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Leaving Them Behind

Twenty-some years ago, I had a friend in school whom we’ll call George. Technically, by the stricter definition of friendship I’ve operated under most of my life, he was a friendly acquaintance. He wasn’t all that easy to get to know.

That was to be expected. George had a secret. He was gay.

Of course, it wasn’t really a secret. George liked theater and music and was a rather flamboyant punk for our beige little backwater exurb. People assumed. Many of them made his life miserable over it, I think. I don’t really know.

I should know.

I should have been one of the people he could talk to, particularly after that one party where he drank himself sick and I tried to keep him warm in the back of the car until our ride home was sober. We should have been real friends for a number of reasons.

We weren’t, though. I don’t think we had the language to be. I didn’t have the words to tell him that of course it didn’t matter who he was attracted to. I certainly didn’t have the words to tell him to fuck all the haters, that they would go on to have pitifully circumscribed lives while things would get better for him once he could get away from that place.

It wouldn’t have been true then anyway. Mine was the generation on the cusp of majority acceptance of anything but heterosexuality. We weren’t there, in part because we’d grown up without any idea how to talk about it. But we grew up with strong messages about it being okay to be an individual. We saw Billy Crystal on Soap being a regular person instead of the cardboard villain or the hapless victim. Many of us got it in the most general sense.

We just didn’t know how to counter the hate and the fear and the helplessness. We didn’t even know how to acknowledge it. We certainly couldn’t promise a future that wasn’t there yet.

It is here now, in some ways and in some places. The U.S. has changed tremendously since that party. We know how to open our mouths to talk about sexuality in a way that isn’t meant to shut it down, even if we don’t always get the details of what we say right. We can promise a future to more people every year, even if they must still often leave their homes to find that future. We can tell people, “It gets better”, and mean it.

Changing the world, though, means leaving some people behind. Leaving them behind doesn’t mean keeping them from speaking. It doesn’t mean persecuting them. It simply means that when they do try to assert that the world is or should be what it was before, we look at them through eyes that clearly see how out of their time they are. Sometimes we’ll even tell them so. We do not give them the reins of power to try to turn the world back.

I have a little sympathy for those who find the world slipping out of their fingers. Once upon a time, everyone (who was anyone) told them that what they were doing was not just okay but righteous and necessary. Now, with both law and religion trailing slowly behind the morality of the masses, they’re the villains of the piece.

Of course, the only thing that has changed in that time are the number of people who have the words to tell them how they’ve been hurting others. The damage they did was always there, and it was worse when their victims were more isolated.

So while I have that small amount of sympathy, these people don’t get to have the world back. They don’t get to keep hurting people, if I have any say in the matter.

Last I heard about George, things had gotten better. Good work, acceptance, comfort in his own skin. It came after too many years of pain, though. It came after too many nights like the one in the car–and worse. It came after too much needless pain that I couldn’t help to shoulder, much less prevent.

I look at the discriminatory marriage amendment on the ballot in a couple of weeks, and I see an attempt by the people George had to leave behind to sink their claws into his back and make him drag them along into the future. But George has already carried more than enough of their burden. He’s done too much of their work.

It’s time to leave these people far behind, where they can’t hurt my friends anymore. Not time to make them stop talking or to persecute them in turn. Simply time to take the power to harm out of their hands. It’s time to stop carrying them into the future and let them find their own way forward if they will.

If they won’t, well, I think the rest of us won’t miss them terribly.

Comments

  1. says

    Gorgeous.

    ” Simply time to take the power to harm out of their hands. It’s time to stop carrying them into the future and let them find their own way forward if they will.”

    Exactly! The conversation is fucking over. Go babble amongst youselves if you must… But we’ll be moving on.

    This is what’s so hard about women’s reproductive freedoms. We MUST continue to fight against the politicians who support anti-women legislation while somehow keeping their filth from polluting our resolve and common decency.

  2. BarbaraH says

    Well said, direct and yet with compassion for the misguided. Truly a hard line to walk and you did it gracefully. I wish more people could express such heartfelt truth with your eloquence!

  3. Martha says

    This is beautiful, Stephanie.

    I’ve watched several women close to me come out to themselves in their late 30s and early 40s and often wondered how much easier it might have been had we all been born just five or ten years later, when people had at least begun to develop the vocabulary to talk about LGBTQ issues. I honestly believe the tide has turned on this issue once and for all, and, like you, I won’t miss those who insist on swimming stubbornly against it and remain out at sea.

  4. says

    When I was in school I had been abandoned by my family and was spending my time bent over with hunger pains, and thoughts of how I was going to get food while simultaneously trying to avoid the pedophiles who sometimes provided it.

    So I was unable to concentrate on school, or having friends, or much of anything. Nobody even noticed when I ended up skipping high school almost entirely. It took three years for anyone to find out.

    So I feel bad that during that time when I was approached by a classmate, David Hampton, with an invitation to a party he was throwing, I rejected it. Not only was I so wary that I thought that it was a set-up for a practical joke (same as I thought of all the “please call me!” notes girls slipped to me – obviously trying to victimize me) but even if I hadn’t, I was just not up to any kind of socialization.

    I understood in some vague sense that David’s sexuality had something to do with my feelings… at that point I’d only known sexuality as a weapon people used against me.

    David seemed disappointed at my turning down the party invite despite the fact that I’d kept to myself and didn’t really know him too well. We shared a few classes, and shared similar roles as school outcasts.

    David left school and town soon after. He’d later say that our home town, Buffalo, was a horrible place. No wonder.

    He could not hide who he was, and he faced rejection and disgust every day of his life, as far as I can tell. His father, a prominent local doctor, does not seem to have been supportive. He faced the lack of understanding from me and people like me that he tried to befriend.

    David gave up. He ran off to NYC where he ended up finding some acceptance, but was still an outsider, still regarded as “apart.”
    At some point he must have taken all of this to heart. After a couple of years he stumbled into a kind of situation that he exploited.

    They later made a Broadway play and later a movie about him and what happened to him in NYC. It was called “Six Degrees of Separation.”
    Will Smith played him in the film.

    David did some selfish things and cost some people some money. Other people made far, far FAR more money from his story than he’d ever had in his life. He saw none of it, as far as I know.

    He died of AIDS alone and friendless, rejected by his family in a charity ward of a NY hospital.

    I wonder every time I think of him if I could have made a difference.
    If I had been able to see the need in him for a friend who simply accepted him. If I had able to see the same need in me and have the courage to risk it.

    Every time I think of him I face the fact that I am part of the problem.

    He wasn’t the last to reach out to me, wasn’t the last I rejected, wasn’t the last to die. Two others took their own lives.

    I don’t know why I’m saying this.

    People failed me, and in the midst of my dealing with that, I failed others.

    I don’t have a point here. I just feel hopeless and useless and defeated, and disgusted with myself that I probably helped make someone else feel that way too.

  5. dobber says

    Jafafa Hots, That was truly one of the saddest, most beautiful stories that I have read for a long time. For whatever consolation it might bring, your suffering has turned you into a very special being, one I would have been honoured to have known. For whatever warmth it might bring you, a stranger from across the world sends you piles of love.

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