Between the college student who raped the young woman and hasn’t taken responsibility for his actions and the open season hate crimes on the LGBT crowd at Pulse, a gay dance club in Orlando, I am sad. This kind of senseless violence has left me feeling like I need to arm myself with more information about the kinds of people who commit these heinous actions. But more information doesn’t actually help. This isn’t about gun control, but it is. I’m tired of the argument: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. There is more we can do to protect the innocent people of our world. To better process, I read what I believe to be “more credible” sources like The New York Times, and yet, the more I read the more I feel like I need to throw up. Terrorism. Hate crimes. Death count at 50. These are terms that we read too often in our world today, and, again, I’m sad. Impossible to discuss in a way that is socially appropriate with our young children, I am left without the right words. Yet, when I’m in tears at 7 am watching the news while the kids are upstairs playing, they ask what has made their momma cry. And, I try to explain with empty diction that makes no sense to their brains.
Greta will tell you that she has the choice about whether to marry a boy or a girl when she gets older, but the only restriction is that it can’t be her brother or cousins. Carver will tell you that he is lucky to have two aunties who are married to each other and don’t have kids but they have two dogs who are like their kids.
I knew when I wrote True North I wanted one of my main character’s flaw to be that of a homophobe. I also knew I wanted him to be an otherwise “good” and normal person who struggled to accept the LGBT crowd into his world. Some might argue that a religious belief does not constitute a “character flaw,” and they would be wrong. Treating an entire faction of humanity with disgrace or distrust is shameful. I also wanted one of my younger characters to question his sexual orientation as do so many of our adolescent population. Then I got to this point in my writing where my advisor, Meg Petersen, questioned the character’s motivation. What caused him to feel such hatred? Why was he so afraid of gay people? This was the hardest part for me to imagine, but definitely created the largest conflict between the characters.
For the first time in my 19 years of teaching, two openly gay boys graduated this spring– and they were accepted and loved and treated respectfully by the other 30- some odd kids in their class. Some of my students may express discomfort or confusion about homosexuality in their writing, which is one way to process complicated ideas or complex cultural concepts. But when it comes to their actions, I am always impressed by the level of respect and mutual concern they hold for one another. This year’s senior class also included a teen mom, some students with fairly significant cognitive disabilities, and four who had lost a parent to illness in the time they had been in high school. But to watch the dignity and integrity and common respect they treated one another with gave me hope every day that the world they would grow up in would be different from that of their parents.
And then this happens in Orlando, with so many lives ended or forever changed, and any hope for a society that is truly accepting, compassionate, loving, and supportive of all kinds of people wavers in my heart. Yet, it’s no coincidence that I’m also watching the 70th Tony Awards, well listening actually, and there is the hope still, in the voices of those on stage– in the creative magic of our theater people and musicians, actors, actresses, directors, writers, and performers in general. They are remembering those lost tonight the best way they now how- through the power of arts, the healing of open wounds with the stories of those who came before them and paved the way.
And so tomorrow is my daughter’s 5th birthday, and I’ll wake up in the morning and wonder what kind of day it will be. I will wish for her a happy day at school; that truth, beauty and friendship will fill up her minutes with love and good humor; that the world will keep her safe and let her know that she can do and be anything- to use her words- and to never let someone force her to do something against her will. I don’t want to create a sense of fear in my children, but I want them to feel empowered to follow their dreams and passions with sensitivity and kindness. She will open a light up mermaid which can swim in the bathtub, river or ocean with her, and some decorative head band crafts to adorn her blond locks; but really the best gift we can give our children is that of acceptance and compassion for all kinds of people. We work every day to this end. So they will not be judged on what dance club they attend on a Saturday night, or if they are gay, straight, bi, lesbian, transgendered or just brave, courageous, and trustworthy. Places like gay bars or gay dance clubs help people who may be feeling vulnerable to feel safe. These are the places we want our kids to be encouraged to dance, and to dance with wild abandon with others who bring out their best moves. And yes, I let our little girl fall asleep with her tap shoes on tonight because they made her happy. So, this year, give the gift of acceptance, peace, and love for our humanity; our survival depends upon it.