Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas
Although I can’t remember where I first read it, I’ve always loved the poem Do not go gentle into that good night. I only recently bought a collection of Dylan Thomas’ poetry, and did so because I wanted to read this particular poem in full. Something in the gorgeous lines always resonates with me – even if it’s the interpretation of it that I gained as a young teenager instead of the academic understanding of its meaning – because I tend to be the opposite of gentle. In fact, I often make a point not to be.
The world is full of racist, sexist, homophobic people, and it’s also full of people who let their friends and colleagues and families say transphobic, anti-Semitic, bi-phobic things without calling them out on their shit. I understand that being in a position where it is safe for you to speak up about these issues is a privilege and would never think badly of someone for not doing so. But often I want to challenge people, telling them that their slut-shaming comments aren’t ok; I think these tiny actions are important.
Because if we don’t challenge people, and make them uncomfortable, how will we move forward? If we are gentle with everyone, how will we make the change that is necessary? The world is not always a pretty place, and I am far from comfortable with censoring or hiding myself for the benefit of others.
Recently, I came out to my parents as bi, as gay, as hella-fucking-queer. A number of my friends knew, of course, as well as anyone who knows me through my blog as Jadis Liddell, but I couldn’t be openly out until I told my parents. It was three years after I started thinking about my sexuality, so maybe it was unfair to expect them to be completely fine with it straight away – but I was proud of myself for finding the courage to tell them.
They were fine with it, they told me. They thought it was important for me to live my life, not theirs. It was only after I went home to visit them that I realised that they were more ok with it in theory than in practice.
I’d had a discussion the previous day with a friend, who’d advised me against wearing my ‘I am not my anxiety’ t-shirt. Be gentle with them, they told me, you might not want to be too open about your mental health; you know they find it difficult. This is true: in the past they’ve discouraged me from disclosing my medical conditions on health forms, or when applying for jobs, and they weren’t comfortable with me telling members of my extended family about the medications I was taking. Surely, though, I told my friend, they know that this is important to me – they wouldn’t ask me to hide a part of my identity that matters so much to me, would they?
It sucked when I got off the train and my mother asked me to take the bi-pride flag pin and the ‘Here and Queer’ badge off my jacket.
There was a moment of surprise that she noticed the badges – which I didn’t think anyone would have paid any attention to – and then there was hurt. I wasn’t going to wear my pin-badged denim jacket to my job interviews, of course: could maybe have understood her not wanting me to be openly queer and depressed while applying for jobs. Both of my parents are right: people have prejudices and there is stigma that hasn’t been broken despite the laws that prevent people from discriminating against me on these grounds.
But in my opinion, that stigma doesn’t go away until someone fights it. Maybe the tiny community I grew up in will never be an open and accepting place, where a teenager can come out as a lesbian, or as non-binary, or pansexual and feel safe. Maybe nowhere will be free from that prejudice, but things certainly aren’t going to change if no one does anything about it.
I grew up in a very rural community, where my parents still live today. It’s a conservative place to live, due to its isolated location and strong religious community. There was one openly gay person at my high school – a boy in the year above me. I heard so many people make comments around me – or to me, not realising the girl they were talking to was a baby queer herself – about how they “aren’t comfortable” with “those people”, how “they aren’t right”, or they “don’t see why we have to give them rights.”
Part of me knew, when I came out to my parents, that they were the final piece of the puzzle; after I told them that I was queer, I wouldn’t have to hide it from anyone else. My parents deserved to be told in person, not hear it second hand, but once they knew I could be openly gay. I also knew that once that happened, I wasn’t going to be quiet about my queerness.
This doesn’t mean that I’ll talk to anyone about the intimate details of my sex life or sexuality at inappropriate times. It means I’ll drop into the conversation that I’m flirting with a girl, or reference that I’ve slept with guys and girls, or that I’m going to try really hard to get to Pride this summer if those things naturally come up in conversation. It’s saying “no, or a girlfriend” when relatives ask me if I have a boyfriend or telling someone that I’m not ok with them using “that’s so gay” as an insult.
It feels ridiculous to share this, but once I was open with my parents about my sexuality I wanted to be – to quote sex educator Kate McCombs – a “beacon of permission.” Maybe the desire to take any hateful words or malicious gossip that came my way for being openly queer so another teenager doesn’t have to face it one day, or will face less of it, at least, is selfish at its root – part of my desire to change the world. Possibly it would make no difference regardless of my intentions. I like to think it would.
I haven’t put the pin badges back on my jacket since my mother asked me to remove them, though. Right now, outside of my words, there are no indicators of my queerness. Does this make me a coward, or just someone who is picking her battles? Does it mean I’ve decided to try use words, which are far harder to censor, or that I am being gentle.
If I am known for anything, I do not want it to be for being gentle.
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas