Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An anniversary

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.


  1. Yes indeed. Prejudice is alive and well. In this country, much lauded for its tolerance, based on the teachings of Buddha, there are elements of racism that are quite unbelievable. But like all intolerance it is, as you say, based on ignorance. Ironically I sometimes look down on that ignorance.

  2. Brilliant post, Blue. Beautifully and powerfully written. Thank you. RD

  3. B-
    Your post brings me to tears. Written with such love and passion, and yet such painful words of truth are difficult to read. The truth is such a sad statement about the world we live.
    I have been shocked by the recent rash of suicides...it's almost as if we've come full circle and are back at the starting point of fear and bigotry towards the gay community. I naively thought we had advanced as a society, and that especially teenagers, were more readily accepted than generations past. Clearly my beliefs were just wishes.
    I remember well when Matthew Shepherd was viciously murdered. So sad... so very, very sad.


  4. Blue, thank-you for this post--which addresses so powerfully the very thoughts that have been foremost with me for the last few weeks, with the pathetic Ken Mehlman coming out, the spate of gay teen suicides, the violence against gays in the Bronx, the ongoing insanity of DADT, and Paladino's horrible statements.

    Many years ago up here, a young gay man---I knew him slightly---named Charlie Howard, was walking in Bangor, Maine with a friend. Charlie was a slight and effeminate guy, an easy target, and three youths accosted him on a bridge across the Kenduskeag stream. As the situation escalated, and despite his pleas that he couldn't swim, they tossed him off the bridge. The girl with them did nothing to try to stop them. Charlie had asthma, suffered an attack, and drowned. The two should have been tried as adults, and nearly were, but served less than three years apiece. Each year a wreath is laid at the spot.

    I was also attacked once in Bangor, leaving a dance at the Unitarian Church. Large and muscular, I made a very different sort of target than Charlie, and faced only one attacker, and it ended quickly, but not before the windows of my car were also smashed with rocks, and my nose was broken. The police apprehended the guy. In the end, young, I allowed my politician father to talk me out of pressing charges. I still regret it. Today, neither of us would flinch---but it's 30 years later.

    I was raised in an environment that relished diversity and tolerance, and even leaving myself as a gay man out of it, cannot comprehend the forces that drive the fear and hatred and bigotry that seem to drive half of the populace.

    Any more than I can understand gay men who identify themselves as conservative Republicans, gay men who think that some elusive stereotype of 'masculinity' and jockdom should be our model, squeezing out the effeminate, flamboyant or weak among us. I feel lucky to be gay, and to see the world in its great variety. How can we expect the greater world to wholeheartedly accept us, when there is also so much internalized homophobia?

    Powerful post, thank you.

  5. Nobody has too many brothers or sisters. This posting is outstanding.

    We will absolutely not be freed until we invoke ourselves, entirely; the coalitions we saturated with support will be the last to assist, because we serve the incurable anxieties of the underclass (which you nail quite elegantly). We are the Judas Goat buffer against oblivion in Bonhoeffer's famous formula, in a society graced continuously by new rush classes of immigrants to haze and assimilate into the homophobe fraternity, first.

    And this is not even about us. This is about the hideous insistence of this culture upon religious exculpations for vicious inequality. "Freedom" has become the neurotic distillate of a non-existent right to be unfair; and you will hear nothing for liberty or equality, much less for fraternity, except from our own throat.

  6. Once again Blue your color is sage. I've seen the story played out next door to me where a brilliant child, tortured by self, family, community, is now openly freed of the questioning, the hiding, the shame. Now, with a supportive partner, he is effervescent, ebullient, happy. In each of us is shame and regret. We are all the same. It is not a crime.

  7. Columnist, thank you. There are times when I wonder if ignorance is sufficient excuse. I'm increasingly troubled by what I read and hear.

  8. Reggie, thank you. Shortly after going to sleep I woke up thinking about those suicides and just sat down in the living room and wrote.

  9. for the love of a house, thank you. It's a heartbreaking situation and God only knows what the parents and siblings of those people must be enduring right now.

  10. I have read and re-read this a few times.

    I am at a loss for words--what does one say when finishing reading such a beautiful (and sad) essay.

    I guess all I can add is that in the words of Rumi are job is to love. Love our children, our friends, our students and "teach them well."

    It seems we live in the world of the bully; students, politicians, pundits, radio hosts, etc. I pray we can find ways to change our world.

  11. Dilettante, thank you. I agree with everything you say about fear, hatred and bigotry though I question why these men are afraid. As to the conservative Republican gay men such as Ken Mehlman - I cannot express my disgust forcefully enough.

    The story of Charlie Howard is heartbreaking and the image of the woman standing by and not helping reminds me of am attack on me in my early teen years - in this case it was a large gang, neighbours, with women egging them on. My family did nothing.

  12. Laurent, thank you. As usual, you eloquently provide a philosophical underpinning to my thoughts.

  13. home before dark, thank you. It is truly wonderful to read about your neighbor " ... he is effervescent, ebullient, happy." There's been some attempt on YouTube and by the Trevor Project to assure gay youth who may be afraid and alienated that it will get better as they mature. I hope it is successful for something needs to be done.

    Shame and regret is part of the human condition and shame and regret is precisely what I hope to hear from some of the grandstanding pundits.

  14. Bruce Barone - our children really do live in a world of bullies - a world that has grown exponentially with online social media. It is no wonder that some of them see no future for themselves. If I could, I too might pray. Thank you for your comment.

    victoria thorne, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  15. Blue,

    I keep alive the hope that we are evolving into a more accepting & loving society. A most poignant post. Thank you.

    Art by Karena

  16. Blue,

    Thank you for your eloquent post. It's human nature to prey on the sick, the isolated, the poor,the unattractive, gay men and women (the sad list is endless) and it is unconscionable in the form of politics and religion. I take heart reading the comments above and I am grateful for the support and friendship that surrounds you. Please count me among them.

  17. Karena, thank you. I hope for the same but fear it will not be achieved.

    smilla4blogs, thank you very much. Sometimes it just gets to me.

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  18. blue, to add something to what has been said, I think of a few lost adults still experiencing self loathing, family scorn. Suicide is not just for the young and untried- that inner want is a starvation the old know all too well. your post has wings. pgt

  19. Blue, This is an outstanding posting. But you must remember, we women did actually get the right to vote in our 18th-century democratic republic in 1920. Not all is lost, I suppose...