Opinion | American Optimism, R.I.P.

All of that is sensible: The course is titled The Media and LGBTQ+ Americans.

But its formal title, I’ve come to appreciate, isn’t its actual focus. What we preserve pausing to think about and repeatedly come again to is how messy individuals are. How difficult. How they exceed your expectations while you’re about to lose religion. How they do the alternative while you’re on the verge of complacency.

Consider the AIDS epidemic. It introduced out the worst in individuals. It introduced out the most effective in them, too. It typically introduced out each in the identical individual, as a result of that’s how historical past and life work: unpredictably, incongruously, irreducibly. A bending arc? No. I see a jagged line.

In American life proper now, actually in our politics, we hasten to affix labels to individuals, to place them into packing containers: good, dangerous, ally, enemy. Those labels and packing containers all too usually match. But they’re dead-end constructs, and so they’re not true to the fullness and complexity of who we’re and the way we behave. They additionally shortchange the existence of unclassifiable, unlikely heroes.

The topic of our dialog at school the opposite day was the recommendation columnist Abigail Van Buren, a.ok.a. Dear Abby, and the way she and her broadly syndicated, phenomenally widespread newspaper column have been — within the late Fifties, ’60s and ’70s — far forward of the curve when it got here to treating homosexual individuals with respect.

We’d all listened to an endearing interview she gave to the journalist Eric Marcus, who showcased it in an episode of his long-running podcast “Making Gay History.” He needed to know what was behind her compassionate view of homosexual individuals, and he didn’t give you anyone eureka reply. She hadn’t mulled the matter all that extensively. She wasn’t on a mission. She was simply doing what felt proper to her, and he or she continued doing it at the same time as a few of her readers warned her that she’d burn in hell.

I convey that up as a result of dozens of you, perhaps even scores of you, have despatched me emails since my transfer into academia final summer time asking me to put in writing about what I’m educating college students.

I don’t know that I’m succeeding in educating them something: I’m new to this and fumbling my approach by way of it. But I do know what I need to show them, and it’s that no easy formulation clarify the march of human occasions and no tidy scripts predict it. The world is a muddle. That’s the hell of it — but in addition the heaven.

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