Nobody would call me quiet. If someone was ever to ask me about a time I stood up for myself, I would have trouble answering only because the occurrences are so numerous. Being gay and atheist in an orthodox Jewish school provides a multitude of opportunities to argue. Needless to say, if defending myself was not easy when I first came out in the beginning of ninth grade, it sure would be after two years of practice. By the beginning of my junior year, it was harder to keep my mouth shut than to speak out.
Whenever I am around my friends, it is pretty much a no-holds-barred situation when it come to subjects I feel strongly about. I have never seen a need to let a stray homophobic or bigoted comment pass by unnoticed, and I would humbly say that my class is more tolerant for it. Teachers, however, have always been harder to deal with. Some of them can be engaged in discussion quite reasonably. Others are completely pointless to engage, and the hardest thing to do sometimes is not say anything.
When I walked into Bible class down in the former elementary school hallway, no feeling of foreboding took over, nothing to indicate that I would be leaving the classroom seething with rage. I put my books down next to my friend, and wondered whether this class would decide to bore us for the next three quarters of an hour, or possibly entertain, as it sometimes chooses to do. Our slouched teacher walked in, looking very much like a cross between a weasel and a turtle. My notebook was ready for me to take notes, Bible being one of the few classes in which I still wrote with a pen and not with electronic impulses and a computer screen.
I think we started talking about Adam and Eve at that point. The teacher started in with some rhetoric about the purity of the male-female relationship. Uninterested in this topic for obvious reasons, I reached into my brain and flicked the shiny off-switch that I keep in reserve for those particularly riveting Judaic studies classes about virtue and how to live your life.
Soon after, my ears perked up a bit when he mentioned homosexuality. Flick. With an almost synchronized motion, my classmates’ heads turned as one to look at me. I yawned and rolled my eyes expressively, showing my utter lack of caring because, you know, I was being really cool. I figured the subject would be dropped quickly, so I decided to ignore it. To my great distress, the subject was not only kept aloft, but was rocketed into space with such force that it was only dropped later by the forcible summons and call to freedom of the end-of-class bell.
“The media and shows on television portray gay people as normal and living an acceptable lifestyle, but we have to remember that it’s just not something we can accept to be okay. We must make it clear that we think this kind of lifestyle choice is wrong and immoral.” His words reached into my head of their own accord, flipped the on-switch, locked it into place, and to top off their crusade, slammed down on a big red button labeled “Adrenaline release”.
At that point, I experienced a special kind of anger. Normal rage is purely mental, but the special form of fury that I was feeling was accompanied by physical change. Suddenly, I could not breathe, I felt hot, and lines of wrath rolled lazily up and down my body like sheet lightning in a dry thunderstorm. My first instinct was a thunderstorm’s: to release some of that energy in a controlled verbal strike directed toward the object of my vehemence. It was my normal modus operandi, and it was usually satisfying.
Why though? I thought hazily through the heat shimmer of emotion in my mind. It’ll only give him satisfaction. Sure, you’ll feel better, but if you really want to win, say nothing. He knows you’re gay, he’s not dumb. Discretion is the better part of valor, i.e. just shut up.
Instead of an outburst that would have left me feeling frustrated and powerless, I stayed quiet that class, burning alternately hot and cold at each new vocal jab. As I said before, speaking out and standing up has always been easy for me. I do it almost every day, and it is really no big deal. But managing to keep quiet, now that took courage. Everyone in that room expected me to go off, but even while ice formed on my fingertips and fire screamed behind my eyes, in a little corner of my consciousness was a smug sense of satisfaction because I knew that I was winning. Staying silent showed my classmates more than any eloquent speech could have, that being gay was perfectly fine.