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OpEd: Not feeling very gay today

by Linda Ketner
Most days, I feel gay. Way gay.

But since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I’ve been in touch with our commonalities — not our differences — as humans, as Americans, and as Southerners. I’ve felt stunned, saddened, and a lack of safety larger than the more familiar one associated with my sexual orientation.

My partner Beth and I have sent money, we have a family living with us from New Orleans, and I wrote a plan for the mayor for integrating Katrina guests into our community. But none of that felt like enough so as I type, Beth and I are making final preparations to leave for the Gulf Coast to do relief work for 10 days. That probably won’t feel like enough either.

Why not enough? Since I was a little girl in Faith, N.C., whenever I get scared, I need to do something about what’s frightening me. It’s more than a little strange, but I move toward what I fear rather than away from it. My subconscious seems to believe that if I confront the fear, it’ll disappear. Generally it works — sometimes it doesn’t.

For example, I had a secret and colossal fear of snakes as a child. So when the family visited the Snake Farm in St. Augustine, Fla., and they asked for a volunteer to hold a six-foot black snake, eight-year-old me shot my hand up into the air and held that disgusting piece of nasty around my neck while fighting off gut-wrenching terror. I’d love to tell you that it worked to rid me of my fear of snakes, but it didn’t.

At age 10, I traded a transistor radio for Eddie Clarke’s black snake in a jar with holes poked in it. I kept it for two days and two nights and the two nights were filled with dreams of snakes slithering up my bed, snakes falling from trees, and Linda falling into a snake pit. On the third day, I climbed up to the top of our swing set, dropped a rock on the glass jar and freed the snake. I’m still not cured to this day.

So, with a little self-analysis, it’s not a stretch to assume that all the activity around these hurricanes is about my fear…my fear for America…for all of us and not just the LGBT of us.

Katrina showed me that we aren’t as prepared to help one another as I had thought we were. We aren’t as prepared individually or collectively as I thought we were — and that really, really frightens me.

I’ve long been troubled by our contemporary nano-second attention spans which are making us shallow and incapable of dealing with complicated situations, but to see the impact so vividly manifest in the heads of governments at all levels, but most particularly at the federal level — simply terrifies me.

I was fortunate enough not to be caught in this catastrophe, but I’m just as outraged that President George W. Bush was in Crawford finishing up his five-week vacation and that he waited five days to inspect the aftermath of the hurricane. Vice-President Dick Cheney was watching the events unfold via television from his vacation in Wyoming. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was reportedly out shoe shopping at some point and former FEMA Director Mike Brown was whiling away the hours at a Padres game.

They should have been mobilizing every federal and citizen resource into action right away. What were they thinking?

Our leaders should be touching the best in all of us through their competence, direction and inspiration. That’s their job — leading! I’ve always counted on that as an American…or I always had.

Now it seems that the current administration only responds that way when the polls go down. At least that’s the impression I learned from the more adequate response to Rita.

Am I glad that they did better with Rita? Of course.

But I’m not convinced of my safety or yours, because I know their natural response — their untutored response — to a catastrophe of this magnitude is vacationing, shopping and baseball games. I have a feeling the fear of that notion is going to be with many of us for a very long time.

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