This has been sitting with me for easily over a week. There have been so many other matters on my plate that I haven’t had time to really deal with it or address how it was making me feel. However, I can’t seem to shake the heavy feeling on my heart, and I feel like if I don’t say some of these things, they’ll continue to weigh me down. I haven’t blogged or wrote from the heart in a while. I haven’t put my feelings to paper, or computer screen as the case may be, in so long it feels strange to lay it out in the open. I blogged quite regularly several years ago and became pretty proficient on political/gay issues, but when Tennessee passed the anti-gay marriage amendment in 2007, I pretty much shifted gears and gave up.
However, when the news story from several weeks ago popped up about a young woman in Fulton, MS named Constance McMillen, a lot of old feelings and latent frustrations got stirred up. See, Constance made the news and all the rounds on Facebook and Twitter when the world found out that she wanted to go to the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to boot. You would have thought the world was going to crash down! The school refused to let her go to the prom with the person she actually liked and dress in a way she felt comfortable. They even went so far as to cancel the prom all together and essentially turned the student body on this young woman. Such actions by the school went directly against her constitutional right to associate freely and express herself as she deemed fit. Last time I checked, the freedom of association and expression are still constitutional rights. Not only that, but the school was grossly negligent in protecting Constance. They put her safety at risk because they were uncomfortable with having a gay student openly attending prom with her same-sex date, and God forbid, dressing like a boy in the process! As a former teacher, I find such behavior by school teachers and administrators despicable! Well, the courts agreed saying that her constitutional rights were violated, but they still didn’t insist the school have the prom. There’s that pesky freedom of association thing again! True, the community of Fulton and the students of her school have a right to not associate with her, but seriously, whatever happened to the good ol’ days where kids just picked on and isolated the strange kid in school. *rolls eyes* The Fulton community though took it further than that. Prom did happen, though it was a private affair. Constance and a handful of other students, including the learning disabled students, were sent to their own prom while all the “normal” kids went to another prom across town. Of course, Constance didn’t know this. My problem with this whole situation was the utter disregard the school, parents, and community showed for one of their own. And, yes, Constance IS one of their own, whether they want her to be or not. For all their talk about being God-fearing Christians, they happily and dutifully sacrificed one of God’s own children on the altar of their bigotry and fear.
Christians are quick to say “oh, we’re not all bad” or “don’t lump me in with them” to avoid being labeled as a bigot. While I know not all Christians are bad or hateful towards those different (some actually embody Christ-like attitudes), and I do want to be clear that I know some good Christian people, I call it as I see it though. The Church is only as good as the people who represent it. If the Church wants to be known as haters, then accept the mantle of the title. If not, then do something about it. Being a Christian doesn’t mean coddling and awarding the wayward, but calling them to task. Of course, the flip side is that some good Christian will likely tell me that’s what they’re doing to Constance or to me or to any other gay person in their midst. They’re giving the “tough love” of Christ by judging us with love, not hate. This is at least the story I got from my mother. She told me when I came out that she worried about how the world would treat me for being gay then treated me as exactly how the world would treat me. See, it wasn’t her doing this to me or even the world or the evil that resides in her heart, but it was me. It was all my fault. All the pain, suffering, heartache, fear, loss I’d ever experience from this moment on (i.e. from the moment I came out) wasn’t from any wrongdoing of others but from my choice to live outside of God’s laws. So, really, I’m just getting what I deserve.
It is at this point in my thinking where I start to feel sick to my stomach and can’t seem to get past the deep-seeded anger and frustration I have toward the Church and toward those “good” Christians out there. Many of these good people have been friends of mine since I was a kid. These are people I went to school with, went to Sunday School with, went on dates with, and yes, even attended prom with. I find out all these years later that my being gay was no real surprise for my classmates and that they knew but didn’t care. At first, I thought “Oh, that’s nice that they didn’t care” but then it hit me…why the hell not? Why didn’t they care? They SHOULD have cared! This part of myself that I hid out of fear of what others would think was obviously a very big part of me, yet they didn’t care to acknowledge or know me. Not the real me. Am I really surprised now that these same people don’t want to know me? They didn’t want to know me then and were content to ignore a facet of my personality that was so vital that I felt the need to hide it. Just like the kids in Constance’s school, the parents in the community, the teachers of the school, and the members of the school board were content to ask Constance to put aside her own dreams of her high school prom so that others might have their dreams met, I was ignored so that others could be comfortable. This is still asked of me, even today.
There’s no telling how many friends I’ve lost over the years because I’m gay, or people I didn’t get to know – and they didn’t get to know me either – because I’m gay. I know of several who have defriended me on Facebook and some who will never friend me because of it. As I said, everyone has a right to associate with whom they want. However, be honest about it. One person did defriend me specifically because I’m gay and because I’m not one of those “good” gays who sit down and shut up. I speak my mind and my words aren’t always pleasant or politically correct. However, I find it amusing that these same people have no problem with the numerous posts about getting laid (or wishing to), getting drunk, partying all night, etc. Yet, me simply putting the word “gay” in my post is enough to send them over the cliff of acceptability.
I’ve been accused of being angry, and I agree that I am. I’m angry at the denial of personal fault on the part of friends, family, and others in the institutionalized oppression and repression of the gay community, and of me specifically. I’m not some abstract representation of a group that is somehow so unfathomly strange to the average person that we’re stereotyped and caricatured, but I’m a real human being that laughed at your stupid jokes in school, listened to you cry your eyes out when some guy broke your heart, and stood by you when others put you down for the way you dressed or the car you drove. What didn’t change in the 10, 15, 20, 25 years that I’ve known some people is that I continued to believe that if I stood up for you, that one day you’d stand up for me. If a person isn’t actively making an effort to stop the oppression, then you’re a part of the problem. If you read this and get defensive and think “how dare she!”, then perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror at your own role in tolerating hatred and bigotry. You don’t have to call me a dyke or attack me directly to be a part of the problem. The old saying of “silence equals death” is true. Doing nothing is an act of acceptance.
After the “fake” prom happened for Constance, there was a question posed over at Pam’s House Blend
as to whether Constance should get the hell out of Fulton, MS or stay to fight for change. Thinking about this question and reading about what happened to Constance rehashed some old feelings for me. On a good day, I’d say who cares what these bigoted backwater idiots think. Hold your head up and live there if you damn well please. That part of me is the hopeful part, that little piece of my brain that says if they know us, they can’t hate us. The other, more pessimistic, side of my brain and heart is turning 40 years old this year and knows damn good and well that haters never change. It doesn’t matter if they know us or not because they don’t listen and they don’t hear. They talk down to us and at us as if we don’t have the common sense to even know our own hearts and minds. I’ve known people like this far too long. I grew up knowing I was gay, even though I didn’t have a word for it, but I knew I didn’t get all jittery and giggly over boys. Yet when one of my best female friends (and no, it’s no one on Facebook!) left notes in my locker I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I only learned many years later that this wasn’t a shock to anyone. That makes me question everything I thought I knew about high school. Was I simply tolerated and put up with? Was I mocked behind my back? Were the dates I did have with guys just an inside joke that I wasn’t privy to? And honestly, why would I want to subject myself to that again and again and again now as a fully-aware adult? I wasn’t the only gay kid in my graduating class. Statistically, it’s not possible. Wonder where all of the others are? Far away from here. Unlike me, they didn’t bother with trying to reach anyone or changing hearts and minds. For their own sanity, they escaped the small minds and dark hearts of the world they grew up in.
I wanted to believe. When I came out, I was young and naïve. I wanted to believe that because I’m a good person that I could move mountains and change the world for the better. Nearing 40, I now know it was completely pointless. At one time, I wanted to open my heart and hear the voices of the people who didn’t “get” me, thinking it would somehow change things…if I could just understand, if I could just get some insight. It’s the infamous adage of “know thy enemy” that I clung to so desperately. The thing is that most people don’t reciprocate that notion. They don’t want to hear or open their own heart.
And at 40 years of age, I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t give a damn if they do. I know who I am. I know where I stand. I know some things that will never change for me. At this point, I don’t have to listen to the lies. This post started over the story of Constance and the right to assemble, associate, and express oneself freely in this country. Her classmates chose to not assemble and associate with her or support her right to express herself freely. So many of us have experienced this both in and out of high school or as adults in work, church, and our families. We’ve been alienated by peers and elders while being told that we should rise above the pettiness of others and be “bigger” than them, to show more tolerance and understanding than has been shown to us. To what end, I ask? Personally, I’m too old and tired to be the one reaching all the time, to make the very human connection of understanding and tolerance and compassion for another, when the same won’t be shown to me.
I don’t have time or patience for false sincerity or fake smiles. I grew up gay in the South where being false was a way of life for everyone, even the straight people. We’re famous for smiling in your face while stabbing you in the back. I’m not sure why I expected anything to have changed. I can’t speak for Constance and whether she should stay in Fulton. I know for the time I stayed in my small Southern town as an openly gay person, it was some of the most oppressive feeling I’ve ever known. Even going back now, it makes me feel sick just to drive down the highway into town or go past the high school. I didn’t feel free until I saw there was a whole world out there that didn’t see me as evil and that there are some good people in the world. The thing is, one shouldn’t expect to find it in the small world they come from. Goodness doesn’t live there, Constance. Goodness lives in you and in the good and right that you surround yourself with.