Fight or flight? – Brief Article
I said it, and maybe you did too: “If George W. Bush gets elected, I’m leaving the country.” Of course, I’ve been threatening to become an expatriate ever since I was a teenager, usually whenever Republicans got elected to any public office. The trouble was that when I actually left, even for short trips, I was always glad to come home. There’s something about Central American stomach ailments and Central Asian mafiosi that makes life in the USA seem pretty good by comparison. Sometimes I’d even count the days until I could get back, despite the GOP.
This isn’t happening anymore. Emigration used to be an idle threat, but now I’m starting to wonder. When I came home after a recent month abroad, my dad asked me, “So are you glad to be back?”
I took a deep breath.
He laughed. “OK, that’s enough,” he said before I’d said a word.
I guess he didn’t want to hear my complaints about the inferiority of American politics and culture again. After he put up with them good-naturedly for so long, I can’t say I blame him–but something really is different this time.
Part of the difference is what’s happening in the United States. While we were vowing to leave the country, I doubt many of us suspected that things could be even worse than Dubya’s winning the election: Dubya’s not winning the election but having his daddy’s boys arrange it for him anyway.
The biggest difference, however, is not what’s happening here–it’s what’s happening elsewhere.
Lately it seems that another country passes an ambitious gay-equality law or takes some other step forward for gay rights almost every month. The United Kingdom has lifted its ban on gays in the military, lowered the age of consent for gay sex to 16 (the same as for straight sex), and is now considering easing restrictions on adoption by gay individuals. In the past two years countries including France, Canada, and Germany have started to offer some or all of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. And the Netherlands has gone further than anyone–in April, lesbian and gay marriage will be fully legal.
This trend toward equal rights (not special rights, Mr. Bush) is happening even in places you might not expect: The foreign partners of gay South Africans have the same status as the foreign spouses of heterosexuals. Lawmakers in Mexico City plan to introduce legislation that would recognize same-sex couples and allow them to adopt. The Czech Republic–a country I’ve had the chance to spend several months in–isn’t at the forefront of gay rights, but things are still arguably better for the country’s gay citizens than they are here. There’s less religious influence in politics, and a level-headedness about sex seems to be a Czech national trait.
All of this makes things back in the Land of the Free (at least outside Vermont) look pretty lousy by comparison. Sure, my boyfriend and I recently registered as official domestic partners here in Madison, Wis., but it’s good only for things like a spousal discount at university tennis courts.
The truth is, I’m nowhere near ready to revoke my U.S. citizenship–but I’m mad that I even have to think about the possibility. If the United States was ever at the forefront of equality, it’s not any longer. All of us who’ve been threatening to leave the country have a clearer choice now: On the one hand it’s very possible to head someplace where the options really are better (I’ll tell you my score on Canada’s pre-application for citizenship if you’ll tell me yours). On the other, we can stay and fight against Dubya and everyone else who blocks our progress.
Neither of these options–fight or flight–is easy. But letting others decide what rights we do and do not have is even less tolerable now than it was before so many other countries started passing us by.
Ott’s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and many gay and lesbian publications as well as on Salon.com.
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