Saturday, June 11, 2005

eyes wide shut

Last night, as I was marching down Beacon Street in the heart of downtown Boston, surrounded by spirited lesbians, transgendered people, and some people who seem to have rejected the notion of gender altogether, I realized that I have a lot to learn about courage, and integrity, and generally being a decent human being.

I live in a private studio apartment on the first floor of a co-op house. All the folks who live in the co-op part of the house are gay, and all are movers and shakers in Massachusetts equal rights activism. They're also a lovely bunch of people, and when they invited me to come with them to the annual Dyke March last night in Copley Square, I said "Sure." What I actually meant when I said "sure" was "I'm not sure how to say no to this, so I'll think of an excuse and back out at the last minute." I don't like crowds, I don't like downtown, and I'm shy enough that I'm uneasy with being part of any identifiable group of people in public, whether they're lesbians, farmers, or the national tiddlywinks team. When I left work on Friday, I was all set for a quiet evening at home, with plenty of time to think of a legitimate reason why I hadn't gone to the parade after all.

In a rare example of both poetic justice and instant karma, I got home to find that all of my housemates had waited for me so that I could ride over to the parade with them, even though that meant that they would be late for the opening festivities. I had about 3 minutes flat to drop my stuff, change out of my work clothes, and bolt out the door - not a second to spare for lame excuses or feeble backpedalling.

The Dyke March started at the Boston Common, and there was a bit of a wait before things really got started. There were the endless speeches and attempts at energizing the crowd that are common to every political rally, along with various women walking around handing out goodies. (I got a plastic whistle, a t-shirt, two mini-zines, and a neon green sticker). Eventually, though, the speeches ended, and the crowd got semi-organized for the march itself. We headed out of the Common and onto the streets, where I immediately noticed that
a) the streets in Copley Square were all blocked off for the parade, with police cars and irritated drivers and curious onlookers everywhere, and
b) there were dozens and dozens of people with cameras, all of whom were strangers, and all of whom were snapping shot after shot of anything and everyone involved in the parade.

At the time, I was walking in a loose group of people comprised of my housemates, my housemates' dog - who was wearing a t-shirt that originally said "I heart my vagina", but which had been adulterated with a black marker to read "I heart my mommies' vaginas", several women I didn't know, one of whom had a megaphone and was chanting at top volume, several transgendered people who had opted to march topless, and a woman carrying a giant poster that proclaimed "I fuck women".

I'm not proud of this, but at that moment, I did not feel pleased to be doing something meaningful to support my friends and their rights to be treated equally as people and under the law. I was not reminded of how only a short time ago, marches like this one helped to raise awareness for the need for equal rights for people no matter what color their skin or what religion they practiced. I wasn't thrilled to be exercising my own civil rights to speak out against injustice and prejudice. I wasn't any of those things, because I was too busy being absolutely mortified, and unreasonably terrified that someone might take my picture and/or recognize me in the parade. That someone might see me in a Dyke March, and judge me accordingly.

It wasn't until I was sitting on the long T ride home that I realized what a huge lesson the experience had been, and how blind I'd been to what was actually going on. For the hour or so that I was in the parade, I thought of little else but trying to remain as inconspicuous as humanly possible without actually crawling under a manhole cover. But for many of the people I was marching with, being inconspicuous is a luxury they just don't have. And while I was selfishly preoccupied with not being mistaken for something I'm not, I missed sight of the fact that all of the judgment and criticism that I was anxious about gets doled out to those same people all the time, simply because they are who they are.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like the world's biggest hypocrite. On the outside, I was marching through Boston, supporting people who call me a friend, and wait patiently for me to come home. On the inside, I was harboring the very same prejudice and bigotry that the parade exists to protest against.

I talk a big talk about compassion, and equality, and the stupidity of fundamentalist right wingers who would deny equal rights to people based on their sexual orientation, or any other innate trait. But when it came to walking the walk - literally - I was barely limping along.

I'm not sure what to do with this realization. I want to apologize, to say a big "I'm sorry" to everyone who accepted me openheartedly, and assumed that I would do the same right back. But it's a little too late for that now, and trying to do so would only create more problems than it solved - especially since the only one who really has the problem here is me. I don't want to be one more person who natters on about her liberal guilt, then goes right back to enjoying all the privileges that come with being a member of the dominant culture in a society that's riddled with glass ceilings and invisible walls.

I don't know what to do to fix it now, and I sure as hell didn't know last night, sitting quietly by myself as the T rattled and rumbled its way back home.


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