Day of Silence

Looks like I missed the Day of Silence this year, and last year and the year before because I live in San Francisco and the wheels of commerce would come off if all LGBT people were silent for a day. But back in high school and college I participated. It’s quite an interesting exercise.

For those who don’t know, it’s a day when LGBT activists coordinate to not speak. It’s a metaphor about institutional silencing and media nonpresence and all that. Pretty standard activisty stuff. But all I ever seemed to get out of it was a giant flashing neon sign floating over my head saying I’M GAY. (Now that I think about it, that would be a cool piece of clothing to have.) In college the LGBT center would give out little slips of paper explaining to people why you weren’t talking to them, and I think they made shirts one year too. We would all eat lunch together in the main campus plaza, I think Subway catered it.

But it always just felt very self-congratulatory. It’s not like any of the authority figures were homophobic; they were mostly concerned with keeping you from drinking beer while you swam in the fountains. And the teachers, well, I’m quite certain they were aware of the existence of LGBT people. Even the CS teachers!

I know I’m speaking from a position of privilege–tall white male who can pass and comes from a family with means etc.–but it’s always struck me as a little bit of a strange protest action. Everybody in high school knew I was gay, and I don’t know if my professors in college did (except for Rob) but I was pretty active in the queer community so all the students knew. And it was never once an issue. Like, basically not remarked upon even. Moreso remarked upon in high school, but it was really just people like adjusting a bit of metadata on a row in their meat database (you probably call it a brain) than anything else. Oh, OK, he’s gay, record updated. Then they’d ask the usual uncomfortable but well-meaning questions.

The answer to one of them, my stock answer just to move the conversation along, was “Kenneth Branagh.”

There are certainly communities where I can envision a protest of silence doing some good awareness-raising and de-invisibilifying, but I’ve simply never lived in one. Now, I got yelled at in the Tokyo airport trying to use a single check-in form with my husband as “a family”, and there are parts of town we don’t hold hands in, even here, and I remember before the Windsor ruling where filing taxes was a nightmare, and, like most LGBT people, I’ve been gay-bashed at least once, but… What does the Day of Silence do?

I remember things like Day Without an Immigrant, and those definitely turned some heads in college. But there’s just a lot more people you can have do that. LGBT people are (let’s be honest) probably 3% of the population, and for most of us, people sorta know. Not speaking up in class for one day isn’t really going to do anything, right?

I prefer nowadays to focus my energies on organizing and supporting the dominant power structures that support me. That means Democrats, right now. A few hours phone banking can do a lot more good than a day of not talking. Maybe that’s just me, though.

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