“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.