Nobody told me The Book Thief was a holocaust book. I resent it a little. Holocaust literature isn’t something you just drop on people, no warning, no chance to brace themselves. It’s worse because I was gifted my copy on the Kindle, so there were no back cover hints. I just started reading and then I was in WWII Germany.
You should read it. (Mild spoilers below.) It’s soul crushing in a different way than Fugitive Pieces or The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. It’s stylistically playful in ways Night or The Diary of Anne Frank can’t touch. It made me cry on the train home from work.
At one point the main characters, Germans, hide a Jew. A German Jew. Somehow before this book it hadn’t hit me how many German Jews there were when Hitler rose to power—how anti-Jew policies had cropped up when Jews were right there, living in the open in German cities, even serving in German armies in WWI. You can see where I’m going with this, I hope.
I’m not an alarmist. I don’t think an American gay holocaust is in the offing, and although I believe it could happen here, I also believe it won’t. The point is, though, that in The Book Thief the Germans who were willing to shelter this Jew, and to stand up how and when they could for other Jews, were the people who knew them personally. Knew them as people. Not abstraction, not other, not propaganda caricatures. In the wake of my last post, of course I’m thinking of this in terms of coming out.
See, once I came out to my parents and then years later when I made it clear I was done with the church, it wasn’t just The Gays out there agitating like they do. It was their little boy. It’s his loves and hopes and dreams. The members of my parents’ ward don’t dare speak unthinkingly about The Gays because that’s Matthew, the sweet little guy who used to babysit our kids and raise the American flag at the Fourth of July pancake breakfast. (It’s also Phaedra, the relief society president’s / two-cycles-back bishop’s daughter. Happy memory: Phaedra and I once went door to door as Mary and Joseph at a ward event.)
This is one reason why coming out is so important. People who know us as we are don’t accept propaganda so easily. People who know us as we are are no longer able to sit comfortably and condemn The Gays down in San Francisco. They have to think twice before writing off that group of Others because now it includes people who maybe aren’t so other after all.
Maybe this doesn’t even need to be said, but it seemed important to me on the train today that it was the personal connection with Jews that enabled the main characters of The Book Thief to hold on to their humanity when everyone around them was letting theirs slip away. The more people come out, the more people know about the gay people in their lives, the harder it will be to turn the rest of the population against us.
I wish we were at a point where I felt silly for worrying about a thing like that, but I’m Californian and Prop 8 was just four years ago. DADT was repealed and there were some lovely marriage-related results in the last election, but DOMA is still entrenched, with certain substantial forces looking to make it permanent. It’s only been in my lifetime that “sodomy” was decriminalized in the last fourteen states, and many of those laws are technically still on the books. I know how quickly policy can retrench—have you seen pictures of 1970s Iran?—and I know how little say I might have in that retrenchment.
I guess what I’m saying is that I miss being surrounded by people who would hide me—or stand beside me—in the event of some kind of gay extermination order. _Or_ a zombie apocalypse. One is more plausible than the other, but the people I’d want to be with are the same.
On that note, I decided. On Monday I found out I would be recording a listening test with that one boy’s teacher—a perfect, private opportunity to talk with him about this. During my lunch break I wrote out what I would say (in cursive, which is like a secret code) and then rewrote it and then practiced it in my head. I felt great about it. A little heady.
Then we were alone in the recording room, and I knew I wouldn’t tell him.
Last week’s lion-and-handcart speech is still true. I just plain did not want that man to know I’m gay. I don’t think I’ll be coming out to anyone new in the months before I leave this country. I still believe it’s damaging, but I think it’s mitigated by having made a conscious decision to not share that part of myself. It helps that it’s limited to the circumstances of working here in Japan, where I’ll be for less than half a year more. It helps that I have Facebook and Skype and a lively correspondence with people who do know that part of me, and even a handful of people who come across the planet and spend time with me.
It’s not perfect, but I’m satisfied with my decision.
This week, I’m going to think about what it might be like to be in a committed relationship.
This post comes to you from Kyoto, Japan, where I spent the entire day being a tourist with an old friend. We wandered in circles this morning, but eventually we found our way to Kiyomizudera, a temple on a hill—thus, this picture.
I feel so happy.
*post by Matt*
*post by Matt*