when you grow up in a small town in southern virginia, there are some things you're brought up knowing. some of those things are learned by rote, some through whatever schoolin' you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on perspective) enough to have, and some things you're bashed over the head with on an almost hourly basis. the most notable of these:
1. NASCAR rules
2. god knows all (he IS our lord and savior, after all)
3. you're not eating enough
4. i'll see you at church on sunday
5. peeing outside is ok
6. NASCAR rules
and, the nugget of wisdom that has spawned this post:
7. being gay is *utterly and unequivocally morally and ethically reprehensible
*for my fellow southern virginians, that means "real bad."*
for most of the people who still live in that tragic town and have been indoctrinated over the years with those wonderful kernels of knowledge, the boat never rocks, the view never changes, and that is the way it is. but for those of us who have dared to question the conventional teachings and have managed to escape what i like to call "Farmageddon," it's much different.
my yarn begins with my recent trip back to my home town. in town for two days to visit family, i met up with a high-school friend for a few drinks at a local chain restaurant (akin to a ruby tuesday's or some other such nonsense but with a liberal smattering of redneck panache). there's a guy with a guitar and synthetic drum machine in the corner playing a bad cover version of whatever song the drunk stool-sitters blurt out and the waitstaff looks like the front row of a 1988 willie nelson concert. the "one step forward..." portion of the tale came when two girls came in, sat down, ate, drank, sang, danced, and left arm in arm without so much as an awkward glance from the other good ol' patrons. it may seem like an insignificant occurrence but, to me, it was great to see. i'm glad the last 10 years has brought about at least a little tolerance to Farmageddon.
the "many steps back" portion of the post is much less innocuous. on february 12th, an openly gay 15 year old eighth grader was killed by a fellow classmate because he had asked that classmate to be his valentine. ellen degeneres spoke briefly but poignantly about it recently on her talk show and the short clip bears watching and listening.
the los angeles times reported the shooting as a "hate crime." it's pretty clear though, to me, that this tragedy is more an "ignorance crime." ellen adds a political urgency to her message but i think it can be much more simple. having come from an environment that sometimes fostered the same sort of "hatred" and scorn for anything other than good-christian-white-bread-red-blooded-american virtue, i know (and am supremely thankful) that sometimes all it takes is for the dissenters to challenge others to THINK for themselves.
it's strange to be all at once encouraged by tolerance in one place and terribly disheartened by such extreme ignorance and intolerance in another but to me it's a reminder that learning takes place in all spheres, in many ways, and that it's a process that should never stop. whatever part you play in the learning continuum, whether as a teacher, mentor, friend, student, or anything in between, don't take it for granted.
think for yourself!