I have the world’s most awesome sister.
I know everyone says that, but I really do.
She’s an established painter. She was a key adviser in developing a Convention for the UN. At 30, she started learning to play the guitar. She’s written a book dealing with the death of someone close to her. She’s traveled from Nepal to Qatar to New York to Moldova to empower people to claim their rights. She’s made friends with princesses, first ladies, Hollywood actresses. She’s strong, opinionated, accomplished, and ambitious. She also makes kick-ass brownies.
Oh, and she also has Down Syndrome.
To be fair, my sister has a strong support system around her. My mom has dedicated her life to fighting for her daughter’s rights, firmly believing that she deserved absolutely everything that my brother and I had. Her teachers have adapted their methods to help her out. My father has shown a heart atypical of a Lebanese father. Her godmother has been her best friend for years. My uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, just about everyone around her support her and help her out whenever she needs it.
She’s a fighter, and she’s surrounded by fighters.
I grew up in this environment. There’s always been talk around me about the fact that the society we live in is unfair and that people judge and don’t ever try to understand. There’s always been talk about how everyone has basic rights, and we should fight to get those rights for everyone else.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been taught to stick up for the rights of minorities, and growing up in Lebanon with a sister who has Down syndrome, it was an ongoing fight.
When I came of age (that’s the gayest expression ever! I love it!), I naturally turned into an activist, though now I was more concerned with gay issues. It really didn’t seem to me like it was very different. Minorities that are being ignored and mistreated fighting to demand equal basic rights.
Those 2 worlds came to a head when I could not understand why someone who was working very hard on the rights of people with special needs could not be as supportive when it came to LGBT rights.
Me: “How can you spend your life dedicated to changing people’s minds and attitudes towards a certain community, arguing that all humans deserve the same basic rights, and not think that it should also apply to gay people?”
Her: “There’s one major difference between the two: People who have special needs or are disabled are actually born that way. You are not.”
I don’t know if we’re born gay or if we choose to be this way. My religion teacher (yes you read that right) in school once said something that marked me: “I know that gay people are born gay because no one would ever choose to go through so much suffering willingly.” I carried that argument with me throughout my self-acceptance process. I often spurted the line out when people questioned me about the topic. I carried it as my shield over the years.
And I never thought twice about it.
Until Lady Gaga’s song came out.
I am not a big Gaga fan (there goes my readership!), but I was a bit troubled when I saw how young people took on her song as a shield, in the same way that I took my religion teacher’s words. The song has become an anthem for the youth, who are now convinced it is completely OK to be who they are because they are born this way.
But it’s not. Not at all.
It is completely OK for them to be who they are simply because they are capable of deciding who they want to love, fuck, or be. Not because they were born this way, but because they are human.
If in a hundred years scientists discover a gay gene, it will not make us more or less deserving to get any of the rights we deserve today. If in a hundred years, someone proves that being gay is entirely a choice, no one should be stripped of their rights, or of the respect they deserve as human beings. Who I sleep with is none of your business, as long as it is consensual and with one (or more) adults, and it certainly shouldn’t be a qualifier for basic rights.
Our argument should be basic: we are human, we deserve everything every human deserves. That’s it. Nothing to do with a gene we have or a choice we make.