The summer after my father tried to commit suicide, I volunteered at the local GLBTQ youth sanctuary, Odyssey Youth Center. I don’t mean “A Wild Teenager Sanctuary for GLBTQ youth.” It’s not some nature preserve. But – in this town, the queer kids are not safe, not always, not by a mile. Odyssey is a place for them to be safe, for them to take care of each other, and for them to feel included. They get friendship there, some positive adult interactions there, food / water / clothes / neighborhood resources there. It was a safe place for gay youth. One of the few places in Spokane.
I met several people there who continue to be in my life, people who are important in the Spokane community, people whom I respect and admire. One of the fellow volunteers, David, asked me about my story one evening. I told him about my father’s suicide attempt, and how “I just couldn’t do nothing” as a response: I had to do something. Then I said something about a boyfriend, and he said, “What?”
I said, “My boyfriend and I…” blah blah blah… and David expressed some shock.
“Why are you here if you’re not gay? I thought you were a lesbian!” he said.
After thinking it over for a minute, I said, “Elbow room. I can use my white privilege to create some elbow room for people of color. I can use my straight privilege to create some elbow room for GLBTQ people. Justice matters. It’s not just ‘everybody fights for their own rights.’ We can all help each other in our struggle for justice and freedom and rights.”
I think I went on to say that white folk marched in the South in the Civil Rights Movement – they used their privilege to create some room, some freedom, for their friends who were people of color. One of my favorite pictures of the civil rights movement, is a picture of Hollywood actors marching with Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
James Garner – as if I could admire him more! 🙂
I mean, I think David was shocked that I would care, that I would care enough to give my time to this organization, this group which is so important for queer kids. I hope I was eloquent in explaining it to him; I hope he walked away that night with a sense that he was not alone, that he was valued by someone who was different from him.
This is a struggle close to my heart: when I was in my twenties, I became an officer of the GLBSA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Association), the Treasurer. (This is a laugh, if you know anything about me and money!)
So, there I was, on the front page of the paper, in my little pro-gay t-shirt!
My auntie, the head librarian from Southern Utah University, just lost her mind: “Why can’t you advocate for breast cancer victims?!”
I am so proud of my little 20-year-old self, who came up with this answer, “There’s no stigma against having breast cancer. There’s a stigma against being gay. For me, it’s a civil rights issue.”
All of this to say: there’s a question I’ve been struggling with lately. It’s people: smart people, dumb people, good people, bad people. (Yes, there’s a Dr. Seuss parody in there somewhere! Meanwhile, have some wisdom from Tommy Lee Jones.)
We spend all this time trying to manipulate each other: buy this, think this, dream this, want this, don’t want that. It’s all a circus show, and what is important is getting lost. And what is important? This is a question we must answer together.
For me, what’s important is: kindness, silliness, enough to eat, rest, love… the basics.
My brief stint in the marketing field has left me stunned by the level of advertising that is out there. One the web, in print, on billboards, on the radio, at the grocery store, in the media… It seems like two seconds doesn’t go by without something or someone trying to influence my thoughts, behavior, or purchasing choices. (And I don’t even have a lot of money!) I’m sure there’s a study out there which proves the overwhelming, baffling amount of purchased attempts to influence behavior… It’s probably a snorer, in techno-babble “science-talk.”
So the question for me becomes: how do I stay true to my values? How do I create safe space to explore the spiritual tenets in which I would like to believe?
The solution involves a little unplugging, I think: but who has time for that?