25 August 2007

Killing Me Softly

Why do we find it so hard to speak up for ourselves?

Every day we see reactionary forces smear and demonize us! We see them whittle away at our human rights. We watch while they make us out to be a greater threat to national security than Osama bin Laden and the Taliban combined! How do we respond? Defensively, if at all. We cower before our persecutors! I've seen it happen repeatedly when self-described Gay Rights activists confront the Right Wing in public forums.

We let Dominionist preachers back us into rhetorical corners with irrelevant quotes from the Bible. We give benefit of doubt to their preposterous claims that homosexual orientation is a choice and/or illness. We cringe in fear as they call us disease peddlers and equate us with pedophiles, prostitutes, drug addicts and murderers. We sit by more or less in silence while these charlatans pit their prejudices against our right to marry, to raise families, to serve in the military, to hold jobs with religious organizations, to work in proximity of children. We respond with mealy-mouthed proclamations about the need to separate the institutions of Church and State. What about our claim to the Church? Why are we so willing to be society's pariahs? Where is our collective outrage?

Time and time again, we fail to speak truth to power. We fail to share the truth of our traumatized lives! We fail to expose our enemies as the lifelong bullies that they are, menacing us from childhood to adulthood, from the elementary school playground to the pulpit and the halls of government. We fail to claim the moral high ground that belongs to us. Who can speak for us, then, when we don't?

Those who know us best: Our mothers and fathers! Thankfully, not all parents of LGBT children disown their offspring. Many are protective of us. Often, their hearts bleed as they see firsthand what tremendous hardships we endure. Often, they tend our wounds and dry our tears after other people's children have defamed, ostracized and brutalized us! They pray for our safety as we venture forth into a hostile world. How many times has a loving parent been the only thing standing between a tormented LGBT child and a successful suicide attempt? More times, I'll bet, than anybody can count.

So there are millions of Straight people who understand the trials and tribulations of growing up Gay. God bless them when they have courage to speak on our behalf! Courage such as that shown recently by an angry Vermont mother, a mother who'd had her fill of reading lies about her Gay son in the local media. A series of poison pen Letters To The Editor prompted a righteous response from her. Here is that response, reproduced almost in its entirety (much thanks to my friend Jerry Maneker for bringing it to my attention). As you read her letter, don't be surprised if the lyrics to Roberta Flack's 1973 hit "Killing Me Softly" flash across your mind:

Strumming my pain with his fingers/
Singing my life with his words/
Killing me softly with his song/
Killing me softly with his song/
Telling my whole life with his words/
Killing me softly with his song.*

That's what happened to me when I read it. The traumatic events she recalls from her son's childhood are identical to those I and millions of other Gay men have experienced:

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a Gay son, and I’ve taken enough from you good people. I’m tired of your foolish rhetoric about the “homosexual agenda”, and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant! You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the First Grade. He was physically and verbally abused from First Grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be Gay. He never professed to be Gay or had any association with anything Gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called “f*g” incessantly . . .

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn’t bear to continue living any longer, that he didn’t want to be Gay, and that he couldn’t face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair! I don’t know why my son is Gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it’s about time you started doing that!

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join . . . if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won’t get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don’t know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn!

If you want to tout your own morality, you’d best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. (Here's a question) for those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program . . . are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that’s not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn’t give their lives so that the “homosexual agenda” could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals (sic) in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was Gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all . . .

You religious folk just can’t bear the thought that as my son emerges from the Hell that was his childhood, he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him, or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance. "How dare he?" you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage. You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant! God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin!

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 (2005) Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about “those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing” asks: “Whatever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?” Indeed, sir, whatever happened to that?

I've seen Gay people respond to bigotry in newspaper letter columns before, but never like this! Their all-too-polite responses always lacked conviction. Why did they lack it? That's what I want to know. Why don't I ever see us confront knuckleheads the way this lady did? Why does it take a heterosexual woman to voice the passion and rage we feel inside? To put into words the tremendous hurt and victimization we grew up with? What makes us pull our punches with our enemies? We certainly don't pull them with each other!

Why do we waste energy tearing one another down when we could be spending it in a righteous offense against heterosexual supremacy? Could it be that, deep down, we hate ourselves? Could it be that years of psychological battery has broken our spirits? Could it be that the oppressor has systematically taken control of our minds, our language, our free will? I believe so!

I also believe we can break free of his control! This super-heroine of a mother is showing us how to go about it. She's showing us how to reclaim our innocence. How to acknowledge our pain. How to feel entitled to justice. How to recognize God as our creator. How to speak truth to power! Gay Bloggers all over the Web have responded to her ferocity and moral clarity. Now that she's shown us the way, it's up to us to follow her example. Will we?

*"Killing Me Softly", 
words and music written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. 
Published by Fox/Gimbel Productions 
and Rodali Music (BMI).