Monday, May 28, 2007

Beach or Beaten in Moscow

I sat at the beach today, and wondered how many people thought Allan and I, with Zachary in tow, thought we were heterosexual. Okay, Allan in his tiny Speedo and me in my giant one piece Speedo and, of course, gym shorts, were not exactly looking incredibly straight but the image was enough to bother me.

I had read this morning that over thirty gay activists had been arrested in Moscow. Nikolai Alekseev, who is currently under arrest and held in a central Moscow police station. (NYTimes.com). At this point, foreign activists have been set free. Others have not. None of the people throwing rocks, eggs and threatening violence to the activists have been arrested.

Only the queers.

I sat on the beach today with an uneasy feeling of safety. While we in America debate civil unions versus marriage rights, job protections and insurance coverage, people in Russia who found the courage to take to the streets in an incredibly homophobic society are sitting in jail.

At Gay Pride, we debate how to be family friendly and still true to our roots as outlandish and spectacular. How to dance on floats in leather but be sure not to pass out condoms to kids (at Boston Pride, the effort to avoid kids is visible and appreciated).

In Moscow, politicians openly disparage gays and lesbians. Rudy Giuliani has gone on TV in a dress and openly hateful comments come from the extreme few. The reason why is the years of effort by gays and lesbians to be visible. The drag queens and bull dykes of the Stonewall riots could not hide and would not take the abuse from the police anymore.

They took the streets. They said no more.

Today, as I sat in privilege and comfort, not to mention the warm sun, I wanted to paint a big, pink triangle on my forehead. Allan and I talked about our discomfort and Zachary heard us.

Why do you care? He asked.

Because it’s not who I am, I said. I need to be who I am so you can be whoever you want to be. No, whoever you need to be.

The people of Stonewall did not have a choice. The people in Moscow today did not have a choice either.

Why risk life and limb? Why do I care if anyone thinks I’m straight when they walk by me? Because the shame of hiding is toxic. It eats away at your core, your self-esteem and feeling like you have a right to exist. It’s why gays and lesbians have a high level of alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide- especially young people who have yet to develop enough of a sense of self to take jeers and the threat of physical violence in stride. I don’t know a single gay or lesbian person who cannot convey at least one story of personal shame from public condemnation.

It’s not about the right to hold hands in public; it’s about the right not to be beaten for holding hands in public. I’m not shoving my gayness down anyone’s throat- I’m simply trying to find a small space to breathe in a culture that shoves heterosexuality down my throat every media minute of every day.

My invisibility bothered me today because somewhere halfway across the world, someone just like me took to the streets and fought not for gay marriage or even civil rights but for the basic right to breathe.

I was on the beach while gays and lesbians were being beaten in Moscow.

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