November, 2004: After watching exit polls all day with growing excitement, my hopes came crashing down as Dubya Bush was inexplicably re-elected. Close Senate races, one after another, went to wingnuts like Jim Bunning, Tom Coburn and John Thune. Howls of right-wing triumphalism echoed across the country. Karl Rove and Grover Norquist trumpeted about a "permanent Republican majority." I wanted to go hide in a cave.
November, 2008: Barack Obama’s triumph was matched by victories in the House and Senate. Hopemongering was (and is) in the air across the country. I couldn’t join the party. In the midst of all that, the voters in my state snatched away my marriage rights. I wanted to go hide in a cave.
So I turned to Amaterasu Omikami, a Goddess who hid in a cave.
The Japanese Amaterasu and her brother Susanowo had opposite temperaments, perhaps because she was the sun Goddess and he was the storm God. Their conflicts came to a head when Susanowo went on a drunken rampage, destroyed Amaterasu’s rice fields and threw excrement in her temple. Then Susanowo killed a colt, flayed it, and hurled it into the room where Amaterasu’s women did their weaving. The carcass shattered one of the looms, and the flying pieces hit some of the women, causing fatal wounds.
How a woman becomes a Goddess: sometimes, by what she doesn’t do. Instead of confronting Susanowo, Amaterasu shut herself in a cave, blocking the door with a stone. With the sun hidden away, the land was plunged into darkness and cold.
The impact of Amaterasu's absence was greater than anything else she could have done. The other 800 deities swiftly brought Susanowo to justice, punished him and cast him out of heaven. But Amaterasu remained in the cave, overwhelmed with her anger and humiliation.
The 800 deities huddled around a fire outside the cave, trying to come up with a way to lure her out. First they brought gifts of jewels and hung them on the trees. On the nearest branch, they hung a special gift: the first mirror ever made. But how to get her to come out and see?
Ama no Uzume, the goddess of shamanic trance, declared that they would throw a party. But no one was feeling very festive. So the elderly Uzume climbed onto an overturned wash tub and began a comical, erotic dance. She mocked sacred rituals. She did a bump and grind. She -- oh, no, she didn’t!
Oh, yes, she did.
Uzume yanked open her kimono and stripped for the crowd.
Inside the cave, Amaterasu heard laughter. Gut-busting, pee-your-kimono laughter. Her curiosity was aroused. Roaring cheers rose higher and higher. Finally, in spite of herself, she just had to know what was going on. She pulled the stone aside just a crack, just enough for the first sunbeam of dawn to peek out.
The sunlight reached the mirror, and Amaterasu saw her own face for the first time. She moved closer, and stepped outside the cave. Somebody quickly blocked the entrance behind her with a magic rope.
Amaterasu saw Uzume, whirling around naked on the wash tub, and she laughed. And she joined the party.
With the winter solstice approaching, it helps to remember that the longest night will eventually end. The sun will come back, slowly at first, and the earth will be restored in light.
When we were fighting Proposition 8, I left it all on the road. I phone banked for hours, handed out fliers, wrote checks, went to visibility demonstrations. I got yelled at, cursed, and flipped off. I spent Election Day standing outside a polling place with a "No on 8" sign. Some guy walked by with his dog, loudly comparing our relationships with marrying the dog.
Like so many others, I gave this fight everything I had. And on November 5th, I woke to the sound of sobbing from the person I love most in the world.
There were demonstrations the next day, and on the weekend. I didn’t go. Those events were important, but I -- normally a cheerful, even-tempered person -- was just too damned depressed.
I post on a "general" politics board, one that runs the gamut from lefties to wingnuts. I jokingly refer to myself as the "ambassador from gaydom," as I’m the only uncloseted queer who posts there regularly. I think it’s important that GLBT voices are heard in places like that, and in fact one person told me that I’d changed her views on GLBT rights. I haven’t been able to drag myself over there since the election. Not just because of the wingnuts, but because of the condescending types who tell me I shouldn’t take it personally, they just had to "protect" marriage, and anyway I can have a domestic partnership and that's just as good. (They, of course, would never give up their own marriages for domestic partnerships.)
Today’s event is "A Day Without Gay." GLBT people and allies are encouraged to take off work or school, spend no money, and work for equality-related causes. The idea is the same as Amaterasu's retreat into the cave: doing something by doing nothing. The absence of GLBT people would make the world a very dark, cold place.
I have my doubts about "buy nothing" events (they just shift retail spending to a different day), but I’m participating anyway, as a gesture if nothing else. Tonight there’s a community meeting to discuss the next steps toward marriage equality, and that will be my first step out of the cave since the election.
Amaterasu was lured out by the power of laughter and joy. Progressives and GLBT people are fortunate that we’re about the most joyful communities you’ll ever find. We can laugh in the face of adversity because we’ve seen so damn much of it. That’s why progressives have Stewart and Colbert, and conservatives have "The Half Hour News Hour." (Actually, they don’t anymore. It was so unfunny it was cancelled.) No wonder right-wingers keep harping on their victory over marriage equality; if they paid attention to the rest of the election results, there wouldn't be a cave deep enough to hide them.
I can’t say I’m feeling joyful yet. But I know the solstice night will end, and that first sunbeam will peek out of the cave, and I’ll take a look at Uzume and say, "OK, there’s gotta be a good story here," and I’ll feel like joining the party.
Every time I write one of these meditations, I reread familiar stories and find new aspects. Well, not really new: they were there, I just didn’t see them. I tend to think of the story as ending when Amaterasu stepped out of the cave. But of course she asked about Susanowo, and learned that he had been banished. And, realizing that he would be back, Amaterasu took up her bow and two quivers of arrows to defend herself.
It’s time to pick up my bow and arrows for the struggles to come.