“You promised me my life, but you lied. You think life is nothing but not being stone dead.”
— Saint Joan

I’ve been following this horrible story about the high school student whose picture of himself and his boyfriend kissing was blacked out of his school’s yearbook. Mercifully, the superintendent who screwed up has now apologized to the kid and to the entire LGBT community for her actions, but this one thing keeps bugging me:

Russell Garris, the assistant superintendent who oversees the city’s high schools, brought the photograph to Bolden’s attention Thursday afternoon. He was concerned the picture would be controversial and upsetting to parents, Bolden said.

And it’s bugging me because I’m sure this isn’t the last time the perceived sensibilities of some imagined concerned parent (when did THAT become code for “nosy interfering needs-a-life bigot,” by the way?) are used as an excuse to suppress someone’s expression or trample on his rights or invalidate his life in the eyes of the world at large. I’m sure this isn’t the last time the catch-all of “it could upset somebody, seeing you being you and all that, out in the world, and stuff” will be applied to tell somebody he should keep his entire life out of the rest of the world’s way. I’m sure this isn’t the last time people are going to be told that they alone out of everybody have an obligation to shut up and not upset anybody. To not be “controversial.”

It ties into the whole idea of civility that the political blogosphere hashes over every single day, the growing consensus that anything that gets you het up enough to raise your blood pressure and your voice is automatically bad, automatically rude, automatically enough to get whatever you’re saying disqualified from interested ears. We’re not supposed to get angry. We’re not supposed to get upset. And what I’d really like to know is, why the unholy blue hell not?

I mean, when did human beings become such wusses? Why are we all so scared of a good fight? Why must “controversial” become “a reason something should be suppressed” instead of “a reason something should be shouted from the rooftops until everybody figures it all out?” Why must parents not be upset? Why must senators and congressmen and bloggers be polite to each other and not say “fuck?” Why do we have to water down life until there’s nothing worth rousing ourselves for, nothing worth getting upset over, nothing worth fighting for anymore? Why do we have to live like that?

And why does our desire to live like that trump somebody else’s desire simply to live? Why is the tranquility of some imagined parent’s beautiful mind placed above a young man’s right to immortalize his high school years how he chooses? Why does some imagined parent (I keep using “imagined” because I’ve seen no evidence any actual parent was irreversibly harmed in the publication of that photo, or even ruffled all that badly) get to decide what he or she sees and is upset by? Being upset does not constitute legitimate injury. Being upset does not constitute superiority, authority, control of any kind. Being upset does not mean somebody else has to change his actions or his life or even his yearbook photo, because being upset is not anybody else’s problem. If we could just burn that into the landscape somehow, together with the idea that being upset? Not actually the worst thing in the world. Not compared to having your high school yearbook photo in all the papers and on all the TV stations (the horror) and becoming known nationwide as the person whose love life got singled out as wrong. And upsetting. I think that’s actually substantially worse than being unnerved for a few minutes by a picture of some boys in a liplock.

The world is changing. I’m sorry that bums some people out, I truly am. It must be awful to be so scared of everything. But my sympathy does not extend to the point where I’ll listen to you asking that your feelings of unease about sex dictate somebody else’s sex behavior, or to the point where I’ll agree that your desire for tranquility for tranquility’s sake trumps anything important worth getting worked up about. The world is changing, and you know what? Maybe we’re all going to have to get a little upset. Maybe we’re all going to have to piss each other off. Maybe we’re all going to have to see things we don’t like, and deal with them, and argue about them, and work back and forth to advance one view or the other. Maybe we’re all going to have to jostle and shout, and push against one another, and kick and yell, because who we are shouldn’t be comfortable for everybody. That wouldn’t be right and it certainly wouldn’t be anything we could recognize as America. That would be boring. That would be pointless.

That wouldn’t be life. That would be not being stone dead. And speaking only for myself, if that’s the opposite choice, stack up the fucking firewood and drive down the stake, because I’d rather burn.


8 thoughts on “Upsetting

  1. Athenae,
    I’m shocked that you’ve got your bowels in such an uproar.
    But, seriously, usually when you put together a righteous roar of ranting rage, you do a clearer, more eloquent job than this.
    What’s going on? Are you mad because these two boys were discriminated against? (yes, obviously, and good on you for that)
    What’re you saying? Are you mad because some faceless suit decided to preemptively head off what s/he imagined would be a flood of comment from upset parents? (yeah, and good on you for that, too, because cowardice in power is what’s wrong with our nation)
    What’re you advocating? Do you want us all to get away from the pap of comfort? (I can’t tell, but I hope so)
    I seriously cannot figure out whether you want to encourage outrage on behalf of the wronged youths, or you just think outrage in general is too much on the wane these days, particularly among those of us constantly battered by the faux-outrage of the VRWC.

  2. I think that the “imagined parent” scenario is just another variation of “but what about the children?”
    I remember the trend in the late 80s of prosecuting comic book stores for the heinous crime of mature and adult titles…in an isolated area, not visible to the rest of the store, clearly marked as such and under the view of the clerk. But there was an off chance that some kid might manage to sneak in to the adults-only section and OMG! might see a boob or a dick.
    There was a big stink and San Diego Comic Con about that time because adult and mature titles existed, mainly. Apparently some idiot parents heard “comics” and decided that meant they could drop their middle-schoolers off at the door to the convention center and let them wander unattended among 150,000 other people for the next 8 hours.

  3. “It must be awful to be so scared of everything.” – A.
    That’s a good quote, right there.
    I think that it’s neat how this piece ends up mirroring arguments against “political correctness” that I’ve heard from some conservative types.

  4. Reminds me of what happened not too long ago in my neck of the woods. One local school had an Open Mike night and a couple of girls wanted to do some passages from The Vagina Monologues, and they ended up getting suspended because — get this — they used the word “vagina” in the part they read. The principal claimed that they weren’t suspended on account of their speech; no, it was insubordination because they had promised that they wouldn’t use that word and they did.
    The reason the principal didn’t want them to use that word was because there would be some complaints. I think someone’s grandmother’s virgin ears were invoked in defense of that.
    Our local ACLU branch went after the school and the girls had the suspension revoked and Eve Einsler came to the school to talk about the matter.
    All they had to do was put a note on the notice for the program saying that there might be offensive language in it. Nobody was forced to go to the open mike; it was held on school grounds but it was purely voluntary on the part of the participants and the audience.
    What a bunch of wussies!

  5. “it could upset somebody, seeing you being you and all that, out in the world, and stuff”
    ooh that’s well put.
    No doubt though, no one is willing to cause dissent. I quit my job today, mainly because my boss is so non-confrontational and it drives me nutty.

  6. After my mother died, my sister didn’t want my then-partner listed as a survivor. My mother had a relationship with my partner, my partner had worked with my sister and I to help take care of her as she was declining. My sister acknowledged those things but was terrified “that other people would be upset.” I insisted, and of course no body batted an eye. But it was in that whole experience that I saw how afraid my sibling was – of how the world was changing, of being judged by others, of lots of things out of her control.

  7. I think it’s even more insidious than you’re saying. Every school board and every church and every city council has long had to deal with both the Prude Patrol and the local bigots being upset. They’re basically in a continuous uproar that it’s no longer 1952. And they share their upset loudly and frequently. So all those school boards and churches and city councils have practiced self censorship for years — just so they don’t have to listen to the same old shit all over again.
    Which is what I suspect happened here.
    What’s different is that they’re now having to hear from the other side. Now the liberals are getting upset and getting loud — something that hasn’t really happened since about 1969. And keeping the peace with the bigots by practicing self censorship doesn’t work any more — cause now you’re pissing off the liberals.
    So we get all these newfound calls for civility when what they really want is for the liberals to just STFU so they can go back to censoring themselves to keep the bigots happy. And live in peace.

  8. Well, once again, in a neat, nice, tidy package, you have summed up everything that has pissed me off this week. Clearly, eloquently, passionately.
    You know why the wingnuts idolize John Wayne? Because they think he has the balls they lack.
    “Being upset is not anybody else’s problem.” A-fucking-men.

Comments are closed.