I remember seeing a pink triangle for the first time. It was worn on the lapel of a young man on a streetcar in Toronto. I had just moved to the city. I was looking for a place of refuge. As a young gay man who grew up in very small towns, I wanted to bury myself in the anonymity of the big city. I wanted to be able to live, hidden, undetected. Joe and I went to bars in basements and always looked carefully and warily when heading out to go home. We didn't think about the 'gay community' as such in those days. In fact, in those days, we were still homosexuals, poofs and faggots.
The pick triangle on the shoulder of a stranger led to questions that taught me about history, about the incredible power of hatred, about the need for a community - not to hide in, but to fight with. In truth, I was also angered. Angered by the fact that I never knew. I'd never been told. No one ever, in all those years spent at school, reading history books that were as dusty as they deserved to be, mentioned the fact that the Holocaust, as big and bad as I understood it to be, was bigger and badder than people wanted to mention. Speaking about crimes against gay people would mean mentioning gay people, it was as if we were inconvenient to the historical marketing of the past.
Later, much later, I would learn about the mass slaughter of people with disabilities. I would learn about how doctors and scientists experimented on ways of mass murder with the lives of people with disabilities. I would learn about blue check marks and red 'x's and how many of each meant life, how many of each meant death. I would read about how doctors worked hand in hand, complicit in the deaths of those they said they served. I would learn about this and rage at the fact that I did not know. I had not been told.
As a gay man. as a disabled man, I wanted to somehow ensure that others knew, that the silence be broken. I wanted, in my own small, and very greedy way, to 'own' part of the Holocaust. To be able to speak of it with the horror of someone who belonged to a group oft targeted, oft victimised, who's face is almost always the first slapped.
But I was younger then.
And the Holocaust meant something different to me.
I was not a popular child. I never felt 'in' or, oddly, enough 'out' to be 'in'. I grabbed moments of social inclusion and acceptance with the fervour of the desperate. I remember a moment, when one of the few lower down the ladder than me, need me. Needed my solidarity as one of the 'less thans'. I had a choice to make. I could join the rabble and revel in the moment of inclusion, I could join, I was given entry. I could reject that offer, knowing as I did, knowing for certain, that it was temporary. I could reject that offer because it was wrong to do what they did. I had been in the position that she was in now. I knew. I fully knew. And I made a choice. The wrong one. I joined in with the rabble. I cast the first stone. I did all that I knew as wrong.
There are other moments. Moments when I not only backed down but joined in - knowing that it was wrong but wanting the approval, wanting the acceptance, wanting to feel, even momentarily, less alone. I remember these moments. I carry them with me. Or, rather, they leap on my shoulders and travel with me. Even if I crept out under the cover of darkness, they would find their way back to me. They are part of my history. They are the reminders.
That I need to think about the Holocaust, I need to learn about the Holocaust. It's easy to learn what others did. It's more important to learn about what I am capable of ... the weakness that is in me ... the fear of rejection, the need for acceptance and the cowardice that comes from a wish for approval. It's easy to claim victim status and refuse to notice. Refuse to notice that history doesn't forgive what's done in the present. Refuse to notice that decisions now will become decisions then. Refuse to notice that I have the power to hurt - and that sometimes, sometimes, Oh God, I use it.
Holocaust Education Week, for me, is about looking back but it's also about looking in. It's about understanding the capacity we each have ... to bully ... to hurt ... to victimise ... others. Other others.
I am other.
Yes, that's true, and as 'other' I have history.
But there are other others and they have history too ... but with me.