we may never truly understand, but shouldn’t we try?

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We  always went to Caffé Driade , whatever night they had “gay coffee,” a bit of a misnomer. In reality, it was me and my three friends drinking wine–not coffee–with local young people. We sat around tables pushed together under the trees. Nope, I wasn’t “in the family,” my friends shrugged and clarified when someone asked. It was, I’m bi, I’m gay, I’m lesbian… and then, her, she’s straight. “But she’s cool,” one friend said. The conversations draped themselves around our shoulders, lifted in smoke from the few who dragged cigarettes, our majors, classes, philosophies, and once the conversation winded into anger, instances of discrimination, stories of being LGBTQI. I listened.

I love my friends. I’m lucky to have a beautiful, diverse friend group, filled with strong confident women who identify all along the spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual. I know guys too, but I don’t have the “gay guy best friend” that stereotypically is acceptable in the straight woman’s posse. But I have lots of girlfriends, all orientations. The first time my mom found out about some of my friends, she asked me if I was gay, too. “It’s ok if you are.” I said, “I’m allowed to have gay friends and not be gay.” She said, “Sometimes you just get confused.”

Confusion (noun): Lack of understanding.

I started to read an article on the Good Men project the other day. The title was “Men May Never Truly Understand a Day in the Life of Women. But Shouldn’t We Try?” I love it when people are sensitive enough to stand above the THEY, blame, hate game and actually just try considering that people don’t make this up. We don’t make up sexism, homophobia, racism. People have experiences every day that remind them of their skin color, sexual orientation, or gender. The problem is that people who don’t have to deal with discrimination underestimate its extent. So when I saw the article, I liked it. I like it when people who aren’t female-identified stick up for females. Now, I’d like to tag-team this one and say, us heterosexual people may never truly understand a day in the life of LGBTQI individuals, but shouldn’t we try?

I work with middle-schoolers and bullying happens. One day a 5th-grader came up to me wailing, he called me a lesbian! I took the kids involved in the dispute aside and I said, “First of all, being a lesbian isn’t a bad thing, so I don’t want to hear you using it as an insult.” Today, I was driving in the car with my co-worker and she was telling me she will not stand for kids to use the words “gay” or “retarded” in a derogatory way. Her students know this and will police each other. One kid screamed, “You’re gay” at another kid the other day and the whole group of children went silent. One said, “You’re in trouble now.” My co-worker pressed her hand to her heart as she told the story. “Some kids are actually trying to figure out if they are gay or not and if they keep hearing it as an insult, those kids will just shrink more into themselves.” No child deserves to shrink inside, to feel they are bad and abnormal. No person does, yet this is just a small piece of what a LGBTQI youth experiences every day.

How do children, or even adults, learn to respect and understand another person’s perspective if they write people off as THEM, put them down, and use a word like gay as an insult? The danger here is that kids are told someone else is different, bad, and then they believe it. They never have another experience to change their mind. If the script they learn– “they are bad” — doesn’t change, they will grow up and always feel that way. Maybe they’ll then be the person who votes down gay marriage. Maybe they’ll beat up someone because they are trans, outside a bar one night. Maybe they’ll feel ok putting them down because they are bad and bad people deserve it. How does the script change?

I was in high school, applying to college, and I didn’t want to go to an all-girls college because I blatantly told my mother, “There are a lot of lesbians.” I wrote in my journal in high school, I couldn’t do it if I ended up with a lesbian roommate. I was filled with fear and I didn’t know any lesbians. How does the script change? How did I end up with an open heart? How could I have been that person that wrote and said those things? The script changed when I began to meet people in college who weren’t like me, who weren’t heterosexual. I heard their stories, I talked to them, I loved them.

So, basically, I’m saying, more straight people need to go to gay coffee. Make friends who are different from you otherwise you’re going to stay close-minded. Sure, if a ton of straight people start going to gay night that might ruin the point. It’s supposed to be about community, a way to maybe achieve respite and be with people with whom you can vent about the discrimination. But I was always the only straight person who ever showed at gay coffee. Sometimes on those nights, I imagined a world where there weren’t gay nights. I imagined we all were just gay and straight and together and it didn’t matter the orientation. And I really liked being there. I loved being with my friends and being myself and being ok with everyone and everyone being ok with me. We live in a world where people are so not ok, it’s nice to sit around and be ok. I also felt like my whole self. Among my open and out friends, who were beautiful and unashamed of their sexual orientation, I felt like I could never be afraid, never judged for anything about me.

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson

There was a liberty among my friends who were out. They seized their identity. They had a maturity that comes from searching deep inside, looking outside at society, and realizing their value came from them, and wouldn’t necessarily come from society. They had a perspective that came from knowing their worth and having to fight for it. Their liberation was a liberation that came from abandoning fear. Fear of hate, fear of stigma, fear of discrimination, maybe sometimes they were even afraid of themselves and how they could be different from the majority, how that could set them apart. They had to abandon fear and they liberated me, too.

I didn’t ever just go to gay coffee. I partied with my friends too. Sometimes I ended up at a party where I was, again, the only straight person or one of few. It was first Fridays at Vespa or gay dance party at East End or just my lesbian friend’s birthday party in her apartment. It was about being with my friends and not being some sort of alternative, super-hero straight woman being super cool because I was in with the LGBTQI crowd. Most of the time, I was just hanging out with people I loved. We were friends before we were gay or straight.

Back to the world I like to dream about. Last week, I was writing a story about a woman working for an LGBT organization in Ankara, Turkey. As I wrote the portrait, from an interview I did with the woman there, I traced out words about violence, activism, and human rights. In Turkey, very few people come out. The violence and crimes against them is so awful, people would rather hide who they are. Still, she spoke about the “community chain,” the world that exists where LGBTQI are isolated into their own communities. For her, equality is a community, side-by-side where people are free and allowed to come out and exist together. She said, “We have so many examples of different lives of LGBT. What I personally think, I want to break that community chain. LGBT people, they live in small communities, and I want to combat this. We don’t want to live in small places. The variety that society has is in the LGBT community as well.”

She wanted LGBT people to be people, first and foremost. People like all people, varied, different thoughts and lives. She wanted them to be out, liberated like my friends, and strong, unafraid. So can we live in a varied and diverse community with all kinds of people and skip the hate and discrimination? Can we combat the fear on an individual and societal level?

I believe we can. Liberation is the trans blogger who writes about being accepted and loved. It’s the Maine family who supports their daughter’s being who she is. It’s my friends posting articles on the movement, on the frontlines, reminding, reminding, reminding the world they are who they are and they are proud. It’s activism. It’s daily life.

It’s a student’s testimonial going viral. It’s imagining there will be a day no one is marginalized and hated. It’s retaliation. When someone gave a speech about how a man and a woman are made for each other, one of my friends posted as her status, “We were made for each other too. A woman and a woman. Living our own lives as one, walking together in harmony. Equals sharing a life. Living, loving, and laughing. One day we will be two moms with our own parenting styles, raising good children who become respectable adults. We love each other and we love who we are and the life we have built and are living together.”

And we love who we are. I hope every kid and person can grow up and love who they are. As for being “in the family,” I think we’re all in the family, that human one– you know. Let’s treat each other like it.


Written by carolinashley

December 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. You are beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

    Jessica Edens

    December 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

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