Be the (Consciousness) Change

When we define ourselves in terms of what we give to society, we will truly be free.

This past June's momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage reflects a shift in Americans' consciousness about gays and lesbians. It marks this as the moment in history when most Americans came to embrace the notion that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment under the law.

But what about our consciousness?

Ko Imani, in his book, Shirt of Flame, points out a fallacy in the gay rights movement's central argument: that if we are to be free, "Those people over there are going to have to change." By using societal change--however critical, necessary, and hard fought--as the measure of our movement's success, we forget the responsibility we have to shift our own consciousness. 

I happened to be in Provincetown on my book tour when the news broke. I was elated to attend an impromptu rally at the Town Hall and march down Commercial Street. Kate Clinton's moving speech, and the swell of people gathered made my eyes brim with joyful tears. It felt fitting to be in the birthplace of gay marriage in the United States when the court issued the ruling.

Yet, after this well-earned celebration, and after the joyous Pride marches in New York and San Francisco this weekend, I can't help but sense a familiar emptiness, a half-joy. It is the feeling that comes with believing that external progress will fill us inside.

Right now we're reading in the media that the next stage of the gay rights movement will focus on anti-discrimination laws. That's certainly valid and critical. There's much work to be done. But in this political-only focus, the media are perpetuating a myth.

The next shift in consciousness must come from us. When we define ourselves in terms of what we give to society, rather than by what society has yet to give us, we will truly be free. 

That's the change in consciousness I'm working toward.

This article was originally published at Words to the Wise, my blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.