Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding My Voice

Warning:  I drop the F-bomb in this post.

I have a morning routine.  You see, I'm not what you might call a "morning person."  I set my alarm to go off earlier than necessary in order to account for the several times I will inevitably hit the snooze button.  I take an inordinate amount of time to prepare myself to face the world in the morning and unless I am showered, fed, and caffeinated, you had better not speak to me unless it is a matter of extreme import.  Because of this, I have to give myself extra time in the morning to initiate my waking up routine.  I brush my teeth, I wash my face, and I shower.  As I am in the shower, I run through everything I have to do that day.  "Practice, class, rehearsal, lunch, rehearsal, practice, rehearsal..."  Then I sit down with a bowl of cereal to read blogs while my coffee brews.  This is my morning routine.  I cherish my bit of free time in the morning knowing that the rest of my day will be busy, hectic, and filled with other people (I'm an introvert.  People sap my energy faster than you can believe.)

As I was going about my routine yesterday morning, I clicked my way over to Joan's blog and encountered a bit of reality that made the rest of my day seem entirely unimportant.  If you haven't already heard, I encourage you to go read this article about 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer who recently took his own life as a result of homophobia and bullying in school and online.  I was heartbroken to have to read about yet another teen suicide in the GLBT community and I could do little more than sob into my cereal as I wept for that innocent little boy.  I was so overcome with emotion that I felt numb.  I was furious, depressed, confused, terrified, sad and I just sat, helpless, with no desire to leave my apartment and go about my day.

I wasn't planning to write about this.  I was at a loss for words all day as I struggled to comprehend this sad, sad tragedy and how it could have happened.  I didn't think I would have anything worth saying and besides, this is a knitting blog.  To be honest, I rarely even mention the fact that I'm gay because I'm sure I have some readers who wouldn't completely accept that and I don't want to make anybody uncomfortable.  But you know what I have to say now?  FUCK THEM.  That's right, I said it.  This is my goddamn blog and it's about time that these people be put in their place.  Why should I worry about making people uncomfortable?  Why should I apologize if who I am disagrees with someone else's beliefs?  I don't hesitate to mention that I'm colorblind, or left handed, or male, do I?  I don't walk down the street and hide the fact that I have blue eyes, or brown hair, or large feet.  It's this belief - the belief that being gay is something that should be hidden or apologized for - that makes others think it's ok to ridicule, torment, and harass.

I may be gay, but you know what else?  I'm also an individual and I have a voice.  We all have a story to tell, and it's up to you to listen.

Jamey's death has made me think back to my high school experience.  It makes me wonder - do the people who bullied me in high school read about these deaths and feel guilty?  Do they remember a time when they were just as cruel and wonder what they were thinking?  Does the guy who told me to go to hell as he shoved snow in my face feel any pang of regret?  Or how about those who made a daily game of seeing who could yell "faggot" louder in math class before the teacher mumbled for them to be quiet?  What about the guys who spit on me, or threw sand in my eyes, or blocked the doors to the locker room so I couldn't change after gym class?  Have they grown up and matured?  Or are they going to be the ones teaching their children that hate is acceptable and that differences are to be feared?

Reading about Jamey has made me wonder where my voice has gone.  In middle school I was one of the founding members of a group that still exists a decade later.  We called it "STAR": Students Teaching Acceptance and Respect.  The six of us would visit other classrooms and, through the use of skits, introduce relevant scenarios that taught lessons about respect and acceptance.

In high school I was presented with a Multicultural Leadership Award for my work on what my friend and I called our "Safe Speech Campaign."  We made pamphlets, handed out buttons, and organized an all-school assembly to speak about the power of language and how it affects those around us.  And we didn't only talk about derogative words directed toward the GLBT community, either.  We addressed words that targeted gender, race, religion, social class, etc.

It's interesting, then, that what I took out of high school was not confidence in my ability to speak out and stand up for those in need.  What I took away from high school was tolerance.  Not tolerance for those different than me, but a tolerance for hatred - a tolerance for the bullying and the harassment that I had to endure every day.  I didn't realize it then, but I had been defeated.  They had taken away my voice - and isn't that what they were after?  I was no longer able to speak up for myself.

This led me to form the opinion that the power to make a change lay in the hands of straight people.  It was up to them to speak up for a minority.  No one was going to listen to me.  After all, if I were to say something I would just be complaining and the only thing worse than a faggot is a faggot who whines.  But you know what I've discovered?  I've discovered that if I don't say something, then chances are that no one else will, either.

So here's my challenge to myself and to you.  No longer can we live passively.  It is our responsibility, yours and mine, to speak up  - to stop harassment, to put an end to hatred, and to prevent bullying.  You may feel uncomfortable calling someone else out on their behavior, but the importance of our doing so is clear.  By speaking up we are showing others that such behavior is unacceptable and that we, you and I and everyone else, will not stand for it.  It is so important that we do this, you and I, because you never know - the other person in the room may have lost their voice in high school.

Please, there is no time to hesitate, no more time to feel uncomfortable.  We must learn from Jamey's struggle and act to ensure that no one else has to meet the same fate.  Please use your voice and share this message with others so that, together, we - you and I - can make a difference.

I, for one, am glad I've found my voice again.

38 comments:

  1. I love you.
    (And for the record, I whispered and snarked about my Spanish teacher in high school. And every time I remember that I am filled with shame. Some eejits learn, and do better.)

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  2. Oh hon, here's a big hug... I don't have much tolerance for the snide comments, and people are lucky I don't see the bullying (I am after all 50). I have gay family members that I love dearly, and a friend who said at one point he'd marry me for loads of reasons having nothing to do with sexual attraction (he was gay). I miss him terribly (he died the Tuesday after 9/11). My gay brother always knew he had two choices in life... kill himself or drink. And so he drank. And did drugs. And nearly killed himself. Thankfully he got sober, but every day he'd think the same thing. He gave a speech about it, and it was nominated for the regional meeting, but I don't know if he gave it there. He ended with something along the lines of he was losing the house of his dreams, has HIV, may not be able to work anymore, but life is great and worth living.

    But he also told me that if I ever buried him in the town we grew up in, (I "inherited" three plots) he would haunt me FOREVER.

    Life is worth living, even when it doesn't seem to be.

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  3. Hooray for refinding your voice and encouraging other to find/rediscover theirs!!!

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  4. Well said, Peter. It's a shame that there isn't more acceptance in our world.

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  5. You're a lefty? The horror...

    Honey, we can never leave anything up to the straight folks or the white folks or whoever seems to have the power. It's the non-straight/non-white/non-whatever people who have to stand up for what's right and demand change... and keep demanding that change until it happens. People will join the cause as they see the light.

    I am so proud of you for finding your voice again... and for being Peter.

    xoxox

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  6. Sending you virtual hooahs and hugs.

    I suspect you may be preaching to the choir, but every time someone stands up, every time someone actually thinks about what our society is doing by tormenting children for simply being who they are, the balance does shift a little. Can we ever shift it far enough to make this a safe world for everyone? I don't know, but I know we have to keep trying. It's horrendous that the struggle seems to have shifted from being accepted to being safe, especially when it comes to children.

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  7. Peter, well said. Thanks for finding your voice again. Us lefties need to band together.

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  8. I'm so happy to hear you finding your voice, Peter! I've been worried about you for years. And there is a big difference between speaking up and whining, even if the bullies out there try to make everyone believe they're the same thing.

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  9. I'M A LEFTY, TOO! And I'm straight...but was teased mercilessly for being a lesbian in middle and high school. So not only are bullies mean...they're STUPID!

    It's all about fear, Peter. People who have no tolerance are AFRAID...and for no reason.

    YOU ARE BRAVE! And I LOVE your voice! And I'm going to share it and spread the word!

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  10. Keeping your voice is so important. And we are listening, and nodding, when you speak.

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  11. This is a wonderful post and I am so glad you decided to write it. Big hugs.

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  12. My dear Peter, I hope you know how much we care for and love you. That you have met our K. and that she knew and adored Jamey connects all of us in a very powerful way and I felt it gave me the mandate to write my post. I think that it has been easy to stay quiet and hopeful, but you are right that we need to challenge anyone who spreads shame and hate. I know you and I know that you live a life of purpose and joy and that you inspire others to be strong. I am proud to know you.

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  13. Oh Peter, I'm crying with you. It's so sad to know that this kind of thing still goes on. I mean, I can't believe it's taken this long just to get "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repealed. I experienced a tinge of this kind of ridicule growing up as a non-Christian in small-town Iowa and I will always try and speak up against ignorance. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Peter. You know me. Hi, it's Mark. I'm gay and disabled- couldn't help those two. I also recently decided that I want to be Jewish- which just adds to the trifecta of awesomeness! LOL. But seriously. I was teased a lot in high school and I kept completely silent- played it completely straight- even had a girlfriend! Being out was much easier for me to do once I had gotten out of the Chicago area, where I had gone to school with all my friends since kindergarten, and where our MOTHERS had gone to school with each other since kindergarten. It's deeply tragic that kids like Jamie and like Tyler Clementi continue to take their own lives, and society as a large does so little about it. If it had not been for Drama Club, ceramics class, Billie Holiday, black clothing, and chocolate, I'd have never made it through high school.

    The way I see it is- someone cannot love you until they know what it is to be loved- nor can you love someone else if you don't love yourself. The real problem is society conditioning MANY groups to hate themselves, make themselves feel inferior and less-than. They can tell you you're worthless all they want, but if you've internalized it, they've won. So I applaud you for your defiance. This is a tough battle I know that I am and have been loved by others, but for me, learning how to love myself took a while- and I don't think I'm quite there yet, even now. But I'll get there- and Jamey Rodemeyer and Tyler Clementi should have known that they could get there, too. Hugs. Thanks for posting this.

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  15. I read your post aloud to my boyfriend as part of our morning ritual today. He interrupted with shock at the part about your being a lefty. And in his words at the end: you, Peter, are quite a guy. I feel privileged to read your blog. Thank you for the kick in the pants.

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  16. Peter,

    I'm not sure what to say, but I felt like I needed to say something because your blog really hit me hard. You may be surprised to learn that I have looked up to you for a long time. I would look at my life and my struggles, and how much trouble I had coping with them. But they were nothing compared to what you had to go through. And you always did it with your head high. It must have been harder than I can even imagine, but you kept going in spite of the weight on your shoulders, and you hardly said a word. That speaks to me of unerring character, a fierce will, and true strength, virtues that should be sought after and valued by every human.

    I know this isn't about you, its about something much bigger. I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that I am, and always have been, proud to have you as a brother. Even if you are a lefty.

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  17. You are amazing to have started a group like that in MIDDLE SCHOOL! Most teachers work very hard to make everyone in a class feel safe and comfortable and to do what you did at a time when most kids are struggling to figure out who they are while still fitting in is pure bravery.

    Everyone needs to take a break from the fight now and then. What matters is that you're ready to step up again. As I'm the 18th commenter on this post, you know we're all here for and with you. Fuck the ones who decide not to come back :o)

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  18. Peter -- love you, love your voice. Great to hear (read) it. Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you for being a kind and wonderful person. I have nothing but respect and admiration for your strength, your insight, and, well, you.

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  19. Peter,
    Bravo! As a gay man myself, I can identify with everything you have said. I also had to endure the nightmare of high school with all the teasing, name-calling, and abuse. When Matthew Shepherd was murdered, I cried for a month. No one should have to endure persecution and ridicule because of who they are. I'm very proud of your voice and we must all stand together and say that we will no longer sit at the back of the bus and we will no longer be silent, second-class citizens. Bravo for your voice! We must all speak out against any type of hate and bigotry. Although I have never met you in person, you have such a sweet, beautiful spirit and are amazingly talented. I hope one day we get to meet in person. Until then, I promise that I will continue to fight for equality and to honour those who have gone before. I'm so proud of your post and I thank you for finding your voice again. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us!

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  20. Thank you for writing this. I've linked to it on my G+ account. I'm another color-blind male knitter, another person who was bullied in school. The fear and rage I had lasted for years and hurt me in ways that I'm only starting to understand now (and heal from), decades later. It gets better.

    And... I'm going to try to be more brave about speaking up.

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  21. Thank you for writing such a powerful piece. I started reading your blog a couple of mons ago and I want you to know that this is one reader who will keep reading because of what you wrote.

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  22. I was very touched by your post. Because I have a very visible disability, I was teased in school. One of my most striking memories of junior high, which was one of the worst times of my life, is when a classmate found another classmate bullying me. He really took the other to kid to task. Even today I still shake my head over it and am grateful that someone noticed and helped stop it. In fact, I'm still in contact with the classmate that stepped in and I think I need to share with him how much I appreciated what he did. your post is a good reminder that passing that action forward is still necessary.

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  23. Peter, thank you so much for this. That part you wrote about developing tolerance for harassment and hatred really resonated with me. For a long time I thought that my silence in front of my friends or family was polite...it's like what you wrote about not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable. It's only recently that I realized that what I was doing was not polite--it was cowardly. Thank you so much for having the courage to stand up for your beliefs and rights. You have inspired me to do the same in my life as well.

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  24. Well-written, poignant, and true. I am proud to know you as a friend and fellow knitter.

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  25. Good for you! Completely agreed - I think we need to teach our (eventual in my case) kids to speak up when they see bullying and refuse to tolerate it. The feedback has to come in the moment, from peers, that you don't treat people that way. I'd also like to see more meaningful punishments for bullying (i.e. you're not going on the big class field trip with the rest of your peers, have fun in detention during PE, etc) to at least send the message that if you bully people, you are not welcome to participate in social activities. The education programs you worked on sound like a step in the right direction.

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  26. Thank you!

    I don't comment on here often, but I've been a follower for ages and I can't tell you how much I both sympathize and appreciate this update. I had a similar declaration about the very same topic on a different blog.

    From a fellow gay, left handed, knitter.

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  27. I've been where he was, harried to the point of attempted suicide. It's a dark, and lonely place, and I'm so sorry that he didn't have the time to find his way out to the other side. May his soul rest peacefully in the after life, may his family find it in their hearts to not blame themselves.

    You should be proud of who you are, I know I am! Loud and proud has always been my motto, and I hope it'll be yours. By loud, I mean living life out loud. Not in silence, out of deference for the limitations of others. You are a beautiful person in so many ways, and I hope you know that.

    Rock on, Peter. Remember, though I don't know you yet... if I could pick my own brother, I'd choose you.

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  28. D'oh! I forgot to add "yet IN PERSON". :P

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  29. So proud of you for finding your voice and having the courage to write about it. It's a reminder to all of us not to keep quiet about important issues just because it's the easier thing to do. One of my best friends is gay, and not out to anyone. I ache for him to be able to feel comfortable living and loving openly, as the person he is.

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  30. Love to you from this straight mom with grown sons. I'm old enough to know better! but so wish that stuff like this was not part of our world. Thanks for speaking out.

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  31. It truly is astonishing that in this day and age, that a teenager so full of promise and life, can be driven to take his own life because of the unfeeling and ignorant harassment from fellow students. The amazing thing about it is that so many of the harassers are simply covering up for their own deep rooted fear and insecurity.
    Cheers to you for shouting this out! You are appreciated my friend. It is indeed now up to us to take this message out into our daily lives.
    (Sorry I'm so late weighing in, just haven't been keeping up with people's blogs lately.)

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  32. When my second "bonus son" came out, he was 20. I always think it must have been awful to feel like he couldn't be himself even with all of us that love him. When my husband (the one he feared telling the most) said "you're the same person I loved yesterday", well that's a moment I won't forget anytime soon.

    Hope you continue to be as open and out as you want to!

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  33. If it is of any consolation, I have known people who were bullies in high school and as adults, as they mature, spend the rest of their lives gnawing themselves in remorse. Life has a way of teaching everybody hard lessons. And if they don't feel remorse, who wants to be that kind of person for the rest of their lives? They end up being their own worst enemy. I read the story of this poor young man and it broke my heart. There is too much grief in this world, as it is. How sad that there are those that add to it unnecessarily.

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  34. It's a sad world we live in, isn't it? I think alot of the people who were assholes in high school are probably still assholes, but they just don't have as many people to pick on. Two of the meanest boys in my high school class died horrible deaths and I'm un-Christian enough not to feel sadness over that (as I was picked on by them too).
    It's up to the rest of us to make this world a kinder, gentler place and learn to tolerate and appreciate everyone -- especially those who are different than ourselves.

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  35. Thanks for speaking out, Peter! I suppose in many ways I can relate. I don't talk about these "issues" on my blog, but I do mention my partner there and on Twitter or elsewhere.

    For many years I've taken the approach that I just act like myself and people will see that gays are just normal like straights. Sometimes it's hard to just leave it at that.

    Last year we moved out of a major city and into the most typical suburb one can imagine. We have many accepting friends and family members here. Many of them are religious folk. I don't have any immediate problem with that of course, but I often wonder if they are only accepting because we don't talk about the political issues, about the troubles we face as gay parents, etc.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that I'll take your post as impetus to being more vocal (diplomatically and respectfully of course!) about our lives, about our humanity, about our causes.

    We must fight fear with education and patience. I'm ready to do my part.

    Cheers!

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  36. Thank you for adding your voice to the chorus.

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