So we were having lunch at the food court down by one of the grocery stores we shop at. I had pulled in at one of the accessible tables, the kind where there is a chair removed to create a space for me to pull in. Joe carried the tray with the food. We were beside, a table between, a group of gay men about our age, maybe slightly younger. We took a few moments to get ourselves, our food and our groceries settled, and once in we began chatting about how we were going to organize the rest of the day. We had lots of small things to do and we wanted to ensure they all got done.
As we talked the chatter from the other table was punctuated with bursts of laughter. One of the men was telling a story from his high school years, a time where he was bullied fairly relentlessly because he had been discovered to be gay. The story he told, however, was one where he managed to get off a really good verbal shot at one of his tormentors. After they all laughed heartily at the story, one of them said, "Yeah, they're right, it does get better doesn't it?"
Just as we were finishing up, they began discussing someone, a mutual dislike - there is nothing more unifying - and one of them said, "He's such a fucking retard, just such a fucking retard." It then got worse, another started making a 'faux disabled' sound by trying to imitate hand movements and slurred, all tongue speech, that I've often heard and seen used in jokes mocking people with disabilities. I felt the floor open up underneath me. I felt my shoulders crushed by this boulder of responsibility which settled immediately on me. I should DO something, SAY something.
But I couldn't speak. I was so horribly, horribly disappointed. I knew that if I spoke I'd just start crying. I looked at Joe, he looked at me. I think he understood exactly what I was feeling so he just said, gently, "Let's go home." And we did.
I was telling someone about this and they said, oddly I thought, "It sounds like you expect more of gay people than of straight people, is that fair? After all, isn't everyone susceptible to bias and prejudice?" I suppose, on one hand, my friend is right. But, I don't understand, and have trouble forgiving, people who have experienced bullying becoming a bully. I don't understand, and have trouble reconciling, the experiencing of hurtful words with the subsequent use of hurtful words. I don't understand, and have trouble figuring, how "It gets better" gets tagged with "for me, and fuck anyone else."
You all know that I am gay, I'm not shy about my sexuality and I've been out for a very long time. I was out when it was dangerous to be out. I was out during the time where people wouldn't hire me because I was out. Joe and I were denied apartments because we were out. Joe was hit by a rock thrown at us during one of the first gay pride marches held in this city. We are not unique for gay men of our era. In fact in many cities, in many countries, presently, anyone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community is subject to horrible violence, oppression, torture and death. I know that. We all know that. The men at the table know that.
They say that "experience is a teacher," and I believe that wholeheartedly ... experience, for those of us who are different, often uses rejection as a curriculum, pain as the subject and fear is the answer to every question on the exam. So what's to be learned? What's the point of having an experience, what's the point of going through hell, if it isn't to be made different? The different should be different. The different should push aside society's demand that we all torment those who don't quite fit.
We all know the story at the source of the quote, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I'd like to, with humility, suggest that a corollary might be, "Let he who has experienced bruising refuse to, ever, pick up a stone." Kindness, the drive for intentional kindness, it seems to me should be the goal of everyone who has experienced an unkind world.
Do I hold gay people to a higher standard? I don't know. Gay people aren't the only to have been teased, to suffer discrimination. Heaven knows that being targeted by society, tormented by systems which reward sameness and subjected to the taunts of bullies, are outrageously common experiences. When I ask those attending my lecture on bullying to put their hands up if they've ever been teased or bullied. In every case, every time, every one puts their hands up.
So explain to me:
Why is there bullying?
Why is there name calling?
Why is there purposeful hurt?
If the experience of "other" is ubiquitous shouldn't, therefore kindness have equal footing. If we've all been at the same brutal school, if we've all had words slam into the soft flesh of the soul, if we've all felt brutally betrayed when we've received hurt instead of understanding ~ where is the evidence that we paid attention, that we understood, that we have learned the science of alchemy, gold from lead isn't anywhere near as powerful a thing as kindness from intolerance.
I truly believe that if anyone every really 'looks in' even for a moment, they will never 'look out' at the world the same way again. If we ever truly examine the pain that we suffered at the hands of others, our hands would become calloused by the work of kindness, and tolerance, and acceptance.
If we ever ...
"It gets better!" only means anything if it's an inclusive statement. If even one person, one kind of person, is excluded then it's a lie.
But, and it's a big but, it could be true.
It could be.