The first time I voiced an opinion of critical importance, my father chased me down the hallway, forcefully removed the rocking chair I was cowering behind, carried me down the long cement driveway, and quite literally, put me out with the trash. I got the message: be quiet.
As time passed, I volunteered for multiple human rights projects, worked for a non-profit, and became a teacher. I defended everyone’s opinions, except my own. I spent quite a bit of time dodging questions, avoiding personal pronouns, and pretending like I didn’t belong to two groups that many Americans find distasteful: gays and Christians. But, in fact, I am both.
For being gay, I’ve been labeled subhuman, repulsive, and worthy of eternal damnation. I’ve been told that God hates me and, worse yet, that the Bible supports this notion. I’ve been told that celibacy is the only option to save me from a life of sin. One North Carolina pastor even suggested that I, along with all other gays and lesbians, deserved to be rounded up, put behind an electric fence, and left to die.
For being a Christian, I’ve been labeled naïve, ignorant, and close-minded. I’ve been called a disappointment to gays and intellectuals alike.
And, I’ve spent the better part of adulthood trying not to upset people. Trying not to reveal too much. In fact, when my own grandfather made a comment about Proposition 8 and how the moral fabric of society was being ripped to shreds by gays, I sat in silence, thinking it would be best if I just ignored the comment and pretended I hadn’t heard it.
Yet, in that moment, I witnessed something I never thought possible: my father, who had only recently discovered that I was gay, defended me. He disavowed the comment and changed the subject; yet, he kept my secret. He looked across the table and gently nodded.
That moment not only changed my perspective on my father, but on life itself. I stopped seeing my dad as an out-of-control aggressor who used to hit my mother, and I started seeing him as a man with challenges and struggles who truly loved me.
It was then that I realized my silence was a debilitating limitation. It had stopped me from fully embracing myself, and it had stopped others (including my grandfather) from having a chance to love me for who I really am.
As an ESL professor, I’ve asked my students to write about issues that are of great personal importance to them. Their honesty has exposed stories of abuse, war, death, and trauma. Their courage has inspired me, and I have witnessed the incomprehensible sacrifices they have made to come to a country that values their voice.
Right now, even if only for this instant, I am not my silence.