So what does a trip to the emergency room have to do with the history of science and the fight for social justice?
This whole “dislocated knee” thing has sucked, and continues to suck, and will probably suck for a little while longer. (I don’t yet know for how long: I’ll keep you posted.) But I also have to say that it hasn’t sucked nearly as badly as it could have. For most of the time, I’m fairly comfortable, and safe, and well taken care of, and even reasonably well entertained.
There are the obvious people to thank for this. Ingrid being the most important and most obvious of the obvious crowd. There’s also the friends who have been sitting with me, and helping out with practical stuff. There’s the firefighters and paramedics who got me into the ambulance and to the emergency room, with compassion and good humor and patience, and with minimal discomfort on my part. There’s the doctors and nurses and staff at the emergency room, who diagnosed me and took care of me and kept me calm, with an entirely appropriate balance of attentiveness and “Yeah, you’ll be fine, this isn’t really that big a deal” reassurance. There’s the readers who’ve been saying nice supportive things. (For the record: It does help.)
But there are two less obvious groups of people that I also want to thank.
I want to thank everyone in history who has done good, evidence-based research into medical science. I’m getting better medical care for my dislocated knee, with less pain and a faster recovery and a better long-term prognosis, than I would have twenty years ago: better still than it would have been forty years ago, or a hundred. I’m getting care that has been rigorously tested and shown to actually be effective, using careful, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, replicated studies, designed and run by people who give a damn about the truth. I owe these people, and I want to thank them.
And I want to thank everyone who, for the last several decades, has been fighting for LGBT rights and recognition.
When I was in too much pain — and/or just too freaked out — to call 911, to deal with firefighters and paramedics and medical staff, to give and receive information to and from these folks, to cope with even the basic logistics of getting me out of the apartment and making sure we had everything we needed for the adventure ahead of us… Ingrid was the one who did the talking, and the coping. At several points in the evening’s adventure, the firefighters and paramedics and medical staff and the people at the 911 call center asked Ingrid what her relationship with the injured person was. Every time they asked, she unhesitatingly answered, “She’s my wife.”
And every time she said this, her answer was unhesitatingly accepted. She was able to ride in the ambulance with me; to answer questions for me; to sign in for me at the emergency room; to stay with me in the hospital room when I was waiting for attention and results; to pick up my meds for me. She was consistently, and unhesitatingly, and without question, dealt with as my family.
It hasn’t always been this way. In much of the country and the world, it still isn’t. The history of LGBT people is a history of our relationships being ignored at best, ridiculed and despised and spat on at worst. The history of LGBT people is a history of our partners being shut out of hospital rooms, denied information from medical staff, denied the right to speak for our partners, denied the right to make decisions for our partners. The history of LGBT people is a history of our partners — the people who matter to us most in the world, the people who know us better than anyone — being treated as if they were strangers.
But that’s not what happened on Sunday. When I dislocated my knee on Sunday, every single person we dealt with treated our relationship seriously, and with dignity. And they did so without hesitation, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
This didn’t happen by accident.
This happened because, for many decades now, people have been fighting to make it happen. People have been fighting for our legal rights… and people have been fighting for our social acceptance, and for the recognition of our basic humanity. People have been pointing out the thousands of ways that queers are treated as second-class citizens, and the thousands of reasons that this is unacceptable. And they — we — have been demanding an end to it.
There’s a common myth about discrimination. The myth goes that if you’re in a marginalized group, all you have to do to be treated equally is to stand up for yourself and personally demand your rights. And the corollary to this myth is that speaking out about the reality of group-based discrimination — discrimination against queers, against women, against people of color, against trans people, against working class people, against atheists, against immigrants, against any marginalized group — somehow makes you part of the “culture of victimization.”
This is bullshit.
On Sunday night, I was not in a position to stand up for myself. Literally, or figuratively. I was in excruciating pain every time I moved two inches. I was shaking so hard my teeth were chattering. I couldn’t walk, or even stand. I was literally helpless. And I was helped, not just by the firefighters and paramedics and medical staff and the people at the 911 call center, but by everyone over the last several decades who made it possible for Ingrid to help me. I was helped by everyone over the last several decades who forced the medical profession — in some countries and in some states — to legally recognize our relationship, whether they freaking well liked it or not. I was helped by everyone over the last several decades who helped convince the world — not all of it yet, but a decent amount of it, and more if it every day — to understand and accept our relationship, and to treat its acceptance as a basic and obvious human right.
That did not happen by accident. It did not happen overnight. And it did not happen by me standing up all by myself on Sunday night and insisting that it happen.
So I want to say Thanks.
And I want to pledge to pay it forward: for queers, for atheists, for people of color, for women, for trans folks, for working class folks, for immigrants, and for everyone else who isn’t getting a fair shake. The degree of rights and recognition that we’ve gained hasn’t been gained by each of us as individuals, all by ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of giants. And we aren’t going to get a full fair shake, for ourselves or for each other or for the people who come after us, if we don’t holler when we get treated like crap, and freaking well demand that it stop.