On Friday on The New York Social Diary in an article about Nick Olsen's place I read a phrase new to me - gay adjacent. Considering that when I googled the phrase just now I find an article written four years ago for The Guardian I'm way behind in my knowledge of current language. Each day I listen to my students - some from the mid-west, others from the smallest of country towns in Georgia and Alabama - talk amongst themselves and I am delighted by what I hear. Delighted not so much by what they talk about but by the music of their accents.
Growing up as I did up North at a time when on the wireless and early television, an accent such as mine belonged to people who were portrayed as thick (stupid) or even worse, the salt-of-the-earth inhabitants of the gritty, sooty land of mines and cotton. These, too, were the times when received pronunciation held sway and regional accents were banned - everyone on the radio, in the theatre, the flicks and on television, even the nurse on the first hospital TV drama, spoke with the strangulated accents of a royal family lackey. An example of the class system at work in a deferential society and one that was a fundamental lesson about one's status as personified by one's accent. The message of the class system was clear and its effects remain.
Much in the same way children are taught by the use of language such as faggot, queer, fruit, to describe homosexual men - men perhaps who are members of the family, who live in the neighborhood, or even attend the same congregation. A child grows up hearing these names and learning the lessons inherent therein, and though I hesitate to use the overused word hate, there comes an appalling day when that child realizes that he is a hated one and that he alone of all his acquaintance will be a disapointment to his parents, despised by his friends and anathema to his church.
Such is the power of language, the keenest of double-edged swords, that in the light of the gay teen suicides last month, and another yesterday, today's anniversary of Matthew Shepherd's murder, and the online-bullying-caused suicide of a young girl but days ago, that it can kill. I remember a student, only a few years ago, who was told by his father, too shamed by his son's homosexuality, not to come home for Thanksgiving - the first after his supportive mother had died. What kind of parent is this?
I wonder how the descendants of those brought through the horrors of the Middle Passage to live a life of slavery in an alien land, proud inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, victims of racial hate crimes that still continue, can now as self-appointed bishops and pastors, stand in pulpits across this land condemning, in the name of God, children and young adults to a life of fear and possibly violent death. What kind of hypocrisy is this? What kind of god is this?
I wonder how the pundits and the politicians can spew their messages of execration with such relish and spend so much money on denying fellow citizens simple rights of partnership and marriage and creating a climate of fear and loathing for their fellow citizens. I wonder too how such a church as that in Salt Lake City can enter politics as it did with Proposition 8 in California and remain tax-exempt. What kind of church is this?
I wonder how the President, himself subject to so much invective and malevolence, can play politics with the lives of his servicemen by not repealing DADT. We talk about the culture wars, the increasing piety of the American people and the religious tolerance of which this country is so rightly proud - yet what we seemingly cannot accept, even from our own children, fellow citizens and those serving our country is difference.
We could accept difference - the relinquishing of prejudice is a simple decision to make. It was once explained to me as seeing the face of God in everyone and though it's an attractive idea I'm not fully convinced. There is no gay agenda, no gay lifestyle or even a post-gay life as portrayed by the grandstanding egos - we are people not demons. It's as simple as that. We have children, we have partners, we have husbands and wives, mortgages, friends and family, pay taxes, and we make the same stink in the bathroom as anyone else - even the fragrant Coulters of this world.
Two thousand years of anti-semitism, two World Wars, three-hundred years of struggle for freedom, the continued battle for subsistence in parts of the world, the hanging of gay teenagers in Iran, the subjugation of women in mullah-led societies, and many a diaspora, seemingly have taught us little.
This year Matthew Shepherd would have been thirty-four years of age. He died at the age of twenty-one, having been tortured and left for dead hanging on a fence.