No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne, excerpt from Meditation XVII
Sometimes the lengths cishet homophobes and transphobes go to, justifying their views “for the sake of [their] children”, remind me of this poem. The fact is, we are all interconnected and nowhere does it become more apparent than in the case of “invisible” markers such as sexual orientation and gender identity. You probably already know at least one LGBTIQA person, even if you don’t know it. Somebody you love or care about, someone who may be a friend or a friendly colleague. The children in whose name you justify oppression may one day grow up to be so much more different from you than you could have ever imagined. (Or maybe not that different after all.) Perhaps they may grow up learning to fear you even as they learn more about their own selves.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing a child I spent my life loving and protecting was so scared of me that they went through months or years or even a lifetime of agony and inner torment, desperately trying to hold on to my love (which was never so weak as to be lost) by suppressing who they are.
We all know a “real” Arthur Ashe award winner–they are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and so on. Does that mean the one in my house is or should be the only one? Is my friend’s mother who beat cancer and manages a primary school for middle-to-lower income kids less deserving? Deserving of what?
Awards are just awards. If we believed awards could fully describe the extent of human achievement (and struggle), we might also have to believe that most of the people who have done anything worthy or have struggled in any way are cis, white Western men. Perhaps that is one reason why I already understand the superficiality of public acknowledgement: if it happens sincerely, it happens too late. So I don’t sit down and squabble over the merit of these awards, just like I don’t go to a school’s sports day and claim rigging/media bias/political correctness if every child is handed a prize for participation. Because these are all ultimately meaningless.
What is real is real, award or no award. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t need an award from ESPN to validate her life has been a personal struggle, any more than Malala needed a Nobel to realize she had risked her life to stand up against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Iqbal Masih was murdered at the age of 12 and he helped over 3000 children escape from the bonded child labor that still powers a sizable chunk of Pakistan’s capitalist economy–and he got no award. It would be an afterthought even if he did.
But you know what ISN’T courageous? A grown, cis man using his child’s struggle to punch down and attack a trans woman and her struggle as somehow less worthy of attention. Do not turn your child’s pain into an excuse to invalidate someone else’s. Oppression is NOT a competition.
You can feel butterflies in your stomach every time you see someone. You can think about them all day and dream about them all night. You can talk to them, palms sweaty and heart racing. You can get tongue-tied whenever you see them. You can woo them with flowers and candle light. You can f*ck like angry bunnies hopped up on hormones. You can write poems far too cliched to be shown anyone else and love letters too intimate to be kept anywhere other than a shoebox. You can send racy texts and fill up their Facebook timeline with LOLcats. You can hold them in your arms and forget the world exists, make love to them and know it doesn’t. You can feel each kiss like the tip of an arrow, plunging from your lips to bottom of your toes.
“Well played, Cupid,” you can say, “Well played.”
There are a lot of ways people express their feelings. But whether it’s infatuation, romance, lust or something else entirely, it’s easy to lose touch with where those feelings stem from. Enjoying someone’s kisses doesn’t necessarily mean you would enjoy listening to them talk for hours on end. Going to bed with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you would want to wake up next to them for the rest of your foreseeable future. Holding someone’s hand doesn’t necessarily mean you would want to hold on to them through the worst life has to throw at you both. But it’s easy to get carried away and think that it does. It’s far too easy to exaggerate the gravity of our own emotions, a kind of sentimental narcissism. After all, it fits right in with the idea that we are always in charge of everything we feel, every little quirk and behavior we exhibit, and therefore they are all important because we feel them or do them.
That doesn’t make it true.
Here’s a simple way to know if you really love someone: you’re lying in bed on a cold winter morning when suddenly a draft blows in and chills you to the bone. Instantly you reach over and make sure someone else is tucked into a warm blanket, no toes or elbows sticking out. They are. Or maybe they’re somewhere else, but in your mind they are right next to you.
And then you remember, you’re the one freezing.
Love is: caring. Instinctively, before you know what you’re doing, before you care for yourself, before they’re awake, even when they don’t know you’re protecting them while they sleep. Sometimes even when they’re not there.