It’s become clear this week that objective facts of Americans’ lives — that some of us are in loving, committed relationships with someone of the same gender, or that some of us have needed an abortion at some point, or that some of us have had a racist or sexist supervisor make our lives a living hell — are still contentious. Our everyday experiences are up for debate. The burden of proof is on women and gay people and nonwhite Americans to justify their lives, to explain to those who have never felt this sort of powerlessness or discrimination that it’s very much real.
Some people want to get married and some don’t, some need to get an abortion and some thankfully don’t, some are able to walk around their cities at night unafraid and others have never known what that feels like. What blows me away about all the discussions this week – the Voting Rights Act, SB5 in Texas, gay marriage – is how often people discount others’ experiences. I don’t actually know what it’s like to be unable to marry my partner, or to have my right to vote undermined, but when someone tells me it hurts, or that they are afraid, or alienated, or hopeless, I believe them. I understand the horror that the pro-life camp feels, I think; if I felt the way they did and believed what they believed (science be damned), I’d be horrified too. But I’d still give others the choice to live their lives as they need to, because while their experience is not my own, I acknowledge that it is just as real and valid as mine. It’s amazing how many people – legislators no less – don’t seem to see this empathy as desirable or necessary.
It’s been a baffling week, but an invigorating one too. And so we continue.