Years ago I started a series of posts based on quotes. I got distracted (Hild, work for three non-profits, a cratering economy). Now I feel like picking it up again.
Silence = Death – ACT UP
If you see something, say something. — Department of Homeland Security
Speaking out for me used to be a matter of survival. As child I was spat upon in the street1; in my early 20s I had my house set on fire—a poor attempt, thankfully—and my windows smashed; I was beaten and put in hospital; groups of men tried to batter down the door to rape me and my girlfriend; police threw me against walls, harassed me, manhandled me, and illegally detained me. Speaking out, getting my name on the radio and in the paper, was one way to stay alive.
Each degree of difference from Straight White Middle-Class Male is marked by a slight increase in the normal gravity many operate under. I’m a woman, a queer, and a cripple. Also an immigrant with no degree who lived for years in poverty. There have been times when for me that gravity feels crushing.
These day, though, my gravity feels manageable. I am older, legally and happily married, my family loves me. I have wonderful friends, the esteem of those in my profession, and a lovely house in a peaceful neighbourhood. I am not at physical or legal risk. As life got easier, speaking out gradually ceased to be a priority—for a while it came to seem disingenuous and even, occasionally, ungrateful. There were times, too, when it seemed easier to change hearts and minds when those around me believed I was Just Like Them.
But I’m not.
Nor am I careful by nature. Lately I’m finding it takes more energy to keep quiet than to speak out. Seeing something and then saying something can be inconvenient2 but, ah, fuck it, sometimes it feels good.
1 The first time, I was nine. I grew up Catholic. There were pockets of Yorkshire that remembered virulently anti-Catholic sentiment. (Four hundred years can mean nothing in Britain. Sigh.) I was on the street collecting money for a Catholic old-people’s home (that’s what we called it then) and a woman old enough to be grandmother shouted at me and spat right in my face. I was shocked to the core. Then I got cross…
2 When I posted last month about gender bias in book prizes I spent three solid weeks fielding media enquiries from all over the world. That seems to have died down a bit but it took a lot of effort to push the issue out far enough that it caught the current so I wouldn’t have to steer. I’ve done enough steering for a lifetime. As Dr McCoy might say, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a novelist, not an activist!”