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Steve Rogers Takes Offense and the World Gets Schooled

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I guess what I’m saying, the email reads, is that I’m not sure why you felt the need to broadcast your disagreement with DOMA in such an explicit way. I don’t get graphic in public with my boyfriend because I know people don’t want to see it, and I’m not sure how I feel about seeing you, someone I have always greatly respected, behave in such a way as to get plastered all over YouTube.

Captain Rogers, you are my hero. I want you to know that I admire you and everything you have done. When I was a kid, I read the comic books about you, and I used to pretend I was you, or Bucky Barnes, and what kind of adventures we’d have all over the world, how many people we’d save and how many bad guys we’d vanquish. It made me feel good, like I was a part of something special even though I was so young, that even though I never fought as you did, I had the heart and the soul to fight, like you did. I remember my childhood and your part in it more fondly than you will ever know.

But I am genuinely confused by this latest. I want to ask you, without sarcasm or accusation, why? I want to understand why you chose to make such a display, and provoke so many people when it was so unnecessary? Why not a standard protest, a petition, a speech, a statement to the press? People listen better to dignified approaches than they do to outright provocation.

Please don’t misunderstand. How you feel about Tony Stark is your business. I have no right to tell you how to navigate your relationships. Who you care for is a private matter, between you and that person. But this has definitely not remained private.

And please do not think that this is about you being with a man. I have no problem with gay people. I have gay friends, close ones, and if they want to be together, I fully support that. But marriage is a sacred act to me, and I have seen too many gay couples fall apart in too short a time. For you to protest DOMA in such a flagrant manner instead of the staid, conscientious way you have always dealt with everything else is extreme. It feels vulgar, even insulting, to see a belief I hold dear—that traditional marriage should be revered and respected—trivialized so that someone can make a point on a city street.

I applaud your bravery in standing up for your right to love another man. I just don’t feel marriage should be about that. It should be about connection and devotion, not rebellion.

Yours sincerely,
Leah

**

The first thing Steve does is memorize the entire letter. It’s not hard. He’s always had a good memory anyway, and now… Well, it’s harder not to memorize something nowadays.

He takes a lap around the room—it’s a big room, his study, even with his desk, easel and bookshelves—and stares out the window toward lower Manhattan for a while. He makes himself a tuna sandwich with sweet pickles and mustard. He sits down at his laptop and does some research. Then he plays spider solitaire for an hour to let his thoughts whir properly.

**

You are genuinely confused, and I am genuinely offended.

It wasn’t your tone. In fact, you were very polite. I applaud your effort: it’s more than some people would even attempt. But politeness in this case is just a shroud over the greater issue, a situation that I don’t know if you recognize.

It wasn’t the offensiveness of your statements either. I have dealt with a lot of offensive things in my life, things so heinous that to call them ‘offensive’ would be to insult the courageous people who suffered and died as a result.

I refuse to do that. Likewise, I refuse to ignore the reaction your letter has provoked in me.

It is the casual nature of it all that makes me fear for this world and the people inhabiting it. Notice I do not say I fear for this time. Behavior like yours was just as rampant in the decades during which I grew up. Behavior like yours has been happening for thousands of years. Never does it lose its potency, never does it make the skin crawl less. No, I fear for this world and its people because of your ready dismissal of something, someone you have chosen not to understand.

You nod and smile in the street. You praise the individuality, the uniqueness, of ‘these people.’ You are polite. All the while, not one word of what you are saying budges the wall you’ve already erected. Not one smile on the faces of one of ‘these people’ makes you step back and say “Hold up here, I need to reassess.”

I have a dear friend who I’ve known for going on three years now. This friend is loyal and smart, strong and caring, successful and self-sacrificing. This friend is observant and stubborn and self-aware and the first to step forward when something needs to be done. This friend does not waste time or pretend to be something else in order to be accepted by others. This friend also happens to be a woman.

I imagine women go through much the same as queer people while they navigate this society: There are words, phrases, attitudes so ingrained in the system that the people who use them rarely question what they are really saying and doing. For example, you are perfectly comfortable with praising my bravery in standing up for the right to love whom I wish, yet in the same breath, you denounce the legitimacy of that right: “I just don’t feel like marriage should be about that.”

About what? Love? Respect? Companionship and compromise? Knowing someone so thoroughly, it’s like you’ve always known each other? The wish to raise a family or the desire to be with the person who fills up a space inside you?

What you’re really saying is that marriage should not be about the Other. It should be about what you know, what you are comfortable with. Oddly enough, as I understand it, a lot of the queer community is absolutely willing to take your side in this regard. Why should they conform to a system built to promote heterosexuality? They would rather form their own idea of what commitment means. Still others want to take that rigid norm of traditional marriage and transform it, make it more widely encompassing, more welcoming than it is.

Without meaning to, the majority of this society goes by what it has been taught rather than what it can seek to learn. Just one step in a long, ugly downward slope. I saw it decades ago, riddled like a plague through the countryside of Europe, and I’ll be damned if I see it happen again when we should have learned from our past, when there are still people alive today who saw what I saw, watched what I watched, could not stop what I could not stop. Even worse, there are people alive today who actually experienced the realities of that horror, who were forced to face it because there was no other option. And it all started with one little thought: “That person is not like me.” A lot of the people who were there then are now surely watching these debates on marriage equality, and sadly shaking their heads. Because even if the target is different, the exclusion is the same. The misunderstanding is the same. The hate is the same.

The question you should be asking is not why they don’t have the right, but why you do.

Whether or not queer people want to marry is neither here nor there: the right is what is at stake, the very same right you have always had, simply because you identify as straight. You’ve never had to question it, never had to understand why you can’t just go do it.

You call what you have friendship, with ‘them,’ all the while standing there and decreeing that they can’t have the same rights.

I had a best friend when I was a kid. And I loved him. I did everything he did. I followed him to war. (He liked to say that he actually followed me, because if not for the state of my health, I would have put him to shame with how fast I was on the front.) This friend of mine died. Not from a bullet or a blade; he died because even at my best, I wasn’t fast enough to save him, because I gave it my all and it still wasn’t enough.

There is not a day that he does not come to mind in some way: something I’ve seen in the city or a voice I’ve heard, a phrase that reminds me. There is not a day that I don’t miss him. But my point here is this: What I miss most about my best friend is not his respect for and observance of the sanctity of marriage, or the way he could appreciate a girl and only a girl. It is his laugh. His loyalty. His crazy hair in the morning. His selflessness and his propensity to cheat at cards and his humanity. I miss him, the person.

I miss his soul. And I would give anything to have it—all of it, whether I agree or not—back.

If your focus is constantly on the details, the niggling irritations and the larger offenses you perceive to be directed at you, you will never see the world as anything but a place that is ‘not like me.’ It will always be hurtful, its differences always dangerous. Until you are willing to look that concept in the eye, you will not understand the hypocrisy of your letter.

Do not tell me that you revere what I did and then slap that reverence into the dirt right in front of my face. I barely did anything compared to the people who suffered, who lost, who died, all because of something they don’t control. All because someone else decided that they weren’t entitled to the same rights: to life, to love, to belief, to damn well raise their families and live their lives. Treasure the birthrights that have been handed to you because of things you can’t control, instead of holding them over others like a badge of honor. And please, for the sake of those you claim as friends, recognize how hurtful you are when you naively attempt to ‘understand’ ‘these people.’

**

It turns out there are whole lot of big internationally based social media sites. It’s kind of amazing, how small and large the world can be these days.

“Whoops,” Steve says, and hits ‘post’ ten times.

**

He finds Tony in his workshop. By then, his fanmail account has exploded to the point where he switched his phone to silent. Tony’s lab is dark, but he’s there, a light glowing toward the center of the room. Steve lets himself in. Tony is in sweats and a black tank, not dirty for once, his hair pushed into a fetching tangle. He hasn’t shaved.

“Hey,” he says, because Tony appreciates it when people are upfront, and Steve has rarely been anything else. “There’s something—”

“Lights.”

The workshop brightens abruptly, and Steve stops.

Tony turns to face him, his hands on his hips. “I’m not okay with this.”

Steve blinks. Looks around the room once. “What?”

“I,” Tony says, reaching for the holo-projected panel, “am not.” He gives the blue light a twist and the screen on the wall lights up. “Okay,” and he splays his arms, shooting the image wide, “with this.”

It’s Steve’s letter, text scrolling by on every news channel in existence. Steve reddens, watches chunks highlight and flash past. Shocking revelation from national symbol! scrolls beneath, and Captain America: liberal or bust. When he turns back, Tony looks grim.

“Well.” Steve rocks from one foot to the other and shoves his hands into his pockets. His gut aches. “That’s the last thing I would have expected from you.”

Tony holds his gaze, then his eyes spark, quick as static, and his face transforms into something loose and helpless. It is not easy to make Tony Stark awestruck.

“You can’t do that,” Tony croaks. “You can’t say those kinds of things to everyone without warning me first, because I can’t control this.” He waves a hand up and down his front, around his face, everywhere. “A minute ago, I read things that just… Do you know what it’s like, hearing exactly the right thing in exactly the right voice? It’s poetry, it’s every gift in the damn universe. I don’t know what to do with everything in there, in your head. I know what I want to do, but this is too early for that, and I think I might just scare Captain America away with how much I want to—” He clutches at the air, then wipes at his face forehead to chin with the palm of one hand. “It’s not fair. You’re not fair. Do you realize how unfair that was—”

“Tony.” Steve steps closer, reaches for him and pulls him in. “I thought of you.”

“Oh, I know you did—” Tony surges into a kiss that sets lights flaring behind Steve’s eyes. He grapples with Steve full-bodied and Steve wraps his arms around him and rocks backward with it.

“That,” Tony breathes at last against Steve’s mouth. He fumbles in the air behind him and the letter fills the screen, a static, quiet image. “Was dazzling. Made me hurt.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve whispers into another kiss. Tony whimpers and bumps his nose into Steve’s, rubbing up the side.

“Want to sleep with you. Want to have sex with you right now.”

“That’s good. That’s healthy.”

“But it’s too soon, right?” Tony pulls at Steve’s shirt, dragging it up, fisting the fabric, hooking his fingers into Steve’s jeans like he can’t decide what to do first. “Damn it, maybe we could just sort of get naked together or…What’s the best way to—Speak, please, just, I’m not very, I’m screwing this up already—”

Steve stops him with a clench, lifting him off the floor against his body. Their faces are an inch apart and every one of Tony’s muscles is wound tight. “Where can we go?”

Tony groans long and appreciative, and kisses Steve roughly. “Already gone, babe,” he utters. “Can’t think anymore.”

Steve hoists him higher, hands under his thighs, and walks them in the direction of the elevator.

~fin~