Until this week, I’ve never felt a divide between the world I grew up in and the world in which my children live.
Yes, my children have never known a time when you stood weekly in a bank line – quiet and roped, like a pew at church – alongside your mother, wearing nude hose and something you’d watched her iron, while she waited for her turn to conduct sombre business with a clerk in a tie who addressed her as “Mrs … .”
Yet they would not be complete strangers there.
I did once take my children in with me to a bank I’d scouted in Antigua, Guatemala, as one would take them to a re-enactment of some kind – to witness a financial nativity.
The bank was made of marble; the tellers were protected from unsophisticated threats by polished brass bars. Nothing was advertised on the walls in puns and primary colours. It was as if there were no money changers there, and I wanted my children to see it once.
They went quiet, looked at the money I withdrew differently from the way they looked at the money spat out with an urgent beep before the scrumpling and tossing of the receipt, which completes the gesture, as my ballet teacher used to say in reference to some endlessly repeated movement.
My children have grown up on the road from bank machines to debit: A bank note seems an almost archivable document now.
I’ve told them how thrilling it was for my brothers and me when, once a year, The Wizard of Oz came on television; I’d get very excited when the NBC peacock announced that tonight’s program would be brought to us in colour. My parents – who for most of my childhood either had no television or did all they could to make whatever sad foster television was in their temporary care as uninteresting to us as possible – would explain to me, once again, that this was the case only if you had a colour TV.
We didn’t, because they were a waste of money, and what we had was fine, just don’t lose the pliers that turn the knob again, and don’t you have a book you could be reading?
Still, despite the gap between my world and the one my high-definition-Netflix-watching, debit-card-using children live in, the moment I felt made me of another era only occurred when President Barack Obama spoke of gay rights during his inaugural address.
As shifts go, it made the advent of the Internet seem incremental.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” Mr. Obama said.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Nothing I’ve seen occur in my lifetime would have been impossible for my young, beginning-to-end-black-and-white-Wizard-of-Oz-watching self to imagine, except that moment.
Just as there were only 66 years between the Wright brothers’ first powered flight and the moon landing, there were only 43 years (none of them easy) between the Stonewall riots and this declaration. I wouldn’t have thought it possible even four years ago.
It stunned me, even on the heels of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” even after Mr. Obama had declared his support for same-sex marriage, even after – in a little-reported moment I think would, not long ago, have lost an election – Vice-President Joe Biden referred to discrimination against transgendered people as “the civil-rights issue of our time.”
This wasn’t a speech made in a super-sassy gay club on Rainbow Avenue before a predominantly gay audience, nor the excellent speech Mr. Obama gave at the White House reception marking LGBT Pride Month in June of 2010.
This week, Mr. Obama, by the breadth of his audience, preached to the unconverted. Short of standing there wearing a Sylvester shirt while belting out (if such a thing can be done) a Pet Shop Boys song, he could not have aligned himself more closely with the LGBT community than he did while being sworn in for his second term.
By equating the Stonewall riots, a spontaneous act of civil disobedience, with the historic 1848 women’s-rights conference in Seneca Falls and the freedom marches of the civil-rights movement, Mr. Obama didn’t merely denounce discrimination against LGBT people, which of course would have been a first in an inaugural speech.
Instead, he made pleas for “tolerance” or “compassion” toward LGBT people feel anachronistic. They simply are. They are simply owed.
The world is different. It’s the moment the film changes to colour.