at the weather. The winds of change, climate and otherwise, are blowing and cannot be turned back. The world is not what it once was.
The world is WOKE