In a pool i can float, in real life not always. . . these are my lifejackets.October 3, 2010
Because there has been more #speakloudly folk mentioning the connection between banning books and speaking loudly and “It Gets Better” i talked about in my last post and some of them are teachers, i wanted to say a little bit more.
i can tell you, easily, that i am only here because of the arts and a few select people. i can also tell you, easily, that i am only writing this because of books and a few select teachers.
i’ve always been quiet. And shy-ish. i’ve always been selective in what i let come out of my mouth. There are plenty of reasons for this but they don’t really matter right now. Because of this i’ve always felt on the outside of everywhere i am. But when i write (and i mean actually write my poetry or short stories) that invisible barrier disappears- i don’t have a filter anymore, i’m not scared. And being surrounded by art or books or theatre or music or whatever makes me feel safe and not so outside of everything. This is, of course, not unusual as many people who work in the creative arts express themselves best through their particular medium that’s why it can be so powerful. . . those people are speaking loudly through whatever means they have.
i get that now but i didn’t always make the connection. Instead i just kept bottling up everything inside until i felt like there wasn’t enough room for everything to exist.
i’ve always known who i am, what i am (e-mail me if you need a label.) But at the same time, when i was growing up i never felt like it was something that should be mentioned. i didn’t see anyone else around me or in movies or television or even books that talked about girls who liked other girls or boys who liked other boys or people who just liked people no matter who or what they were. The first time i found something i was about thirteen years old. i went to a library book sale and found the book Trying Hard to Hear You by Sonya Scoppettone. i read it in a single sitting and hid it in a box under my bed because i felt like it wasn’t something i shouldn’t have.
When i was in high school i heard people in the hall talking about the way people walked or talked or dressed. Everything was “so gay.” It sort of made my head spin. When i decided to go to a women’s college the reaction was overwhelming. Things i heard: “I hope you don’t end up funny because of it,” “Let’s take bets now on when she’ll come out,” “You do know that’s probably not a great idea right?” The whole time none of those people ever knew who i really was.
My senior year was also the time when e-mail memes got incredibly popular where i was. One went out with a question, “What would you do if your best friend told you they were gay?” the answers i read made me shut down even more. On top of this i had a whole lot of other not good stuff going on so i just kept feeling like i could never take a full enough breath like i could never stand up completely straight. i felt trapped and alone.
Books were what kept me going. Books were like a phone line or an e-mail to somewhere different where people understood. Where i didn’t have to open my mouth and someone could respond to all the questions bouncing around in my head. i didn’t deal with everything in the healthiest ways but i survived it because i had those books. Many of which show up on banned and challenged lists because of language or sex or a gay character or a talking animals or whatever else. But for me those were the things i loved the most, because it was real (well not the talking animals part.) i needed to read about real things so i could step away from my own reality and look at it from a different angle. i needed those characters most because i felt like i could depend on them when i couldn’t depend on anyone else.
And then there were my teachers. In high school there were five in particular who absolutely saved me- mostly a class period at a time- from the hell inside my own head. The five of them never knew what they did for me while i was sitting in their rooms, some of them do now, some don’t. One was never even my actual teacher. But they all provided me with a safe space. They all encouraged me to be me and to break out of where i was to pursue whatever i wanted. They let me write when i couldn’t talk and they saw in me what i never could (and still can’t sometimes.) One said in one of the first days of class something about how ridiculous is was that people got all weird when they found out a friend or colleague was gay- i remember it fit the context of whatever discussion we were having but i don’t remember what it was, only that there was finally a real person in front of me who might get part of what was inside me. Those little things were what made me realize it really does get better. Those little things combined with books saved me from myself.
These little things encouraged me to find a healthier way to express everything i had inside. That’s why i’m sitting here now writing this. That’s why i have notebooks and files full of poetry and stories. i write because that’s how i speak loudly. My voice comes out of my hands onto the page instead of out of my mouth into your ears and that’s totally okay.
So please explain to me how, with so many stories like this out there, there are still people trying to take away people’s lifelines. People getting fired or suspended or un-invited for providing those lifelines.
i guess what i’m really trying to say is thank you to my books and the authors who wrote them. Thank you to those teachers. And thank you for reading this and speaking loudly and fighting censorship and bullying and all the other things that create those tiny boxes where we feel so alone.