Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stranger: One of Five

Image description: Guest illustrators drew two pictures of a young man wearing a pink triangle. The pictures are signed by Ruby and by Sadie.
I had moved to Toronto for several reasons. Chief amongst those was that I wanted the anonymity of a large city. Being the fat kid in a small town for all of my growing years, I felt so incredibly visible. I envied the casual invisibility of my peers. Then, at University, being gay, being in a very, very, very, closeted relationship, made me fear that anyone see, actually see the me that lay hidden behind the me that I presented to the world. A city, like Toronto, I thought, might hold a place or two of sanctuary, where I could be safe, where I could be hidden somewhere in the middle of a crowd. Joe and I had lived with fear for years by the time we arrived, so we craved respite.

The idea of coming out of the closet was terrifying to me. I remember writing a letter to the editor of a gay paper, using a pseudonym of course, decrying the push for gay people to come out, to be public, to confront stereotype with reality. I felt that the gay movement was begining to classify good 'out' gays and bad 'closeted' gays. I stated that this was an unfair way to measure because everyone's circumstances were different. That letter was published, and the reaction swift, the discussion caused by that letter lasted through several of the following issues.


In essense.

I was afraid.

Let's be clear, my fears were real. I feared violence, and violence was to be feared. I feared losing my job, and losing my job was to be feared. I feared an intensification of the bullying that I'd experienced all my life, and like my other fears, this too was real. I thought I'd found safety, and to a certain extent I had. The bars that we went to  were safe, inside, though going in and coming out were, simply stated, dangerous.

Then, one day, I got on the streetcar. I saw a young man wearing a button with a pink triangle on it. I knew, of course, that this symbol, taken from what LGBT people wore in the Nazi camps, had become a symbol of gay liberation. I'd never seen it on a button. I'd never seen it on a shirt. I'd never seen it out in public. Ever. I approached the young man, spoke to him, indicated the button, and thanked him for wearing it. It gave me, if not courage, hope.

A stranger on a streetcar and I remember him to this very day. A stranger with the courage to actually do something to make the world a different place, lit something inside me. He will never know. But I do.

We make decisions all the time. When we are out in the world, when we are in with our families and friends, we make decisions and those decisions have ramifications, consequences and outcomes.

I have decided that over the next two weeks I'm going to write 5 stories, this being one, about people, total strangers, and the impact that they had on my life, even if only after the briefest of contacts. I may have mentioned them before here on this blog, but I'm going to string them together.

I don't believe that, even in the face of social adversity, or prejudice, or violence, we are unable to respond in a meaningful way. One person can make a difference.

He did.

In me.


Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Fear immobilizes not only the physical body, it immobilizes the mind, heart and spirit.

I am glad you found hope manifested through a stranger and the choice he made to wear a button to represent liberation, freedom to be.

The truth is, we all have something, some you can see, some you cannot, rest assured however, it is there, whatever it is.

have a blessed week


“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence”-Rabindranath Tagore

Unknown said...

Interesting piece. I'll be curious to see about the other people in this group of 5. Makes me think about my own life, and who I would choose to write about.
I tend to live by the philosophy that if I put good energy/actions out into the world, that I will receive goodness in return, when I am in need of it. Not by individuals, but by the energies of the universe in general, acting through individuals.
Your selection of this man whose name you did not know, with whom you exchanged not a word, as someone who changed your life, seems to me to confirm that even small interactions can make a significant impact on someone else, even when I am unaware of it. Clairesmum

Kristine said...

This made me smile....

I know that even in 2016, my church often isn't a safe place for members of the LGBT community. Being pride weekend, I wore a bold rainbow sweater to church yesterday. It's become my personal tradition every year, plus any other time that I feel our LGBT members (and their friends, family, and allies) could use a little extra love. It isn't the only way that I show my support, but it's one quiet way that I can send a message to anyone who I might not know needs it.

Sometimes I wonder if gestures like that are too small to matter. But stories like this encourage me to keep doing the small things.

Ettina said...

This is why I stim in public, even though I'm able to suppress it without too much difficulty. If I act 'normal', I look normal. But if I deliberately let my disability show in my behaviour, I send a message to others. I tell those in hiding that they're not alone, and I tell the NTs that university students, store customers, volunteer support workers or whatever other role I'm filling can stim and still do all of those things.