I had originally planned to pen a piece this month about a new instance of blatant bigotry in the Pagan community and the need for us to again assert the necessity of embracing diversity, but was beat to the punch by my friend Jason Mankey over at Patheos Pagan, who wrote this piece about an ostensibly Druid group on Facebook using the guise of “traditional values” as a cover for promoting right-wing prejudice. But as I got closer and closer to my deadline, I found myself being pulled toward another issue that looms dark over all of our heads, and not just for those of us in the Pagan or queer communities.
I find myself in a liminal space, somewhere between sharp optimism and dull hopelessness, as I contemplate the potential future of our species. As the coronavirus continues to severely impact our way of life, a vocal minority has risen up to challenge the wisdom of doctors, scientists, and health officials, as well as the politicians who have been following their advice.
We’ve seen it coming for a long time. We’ve even joked about it. But the reality isn’t funny. With a cult-like fervor, some are turning to conspiracy theories and political extremism by flatly refusing to accept real scientific facts as well as the experience of trained experts, all because of “corporate media bias” and a twisted definition of “freedom” in relation to others in society.
While we on the political left have long been painted broadly by the conservative political machine as “snowflakes” – that is, emotionally delicate and largely ineffectual – what we have seen play out on the world stage would suggest collective conservative projection. Governments that issued stay-at-home orders and shut down non-essential businesses in the effort to curb the tide of a highly infectious viral pandemic, have recently seen protests in the name of “protecting civil liberties.”
In my home state of California, those opposed to the lockdowns are the outliers and (as with those in the rest of the country) are mostly aligned with the political right. They have been refusing to wear masks, defiantly disregarding social distancing guidelines, and even turning violent. Joined by anti-vaxxers, racists, and conspiracy theorists, protestors have aligned with far-right extremist groups and have begun attacking those that oppose to their views and have even staged armed protests at capital buildings. And through all of it the infections continue as protesters and defiant churchgoers alike come down with the virus, as predicted.
In short, things aren’t looking so good.
I find myself musing, as of late, on an old Twilight Zone episode I saw as a young boy which has haunted me all these years. “The Old Man in the Cave” is the tale of a group of survivors scratching-out a living in the atomically poisoned environment of a post-apocalyptic world. They are able to endure only by adhering to the instructions given to them from an old man who lives in a cave outside of town. When a military unit shows up, their leader convinces the town to reject the instructions from the old man (which he interprets as keeping the town oppressed) and to go ahead and eat from a stash of food previously deemed to be contaminated. When the old man is finally revealed to be a computer, the military leader inspires a mob to smash it, proclaiming them now to be “free.” With the computer destroyed and no way to analyze their food for safety, the group (including the military unit) dies of poisoning.
The global pandemic has caused “normal life” to come screeching to a halt. The stark reality of it is that we simply do not know a lot about this virus. It’s new. And what we at first thought was a respiratory disease similar to the flu, we see now was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A whole new array of symptoms have been identified, as well as a whole new demographic: once thought to affect mainly the elderly and the infirm, this virus is now attacking (and in some cases killing) without discrimination to age or condition, as now even children are being stricken with the disease. This has shocked many into a new awareness of the world, even as some still cling to crackpot fantasies and outright denial. While this in many ways represents a whole new world for many people, some of us have had a lifetime (and a culture) to prepare us.
Gay and bisexual men in particular have had more than a generation to come to grips with life alongside the specter of a virus, and the dangerous and hurtful misinformation that often accompanied it. We know what it’s like to have an invisible enemy, potentially lurking behind every corner. But instead of hiding away in a hole of despair we carried on, even as our brothers, our elders, and our lovers were being taken from us, piece by piece. Even as a culture denied us basic decency, we were resilient. We organized. We studied. We adapted, learned to take commonsense precautions, to take better care of ourselves and each other. We learned to live life anyway.
This isn’t just about the deaths, though they are of course important and tragic, each and every one. This is also about supporting our fragile healthcare system through the strain of a pandemic, and also caring for those suffering from a disease that is far more painful and horrifying than is generally being reported. It might not be a guaranteed death sentence, but if you happen to be one of those for whom the disease becomes severe, the experience of it has been described by one lesbian Olympic athlete who survived the disease as “soul-destroying.” Even if it’s not going to kill you, surely we must be able to see the wisdom in doing everything we can to help others avoid such a harrowing experience.
In just a couple weeks we will be celebrating Pride month, which honors the history, struggles, and lives of queer people everywhere. But there will be nary a public party or parade. We know what we need to do in order to take care of each other. If we want to be there for each other, then we need to not be there with each other. We are not living in fear, or allowing the “deep state” to control us or to take away our liberties. We are choosing to do what is medically necessary in the face of the worst global pandemic in over 100 years. We are being smart. We are being compassionate. We are being responsible citizens of a society.