August 6, 2014 by Lisa
I’ve done many tasks in preparation for an upcoming trip. Some are pretty pedestrian (renew my passport, cancel the newspaper). Some are needed only for more unusual situations (get letter of invitation from local hotel, secure visa).
But I’ve never, ever had to confirm whether or not it was illegal to be me in the country I planned to visit.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He and his partner are getting ready for a trip to Asia and he’s in that really fun part of preparation when you scour the internet for things you want to do. After telling me about the luge trip they’ll take down the Great Wall of China (who knew?), he said Oh, I’d better make sure it’s not illegal to be gay there. I know it’s not in Japan, but it might be in China and I’m pretty sure they’ll figure out that I am.
After my initial snort of laughter, I realized he wasn’t joking. Worse still, he added it to his pre-trip planning list like any other task.
This floored me. Even in the wake of the publicity scored by Russia’s anti-gay laws during the Olympics, this was so startling and made me realize (again) what entire groups of people have to think about and battle against daily.
Prejudice against those who are different is nothing new. I live in a country whose fabric of history is woven with the threads of slavery and unequal civil rights. I understand that people discriminate in ways large and small, and few population groups are immune.
But growing up, my parents taught me not to discriminate based upon aspects that couldn’t be changed, like where someone was born or their race. They taught me that women were just as good as men and could achieve anything they wanted. My childhood seems so lacking in prejudice that I didn’t understand until years after I was one of only a few white girls in my summer camp in the Bronx that there were other white people who would have been uncomfortable letting their kids go there and maybe I should have been uncomfortable as well. I wasn’t, at least not until the counselors inadvertently learned that my dad managed the camp and after that wouldn’t let the boss’s daughter out of their sight to run off and have fun with the other kids.
So despite our collective history, despite my awareness that prejudice is all around us, it still astonishes and angers me when it touches someone I know personally. The concept of statistical psychic numbing applies: being immune to the suffering of a large population (like genocide in Darfur) but moved to tears, willing to open heart & wallet to help an individual like an abused dog or child whose recently lost a parent. Mother Theresa her own bad-ass self said “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” It’s the psychology of not being able to relate to an enormous problem, but break it down to the individual level and now we can actually see it and do something about it.
As my friend plans his trip, my mind continues to boggle at the thought that there are places where he could be arrested for something that helps define his “him-ness”. It makes as much sense as me being arrested for having two arms or for having a nose in the center of my face. To paraphrase the great poet Lady Gaga, we were born this way and simply can’t be any different. I say this knowing that there are groups of people who don’t agree with this and insist gay people have made a choice, as if they were deciding what car to buy or where to go for lunch. I don’t mean to be unkind, but they’re completely wrong about this. I’d love for them to tell me exactly when they chose to be heterosexual (if they even are). I don’t remember making this choice and I doubt they do either.
Googling “is homosexuality illegal in China” tells me it’s not. As in most places, there’s a long way to go before it’s fully accepted. So I encourage my friend to fly down the Great Wall on his luge, hair dyed a rainbow of colors, shrieking like a little girl. Be yourself, baby, as the world continues to lumber towards only getting worked up over things that are justifiably illegal, like genocide. Or dogs left in cars on a hot day. Or saying “supposably”.
[If this angers you too, give a few bucks to Lambda Legal ].