Undocumented and Awkward: Episode 10
When I was in high school, I had a huge crush on a young lady who had bravely started the first LGTBQ support organization in our school (this was back in 1999-2000). She was smart, strong, beautiful, very compassionate, and she didn’t exactly identify as gay. I thought that I just might have a teeny-tiny shot if I played my cards right. I would have done anything short of embarrassing myself to impress her.
One day, the school newspaper ran an editorial piece that someone had submitted to the journalism department anonymously. In essence, the piece was a rant about gay rights and how unnecessary they were, as homosexuality was a sin and detrimental to our society. Entertaining the idea that gays were equal to straights was blasphemous. Hence, organizations that catered to these life-style “choices” didn’t belong in a public high school campus.
Needless to say, it created an uproar of controversy in our school. Nobody knew who had written it, but plenty of accusations flew around. As for my feelings about what had been published? I didn’t really care. None of my friends were out as gay. And if they were in the closet, I didn’t think that their sexuality was any of my business.
The day after the newspaper had been distributed and everyone had read the piece, I saw this beautiful young lady talking to a good friend of mine. In her hand, I noticed the newspaper opened to the editorial section. Immediately, I knew what they were talking about. This was it. My chance to impress her with my sharp intellectual opinion and open-minded consciousness. I decided that I’d seize the moment and approach them to chime in on the controversy.
I’ll never forget it. The exact words that came out of my mouth:
“Whoever wrote that piece is a fucking coward! How are you going to write something like that and not sign your name? It’s so fucking gay…”
I’ll never forget the look on her face as that last word tumbled out of my stupid mouth. And I immediately wished that I could have slurped it back before she’d heard it. But it was too late. My cheeks flushed, my palms instantaneously became drenched with sweat, and my mouth went dry as I tried to backpedal. My friend suppressed a laugh as he watched me crash and burn.
“No no no… Uhhh… I mean… Gay… I didn’t mean it like that… I meant ‘stupid’… Honest…”
Watching her walk away, knowing that I’d exposed my own ignorance, I made a solemn promise to myself that I’d have to stop using oppressive language in my everyday life. I didn’t know then that they were oppressive words, but I was beginning to understand that words really do matter, that they can do damage, that they can demoralize and subjugate and they can cut even when you don’t want them to.
It was a lesson well learned and never forgotten.
Ignorance is the ultimate cock-blocker.
But more than that, ignorance has no room in a movement with so many fronts and experiences. Intersectionalities exist in the experience of our people, and if we don’t look out for each other, those in power will ultimately use these traces of ignorance to tear us apart.