Last week Harold and I watched the movie “Milk” for the first time. It’s an extremely well executed movie about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay elected official in California, maybe even in the United States. Seeing this movie has affected me in powerful ways that continue to reveal themselves to me.
This movie felt very personal to me. I grew up with a father who strongly believed that homosexuality was a mental illness. This must have been hard for his brother, who was gay and in San Francisco at the time of Harvey Milk. My family alienated my uncle until they realized he was going to die of AIDS. As a teenager, the hypocrisy drove me mad. Aggravating my father further, my mom came out as a lesbian when I was 12. It didn’t matter to me at all, as long as she was happy. I came of age surrounded by lots of powerful and interesting women. Not to mention a few drag queens. I’ve always wanted to be a drag queen.
I’m not gay, but when I have to choose labels, I would describe myself as pansexual, gender queer, and polyamorous. All of these things are different. Yet I have chosen over and over again to be open and out about who I am. This is the next lesson I learned from “Milk” – being open and honest about who you are really can change the world. As a good friend pointed out, it can also get you shot (Harvey Milk was assassinated), and while that’s true, that’s not important to me. I believe in creating positive change in the world. And I know that being yourself as fully as possible is a powerful thing.
I’ve noticed that many of the groups of people who have been discriminated against forget how powerful they are over time. If you believe that you are oppressed then only your oppressors can grant you the rights you deserve. For example, as a vegetarian, I could sit around being angry that none of the restaurants serve food that is yummy and healthy for me, eating only side salads and waiting for someone to feed me something good (restaurants have all of the power and the problem is me). Or I could talk to the restaurant chefs to explain what I want and organize people to boycott restaurants that aren’t receptive (I am a whole person with the power to create positive change). Or I could open my own vegetarian restaurant, serving food so good that even meat-eaters want some (just by being fabulously me and out, I can positively influence people who normally would be opposed).
What if, in real life, it really is as easy as just assuming the power that is rightfully yours? I’ve been going through this process as part of dealing the aftermath of sexual abuse. I’ve been waiting for someone else to make me powerful, but I’m starting to know in my body that I am powerful all on my own. I wish that it was easier to stop feeling like a victim. I feel trapped inside my frustration and rage. But what I saw in “Milk” is that there’s no power in identifying as a victim. Power is in fighting injustice where you find it in order to make an improvement. Power is telling the world, no, you can’t have that, that’s mine. Power is adding your light to the lights of others until you form a comet of change.
People all over the world are doing just that – joining their voices together to create change. My current favorite is the Born this Way Blog. People are posting pictures from their childhood that show that they have always been different and telling their stories. It’s sad and funny and hopeful. They are letting gay youth know that yes, it sucks, but it gets better. It’s simply amazing. I’ve spent hours reading through their site.
“Milk” made me cry for much the same reason. It’s a movie that grabs hold of you and gives you a bit of a shake. I needed that shake. I need to know that yes, there are close-minded people out their waiting to condemn anyone who is different. No, hateful people spewing vicious words doesn’t make their beliefs true. Everyone makes their own truth. Don’t hide who you are. Let it shine. Be true, be you. Stand up and come out. Show the close-minded people that different is still normal. Whoever and whatever you are, come out of the closet. It may the most difficult and the most powerful thing you ever do.
My uncle was brave enough to come out to a family who branded him crazy and it made a huge impact on my life. I think my uncle would be proud of who I am.