In fiction, I have a wide array of tools for addressing sensitive topics. Writing a double-wedding scene recently, where one couple was male-female, the other male-male, set in the 36th Century on a star ship during an interstellar war was easy. The plot of the story was about how people will find ways to make normalcy and community in any circumstances. The casualness of a pair of best friends one—who happens to be gay and one not—who want to have their weddings together is the point, not legalities or cultural expectations.
Or a series of gags I wrote in a fantasy novel that was centered around an impending apocalypse. I kept introducing weirder and weirder religious groups, all engaged in pilgrimages because of the impending doom. None of them were overtly based on any existing religious group. I wasn’t attacking any doctrine. Each group, instead, was a manifestation of the various ways that real people react to a looming danger, and how they organize themselves into social institutions. It helped that I was writing in a cartoony talking-animals universe, so some of the groups could have names such as “the Predation Congregation” or “The Omnivoral Free Fellowship.”
And clearly, since I have been willing to write in places like this blog about topics such as marriage equality or bullying in a non-fictional way, there are other ways to broach awkward topics.
But it is harder to write or talk about some topics without offending someone—and sometimes not the people you expect. For instance, an amazing number of people will nod along sympathetically while reading a gay person’s opinions on gay rights in the abstract, but get angry if that same person has the temerity to support a political candidate who actively supports gay rights (and not support the candidate who actively opposes those rights).
The worst case was a former friend who, it turned out, firmly believed that all gay people are fundamentally mentally and spiritually broken. Which was why she had voted in favor of an amendment to her state’s constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman exclusively, had voted in favor of a ban an gay people adopting children, and had voted for a candidate who had openly talked about shipping gay people to camps (not prison camps, no, they were health camps! You can never leave, but it isn’t prison).
She didn’t understand how that made her not my friend (Hint: friends don’t vote for people who want to ship their friends off to concentration camps; that’s not a difference of opinion, that’s conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity). She was really upset, too, because she had been spouting her (always very polite) opinions on certain forums, and then when she was accused of being a bigot, mentioned me and a lesbian that she knew as friends to prove she wasn’t a bigot.
So, for instance, I get really, really tired of people referring to Barack Obama as liberal. He isn’t. His foreign policy is nearly identical to Bush’s. His health care reform was lifted almost in every detail from the 1996 Republican party platform (seriously!). He didn’t make a move to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until after more than 70% of the general population thought gays should be able to openly serve in the military. I could to on and on, but the upshot is, he’s moderate, when compared to the population as a whole. On a few things he is slightly left of center, but on many he’s actually slightly conservative-leaning.
Bill Clinton was less liberal than Obama. He and is policies were all on the conservative side of centrist.
See, when a policy position is held by more than 50% of the population? That is the mainstream position, not liberal or conservative.
Polls say a majority oppose the health care reform law. Yet, in poll after poll, solid majorities approve of every single individual provision of the plan. Even the individual mandate, if the full description is given. Which means there’s a bunch of people who don’t know what the plan actually does, they’re just afraid of a vague charge of socialism. And none of them even understand what socialism actually is — remember the cries of “keep your government hands off my medicare?” Hint: Medicare is socialised health insurance for the elderly and disabled. Social security is socialized income for the elderly and disabled. Police, courts, and the jail system are socialised justice. The army, navy, air force, and marines are socialised national defense, for goodness sake!
My point, if you think Obama is liberal, and you think your positions are moderate or conservative in comparison to him? Well, since most of his positions are supported by between 60 – 70% of the population as a whole, that means that, at most, 20% of the population is more conservative. You’re somewhere over in the 15-20% of the population. Welcome to the extreme. And yes, I’m aware that the other guy got 47% of the vote, but please scroll back up at the paragraph about people saying they are against healthcare reform, yet they’re in favor of all its components. Same holds true for a lot of other things.
My other point: while Obama isn’t liberal. I am. My political opinions are to the left of his. If you’re the sort of person who thinks that Obama is left-wing and that left-wing is a bad thing? My positions are going to scare you spitless.
And I think I need to stop censoring myself for fear that awkward topics will scare people off.