Today was a strange day, in a lot of ways.
First of all, I should explain that it is National Day of Silence, as a protest for LGBTQ+ rights. The idea goes beyond simply raising awareness—people feel silenced, incapable of speech, and this day is also supposed to give those of us who are allies a better idea of what they may be going through.
I participated, along with a few other students at my school. And for me, at least, it was very, very strange.
The not-speaking part was actually not the most difficult part of the day, which may come as a surprise to many of the people who know me. I’m not a quiet person, but I still managed to communicate reasonably well—I was astonished at how many people understood what I wasn’t saying.
Image credit: pixshark
The strange part was in the conversations that happened around me, that on any other day I would have actively participated in, but today I simply followed along.
I learned more than I expected to.
For one thing, I discovered that not a lot of people actually know very much about an issue that matters a lot to me (that being, LGBTQ+ rights). I had to explain what the Q stands for via whiteboard and miming more times than I can count, and all the while I couldn’t decide whether the appropriate response was to pull all my hair out in frustration, or to just convince them to look it up—it’s not like I’m the most authoritative expert out there when it comes to this subject.
I also learned how easy it is to lose track of a conversation when I was not directly participating in it. I had to mime half of what I wanted to communicate, and that got so frustrating that I ended up simply not bothering. It was really chilling, how easy it was to simply check out of the conversation altogether. It was truly isolating, even though I was surrounded by some of my close friends throughout the day.
But the most surprising part of the day was, weirdly enough, my Bible class. I attend a southern Presbyterian school. It is never in question that I am probably going to be in the definite minority when to comes to religion or politics. This sometimes makes Bible class… not the most comfortable place on the planet, but usually leads to some interesting and surprisingly deep conversations. Today was no exception, and the conversation we had certainly lent me some insight into a mindset that I tend to avoid at all costs.
I am referring, of course, to the opposition against LGBTQ+ equality that can be found basically everywhere on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, especially in the very Christian and generally Conservative high schools.
I didn’t have to explain what the Day of Silence was for—enough people were asking that question that my teacher was answering it. But I did get to look on in astonishment as the entire classroom of people began arguing over what equality means and what it really means to be a person or to sin. No one really referred to the biblical text itself. Instead, everyone began talking about their experience with the topic, or about how in their family, they believe such-and-such, and why everyone should or should not be treated equally…
Some of what I heard, I found genuinely upsetting on a lot of levels.
But other parts of the conversation were really comforting.
People whom I would never have expected to deviate from the typical derogatory terms and ideals turned out to feel very passionately about the issue, and spoke up about it very articulately, and had clearly put a lot of thought into their rationale.
In its own very small way, it was exactly what a protest should be.
I know that perhaps I did not grasp the full truth of what it means to not be able to communicate, to feel completely silenced. I had friends and faculty around me who knew exactly what I was doing and why. I had an end time in sight. I knew that when the day was over, I would be able to stop what I was doing and speak again. I had few qualms about comedic miming and laughter. I even resorted to Morse code and finger-spelling in American Sign Language, at one point, when I was trying to communicate what time a class ended.
In a lot of ways, I ended up treating it like a puzzle without even realizing it. I was coming up with ways around speaking, instead of letting myself simply fade into the background– so, not exactly the experience that I was trying to emulate.
But I think that it ended up okay, because this protest, small as it was, had an effect that I did not see coming. I got to watch the ripple of understanding spreading outwards, and I got to listen.
It’s crazy how much you can hear when you aren’t speaking.
Image credit: imagesdetails