11 October 2010

Excuse Me While I Get Out My Soapbox...

I know that some people reading this may disagree with what I am about to say, but today is National Coming Out Day, and if I can't say it today, when can I?
 
I work in a high school and I am a straight ally. I see kids everyday struggle with the knowledge that they are gay. Few students will ever feel comfortable coming out while they are still  in high school--peer pressure and fear of not fitting in are too strong. But some will. And I am appalled at the reaction most of them will have to face. I'm going on my third year at this school, and I have had three students come out to me in those three years, and another two students who let me know in a sort of round-about way. In one case, I was the first to know. In three of the others, I knew before most of the students' friends and family. As I talk to these students, I hear their uncertainty, their fear of judgement, their terror at having to redefine who they are--who they want to be. I see their pain as family members react poorly, and I've shed tears for more than one of them. Some of them struggle because they are religious and feel as though the acceptance of their homosexuality is a sin; others struggle because their family cannot find it in themselves to be supportive. Still others are just uncomfortable with the whole idea and aren't really sure how to change that. But these kids--all of these kids--are kind, loving, funny, generous people who deserve to be happy and to be loved. By whomever they want to be loved by.
 
The news has been full of tragic cases of hate over the past month. A student at Rutgers jumped off the George Washington Bridge because his roommate set up a webcam to film his sexual experiences. Three men in the Bronx were viciously beaten last week by a gang of nine homophobic young men. I see my students who are willing to stand up and say they are different--they are gay--and I'm simultaneously proud of them, and scared for them. I have no way of knowing what sort of hate they will have to encounter in their lives, but I do know with certainty they will have to face it. And I hurt for them. I hurt for all the people who cannot stand up and proudly say, "This is who I am" without fear of repercussions.
 
Some people think being gay is a choice. No one I know who is gay would say it was a choice for them. In fact, most of the people I know who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, would gladly choose to be straight rather than face the ridicule of being on the margins of society. They are simply people trying to live the best life they are able. And yet,in our country, we deny same-sex couples the right to marry. We tell them their love is "unnatural," and somehow "less than" the love experienced between a man and a woman. This despite the fact that same-sex couples have a higher rate of success and stay together longer than most heterosexual couples (including married couples).
 
People who live lives as openly gay men and women have made a truly courageous choice. They embrace themselves and who they are fully, and sometimes I wonder if I would have the courage to do the same. I know that to most, the millions of gay people in this country will remain a nameless, faceless minority. But when I hear gay slurs, when I read about people hurt and abused for being who they are, I don't see faceless pain. I see those five students standing tall in my room, struggling to say the words, "I am gay" for the first time. I see a student sitting on a desk, dejected and near tears because his mother refused to tell him she loved him after he told her he was gay. I see a young girl left alone in a restaurant because her mom walked out on her once she told her. I see a boy who lost his mother standing alone in front of his classmates, struggling to defend himself and his boyfriend after they attended her funeral together--holding hands. And I see a young man--heartbroken--saying goodbye to his boyfriend (his first boyfriend) and struggling to define himself in his absence. These are not the struggles of faceless millions. These are the struggles of our friends, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, students, and neighbors. And they will never be fully supported until we learn to see their struggles as our struggle. For truly, none of us are free until all of us are free.
 
Some people don't "agree" with homosexuality. And they claim to have a reason for their hate. They call it religion. They call it a difference of opinion. They call it a political issue. Some call it ignorance. The truth is, it is hatred. It is intolerance.
 
And it is wrong.
 
I'll end by borrowing from Harvey Milk. Today, on this day on which we encourage people to break out of the closets society puts them in, I ask everyone to "destroy every closet door" in this country.
 
Because truly...it's time.
 
Happy National Coming Out Day.

04 October 2010

Making Pickles, or How to Shower with Your Eyes Closed

I make pickles. I make good pickles. They involve garlic and dill and vinegar. And red chili peppers. I don't particularly like chili peppers because I don't particularly like capsaicin, that nasty chemical that sears the all it comes in contact with and makes your eyes water. I've always been a little perplexed by people's love of hot food, but to each his own, right?

Last Thursday, I decided to make pickles using the suggested amount of red chili peppers. I buy the generic red chili peppers, so they aren't particularly hot, but they do have a kick. In the past when working with these I have had the misfortune of touching my nose, which produced the aforementioned burning sensation in my nostrils, watery eyes, and much cussing. Since then, I've become smarter about my peppers and wash my hands at least a half a dozen times when working with them. This was certainly true this time since they seemed to possess a greater than average amount of seeds, and as all the pepper-wary folk know, this is where capsaicin lives. The pickle-making was without incident. When I was finished, I wandered into the living room to paint my toenails. Half an hour later, my eyes began to itch...

I think we all know where this is going.

I was smart, truly I was. I had washed my hands repeatedly, and when the itch started, I used the back of my wrist, surely a chili-free zone. Alas, this was not true.

I immediately jumped to my feet as that weird, numb burning sensation began to spread from my lower lash line to my actual eye. Stumbling down the hallway, my agonized mind decided that what I needed was my makeup removing clothes, which were wet and extremely cold, both of which sounded appealing. I still had mascara on, you see, and my mind--let's blame it on the turmoil caused by the pain--thought it was necessary to remove the mascara lest it run, flake, and otherwise exacerbate the problem.

I began to wash my face with the cool cloth. And the cold felt wonderful. At first. Those makeup cloths are thin, and whatever residual capsaicin that had remained stubbornly in place through my hand washings was now in my eyes. Both of them.

At this point, the entire episode turns into a bit of a farce. While hopping from one foot to the other, muttering (screaming) a strong of expletives, I quickly determined that I could not open either eye without howling in pain. This ruled out the kitchen sink as a possible eye washing station as I did not think stumbling blindly from the bathroom to the kitchen was an intelligent decision. The bathroom sink, I deduced, did not have a high enough faucet/basin clearance to fit my head under the stream of water, so that left only the tub as a possible route to relief. So I groped by way to the bathtub, turned on the faucet, knelt awkwardly over the tub and stuck my head under the water. But sadly, it turns out my neck only bends so far, and I could only get adequate water/eye contact on my left eye. There was nothing else for it. I was going to have to get in.

I dithered. The pain was bad enough I actually weighed the advantages of disrobing, but common sense took hold and I blindly threw off my clothes, started the shower, and climbed in...after running into the wall and towel bar, which caused a considerable increase in the expletive output. Finally, at last, I stood in the shower and let the lukewarm water flush out the burn. Five minutes later I could open my eyes. Half an hour later, the burning swell around them had decreased enough I could open them all the way. After this episode, I called my mother to lament my now blotchy, tender face before collapsing into bed. At 8:30.

Red Chili Peppers-1, Allison-0. But I live to fight another day. I'm making pickles again this week.

Those chilies won't know what hit them.