I am not an activist.
I am an active participant in my own life.
In the early 90s, I was 21, my parents were both dead, I was living with a woman who was not very good to me and I was working my ass off trying to get through college, in Charleston, SC.
I wasn’t openly gay, I mean, I was, but I wasn’t. It wasn’t “safe” to be that way. To say someone is openly gay now seems so odd to me, at that time, many people suspected/knew I was gay, no one ever asked me and I never told. It was hard to live two lives, but it’s what we all did.
One weekend, I went to Atlanta to see the Indigo Girls, which is something all good 20-something lesbians did at the time. They were super hot and fresh back then and they looked like me and they sang things that felt like the things I was feeling. They too were from the South and this was the first time I saw someone like me doing something big. They were not openly out in the media. I’m not sure they hid it, but I don’t remember reading anything about them being gay back then. Mike at work, a fellow college student, warned me that I should watch out, because those girls might be gay. Mike was probably trying to see what I would say. I said nothing.
The opening band that night was a group called disappear fear. They sang with this sweet harmony and also a fiery passion that only two sisters (sonia and cindy) can. They sang of gay activism, no more wars, gay pride and a call to LOVE OUT LOUD. I loved it. I laced up my combat boots, pulled on my ripped jeans, put on my worn out t-shirt and sang at the top of my lungs. I became a groupie and spent a lot of time traveling around to see them play after that.
I was naive to “gay” culture and living in the South I was also naive to most things culturally. I did have two gay brothers who both lived in California, but I didn’t really know anything about them, other than the fact that they were gay and my older gay brother Michael was HIV+. There was no handing down of the gay culture. No one teaches you what gay looks like, because like anyone who is straight there are so many varieties of people, being gay is not a “thing”.
In the middle of summer, in the Charleston heat, I was sitting outside of Cafe 99, with Sonia and Cindy and their band. They mentioned something about a pink triangle. I was like “What? What’s a pink triangle.” They told me it was what homosexuals had to wear in addition to the Star of David during the Holocaust. Whoa. Cindy and Sonia are Jewish and not only had I never heard of the pink triangle, I had never met anyone that was Jewish, or at least I didn’t know that I had.
I had always been fascinated and terrified by the Holocaust. Even the word itself has a certain sense of terror to it.
They told me that people in DC and Baltimore, where they lived, were wearing the pink triangle to take back that message that there is something wrong with being gay and to be more open and out. To see each other.
A friend and I in high school, both confided in each other that we were gay during my senior year. Or rather, we talked about the fact that we might be gay, because the way all straight people talked about being gay was that it might be a phase. We weren’t sure. We always thought it would be great if everyone were gay had some sort of symbol to let one another know, not only because we were desperate at the time to know gay people, but also as a sign of unity – Yeah – I’m with you.
I had my symbol – the pink triangle, so I put one on the back of my car and I wore shirts that had this simple symbol on it. It was a small thing to say – “Yep. I’m gay.” That small action allowed me the freedom to feel more comfortable with myself and who I am, without necessarily feeling unsafe.
I gave up my pink triangle back in the late 90s. Things had changed. I’ve felt safe. Safe to be who I am and maybe that’s because the world has slightly shifted.
Maybe we live in an illusion that this is true. Most of life is an illusion anyway, until you wake up to the fact that it’s not.
Back in the 90s I was called names when I lived in Charleston, DC, Salt Lake City – especially Salt Lake City, even in Portland less than 10 years ago, two kids yelled out of their car at me and called me a homophobic slur.
Being from the South, I’ve always felt this underlying current, that this is not over, where you slide your eyes to the left to see what that old white gentleman is saying about you to his pals. I’m not sure it’s ever gone away. We’ve swept it into the shadows and now, by living in an almost unanimously liberal city, I’ve had the chance to avoid it.
What about all those other places though? The places we all moved from – to get away from hate – or to simply find our people? It’s why I left the South. It’s why I refused to live in Salt Lake City.
Is it okay for them to be them and us to be us?
I don’t hate “them” for hating me.
I know I want to feel safe and for the last week or so given what our President-elect has said and spewed. I don’t.
Now more than every our voices need to be heard.
If I need to wear that pink triangle again. I will. I’m ready.
I am an active participant in life.