You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
Rogers and Hammerstein – South Pacific
When Hitler first started passing laws they were largely aimed at excluding Jewish citizens from going certain places, attending certain events. He made their circles of safety smaller and smaller until they no longer existed. How much easier is it to control a population when they feel they have no safe haven, when they are all clustered in one specific place? A lot, I imagine. And it certainly makes it easier to annihilate them, doesn’t it?
Hatred is so freaking efficient.
I grew up in the eighties. I like to think that isn’t ALL that long ago, but in some ways it seems another era altogether. You could never have had shows with openly gay characters who were just, y’know, PEOPLE- not cartoons or ugly stereotypes (thank you, Shonda Rhimes.) People were terrified of AIDS and that gave them a perfect excuse to villify a group of people who were already marginalized in our society and around the world. It was a time when many of our rock stars were androgynous or flamboyant but we never considered the idea that they might be gay- in fact, we threw the word “gay” around as an epithet with alarming regularity- me included.
That was until I auditioned for my local community theater. Before that, I didn’t know any gay people. I mean, I DID- because, of course I did– but I didn’t know it. When I got a part in the chorus of a production of South Pacific I was thrilled, but a little intimidated. These people were TALENTED, and I was… enthusiastic. I could dance, that was about it.
Anyway, it was my first exposure to people who were open about their sexuality and felt free to be whoever they were. I was surrounded by these phenomenally talented, brilliant, funny as hell people – which was a gift of such magnitude. The thing about prejudice is that it’s much harder to pull off close up. I hadn’t thought I held any of those attitudes and biases until they were challenged. It was just so much a part of our culture- that mindless cruelty. “That’s so GAY!” I either heard that or SAID that probably almost every day of my high school years- right up until I joined that cast.
There were people that I’d known in high school who I’d not known were gay until I got to know them in that context. I remember being taken aback at how open one young man was- he’d not behaved that way in school when I knew him. Of course, if he’d behaved that way in my high school, he probably would have been beaten on a daily basis.
Think about that.
Think about consciously reigning in the person you know you were born to be every day just to keep yourself reasonably safe. Think about putting on that mask and moving through the world being careful- not because you’re doing a thing wrong, but because you are surrounded by people who believe what you ARE is wrong. Can you imagine how exhausting that would be? That constant vigilance? That holding your breath all day, every day, all of the days?
I think back then community theater was a refuge for people who grew up in a time when keeping your sexuality deeply buried was the norm. It gave them breathing room to explore who they were, a safe place to figure out their stuff- the way the rest of can do in, y’know, public. I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy now- it’s not. But back then the notion of gay marriage or the fact that my kids’ high schools had Gay-Straight Alliance as an after school activity was not even a dream, it was a fantasy.
It was a place where young men and women, many of whom had no safe haven- not even their families of origin- could exhale.
I’m guessing gay nightclubs are the same thing. In fact, I know they are. My friend Jaime wrote beautifully about what having gay nightclubs to go to meant to her.
“These places and so many more showed me that I had people. Beautiful, creative, brave, HOT people. I’m not a club goer much anymore but those are still my places. What happened in Orlando is a violation of a precious, life saving resource for queer people.”
I think that’s so important to understand. Exhale places are not a luxury. Gay nightclubs aren’t just a place to go to have fun, to dance. They’re a respite. We all need places where we feel seen and heard and SAFE. Where we can be ourselves, and love who we love OUT LOUD.
There’s a lot being made of the fact that this is an act of foreign terrorism. I suspect that doesn’t make much of a difference to the people who loved the men and women who were slaughtered there, just as the fact that nice young white man was a domestic terrorist made a difference to the families and friends of the people massacred in a church in South Carolina last year. The lost are still lost- the body count still is what it is. There is no WHY that makes sense, so why should the WHO? Hate with a different tag-line is still hate.
Terror attacks are most effective when they take something or somewhere we previously took for granted as safe and make them ground zero. A domestic flight, a church, an elementary school. A nightclub.
When those places become battlefields it makes it hard for us to breathe.
On opening night of South Pacific, the musical director talked to us before show time. He spoke of how much the show meant to him, with its message of acceptance and tolerance. It was a Love Wins speech, even though we didn’t know to call it that back then. I am embarrassed to admit that until he made that speech, I’d not thought of the way LGBTQ people are treated as a civil rights issue.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Him having that safe place to be who God made him to be made the world better. Made ME better. We all suffer when our brothers and sisters have to hold their breath. We are all worse off when one of us cannot exhale.
Go out into the world today and be who you are, and make sure there is safe space for everyone else to breathe, too.
Edward Sotomayor Jr. was 34
Stanley Almodovar III was 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo was 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero was 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera was 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz was 22
Luis S. Vielma was 22
Kimberly Morris was 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice was 30
Darryl Roman Burt II was 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton was 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez was 21
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla was 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez was 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez was 50
Amanda Alvear was 25
Martin Benitez Torres was 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon was 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores was 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado was 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez was 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez was 31
Oscar A Aracena-Montero was 26
Enrique L. Rios, Jr. was 25
Javier Jorge-Reyes was 40
Miguel Angel Honorato was 30
Joey Rayon Paniagua was 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat was 19
Cory James Connell was 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez was 37
Luis Daniel Conde was 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson was 33
Juan Chavez Martinez was 25
Jerald Arthur Wright was 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez was 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby was 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega was 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez was 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala was 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool was 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan was 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen was 32
Angel Luis Candelario-Padro was 28
Frank Hernandez was 27
Paul Terrell Henry was 41
Antonio Davon Brown was 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz was 24
Akyra Monet Murray was 18
Say their names out loud today, like a prayer.
Beautiful. Thank you for posting this.
On a (much) lighter note, South Pacific holds a special place in my heart. I’m not at all musical – far from it! – but a friend and I served as student directors when I was a senior in high school. Many fond memories! Bali Hai Will Call You… 🙂
Erica Herd says
Beautifully written post. Oscar Hammerstein was a fervent believer in equality for all — I’m sure he would have been horrified by the mass shootings which are so commonplace in our country nowadays. As you said, we all need a place to exhale. Space has been violated.
Oh Laura. Thank you. THANK YOU. I was was about 15 when my mother first told me, “If you ever decide to be gay, I’ll still love you – because that what’s moms have to do – but you just need to know that I won’t be able to have you or that person in my home. Like you won’t be able to come home for holidays or go on family vacations.” …….. It was not an undercurrent in our home; it was blatant. Gay people were sick, they were sinners, they were going to hell, they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children because they are all child molesters (not shitting you), etc. And then, I didn’t date much (due to an entire memoir of reasons), which led her to ask at least once a year, usually in relation to myself and a dear friend, a family member I had created, if I had decided I was gay and if my best friend was, in fact, my sinful lover. It took me until I was 29 and had fought endless fights in the relationship field to even give myself the option of loving a person, a human being, who happened to be the same gender as myself. And I am now, what I think is, in love. Feeling something right and comfortable and maybe even safe. But that loop of hate, the hate we are TAUGHT, is continually in my head. The safe places are hard to find. And I am heartbroken and scared and a bit out of hope after the events this weekend. And I sat and read EVERY NAME. Every beautiful name. And my heart broke more. These loves were just trying to be people in a place they believed to be safe; a place they could truly just ‘be.’ They were in a place where they could find that ‘me too’ that we all so desperately search for. As you so eloquently said, “It was a place where young men and women, many of whom had no safe haven- not even their families of origin- could exhale.” All that rambling to say, let us NEVER stop saying their names. Let us NEVER stop making safe spaces. Please, by god, let us NEVER, EVER stop loving even when there are consequences, even when people judge harshly, even when we are exiled. Because if we provide family to each other, we will always have someone in exile with us. Love you sister.
In Others' Words says
oh, sweet girl. You are perfectly made exactly as you are, and anyone who tries to make you feel differently is just plain wrong. They just ARE. This is a safe place for you- you just come here and sit awhile whenever you need to. Love you back.
Love, love, love. Thank you for spreading it far and wide and for being the change you want to see in the world. It has always struck me that babies aren’t born hating others. Children are taught to hate by those that do and that’s terrible and sad, because they can just as easily be taught to love. The only thing that unites every one of us on this earth is the need to be loved. It’s our only completely common thread and we have to use it to weave this tapestry tighter and tighter from now on.