Of late, I have become more than ever inclined to keep my own counsel. Of late, I have become more at peace with keeping my opinions to myself. Of late, I have become less needful of explaining how I see things. Of late, when something hurts, disturbs, upends me, I have been prone to silence, to walk away from it for time enough to allow the impulse of the moment to settle and fade before I react.
It’s taken a long time to arrive here, this place, where I am; going.
During my truncated high school career, before I was run out, exhausted from being daily terrorized and assaulted with pejoratives, slammings into lockers, dunkings into toilets, and the administration’s tacit approval of those violations, I was briefly in charge of the first newspaper the school had ever published. It was my idea. I did most of the writing, all of the art and design, and spent hours by the mimeograph machine cranking out the two-hundred copies our advisor — a sympathetic art teacher — thought we would need for the small and — we believed — mostly disinterested student body.
I have always been braver and bolder of speech and opinion in print than I am in person, and already in my early teens a devotee of Dorothy Parker and Jacqueline Susann, I wrote a roman a clef which I thought wittily exposed the hypocrisy, insincerity, and duplicity of the reigning jocks and administration of the school. In barely disguised fiction, I wrote about the athletes’ drugging and drinking, cheating on girlfriends, and bullying, then topped that off with adult characters who winked and went along with these behaviors, busy with affairs and drinking problems of their own.
You can guess; less than an hour after copies were distributed, they were banned and confiscated. I was called into the office and threatened with suspension, but the principal said, instead, he would leave me in my classes and his hallways where I’d no doubt understand just how horrible was my crime. The sympathetic teacher who had been a friend to me was almost fired and never spoke to me again outside a classroom setting, feeling I had purposely betrayed her. And, as the principal had predicted — and, perhaps, encouraged — my targeting became even more brutal and frequent than it had already been. There was never another newspaper during my time there.
Truth: I was full of anger from the injustices I suffered. I did not fit in there, I would never fit in there, and the emotional and physical violence to which I was subjected would not be remedied by any authority figures or adults in my life because they, too, believed the underlying cause of this abuse was my fault, my flaw, my sin; a belief I had absorbed early in life, conditioned to believing I was a freak who should be ashamed, should try to hide this abomination, and who, if I could just be normal, would not be having these problems.
Truth: In spite of all that, I ought not have sought revenge by targeting people for mockery, trying to make them feel guilt and shame. It was no less bullying than that which I was daily ducking and it is not my place to judge and impose sentence.
Truth: I had never caused any trouble prior to that publication. There had never before been reason to call me to the principal’s office. I had never struck back at my attackers, in fact, never reported the attacks because I knew to do so would only be turned against me; I was a fag and I deserved it and I knew that would be the answer — as it always had been, from the nuns at Catholic school, from my family, from the few other kids who had ever befriended me: Try not to be so girly. Be more like a boy. So, what I felt after the event — other than an elevated level of fear — was more anger. Why should I, a person who followed all the rules and tried not only not to make waves, but to remain invisible, have been assumed to be in need of punishment? Why was I not given the benefit of the doubt? Why was my mistake or behavior not dealt with in a kind manner, in an understanding way, with a discussion along the lines of “let’s think about this” and “let me explain why this thing you did might be considered wrong?”
I was especially hurt by the art teacher’s reaction. She knew me well. She knew what my life was like.
It was not the first nor last time I found myself on the receiving end of harsh judgments or responses from people who I believed understood me, had my back, knew me to be a loving person who would never have purposely done something to cause harm to another person, but, rather, who had actively tried to spread light and love and joy.
But, it happened then. It’s happened other times. Here is where I want to talk about those times. And here is where I will not.
I will not because to do so would be to again make the mistake of my high school newspaper career: in writing about those times where I felt unseen, or, badly seen, I would be assuming bad or unkind intent from those involved. Well, since I want them to assume only the best about me, to not judge me, to be considerate of my needs and wishes, then I cannot very well offer them any less consideration or visit upon them my own judgement.
So, I walk away. I sit in silence. Contemplation. I wait for understanding and clearer vision and peace to come. And, in the meantime, I shut up. Silence is golden, right? From Thomas Carlyle:
As with many proverbs, the origin of this phrase is obscured by the mists of time. There are reports of versions of it dating back to Ancient Egypt. The first example of it in English is from the poet Thomas Carlyle, who translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus, 1831, in which a character expounds at length on the virtues of silence:
“Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule. Not William the Silent only, but all the considerable men I have known, and the most undiplomatic and unstrategic of these, forbore to babble of what they were creating and projecting. Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.”
And, with that, I bid you another loving, still learning, doing the best I can farewell from here, where I am, going.