Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No-one should have to be exceptional to live

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

As a person I think I have a number of positive qualities and I’m sure there are many roles I am capable of fulfilling. But one I have no ambition to take on is that of hero. I am not a heroic person, courageously taking on bad guys with courage and panache.

Aside from anything else, I’d fail most mightily at being a superhero. I am not, it has to be admitted, a particularly big guy or a particularly strong one. Nature decreed I would be short and that other people needed my muscle mass more. I work out, but the strong man I am not.

Given that I have had some unpleasant altercations with undiplomatic and physically more capable people in the past, I have tried to study self-defence. But I have all the grace of a lazy hippopotamus and all the co-ordination of a drunken rhino with a middle ear infection. It wasn’t pretty. And other than the possibility that my attackers may leave me alone because I’ve already badly hurt myself, it’s of limited utility when it comes to self-defence (though I do try to delude myself otherwise).

Also, given my past experiences and less than ideal damaged mind, I don’t react well to violence or threat or even physical-seeming confrontation. I have reactions that range from flashbacks and panic attacks to just freezing. And even without that, I am not one of those people who can react to pain and panic well anyway. Good in a crisis, but not in the face of injury.

All in all, I would be a truly awful superhero.

The problem comes that it is rather expected as me, as a gay man and as someone who combats homophobia. Not to put on a cape and wear my underwear in a dubious fashion, flying around the city grabbing evil doers and throwing them into prison with little regard for due process and rule of law. No, but there is a demand to step up and do things that are heroic.

Of course, society forces a lot of these on me, simply being an Out gay man means taking risks – violence, stalking, vandalism, being fired, facing bullying and intimidation at work, getting annoying little notes plastered to my house to remind me I’m being watched (and I’m sure the freak’s keying my car). You can be ostracised by friends, by family, by community. You can be murdered. And controlling who knows is always fraught – simply existing is a huge risk.

But there’s also a demand to act, to take more risks. The demand to speak. The demand not to let them get away with saying that or doing that. The demand to stand up, the demand to speak up. The demand “not to put up with that” and always, always, always the demand to be Out. The demand to be Out all the time, in all places, in all situations, to never duck back into that closet.

And, sadly, from some straight folks (and even some GBLT folks who should know better) you get the look, that look that says “you failed!” You are the bad gay! The silent one, the “conformist”, the one who needs more pride and less shame. You’re the one who gives them tacit permission to abuse us, the one who lets the homophobia slide, the one who lets us be victims and doormats and punching bags. You faillled, faaaaaaaillllled us all!

But the worst part? The worst part is knowing you have chosen not to be heroic. It’s knowing that you, on some level, failed. That someone did make that choice and did blaze that past - someone not only did this, but did it first. I’d be lying if I didn’t  admit I feel very unworthy of following these incredible people and enjoying the life they made possible. That legacy creates its own demand – and not just the legacy, but the actions of truly amazing heroes around today who are still taking risks and fighting fights that dwarf mine. The demand to be worthy of their actions, to respect their actions to do your tiny part in the face of such immense courage.

But they are heroes – and heroes are exceptional. No-one should have to be exceptional to live. No-one can be expected to be heroes all the time – or at all. We can’t shame ourselves for refusing to constantly be at that level, it’s an extremely high and often unobtainable standard. And, of course, many of our heroes are also martyrs.