I came of age in the '80s. It was a different time. Fashion trended toward neon. Bracelets were rubber, well before Livestrong. I alone was responsible for the depletion of a good portion of the ozone layer. Aqua-Net was my dear, dear friend. Sorry about that.
Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." was every bit the phenomenon people remember it to be today but The Cure was also huge. And Duran Duran. And the B-52s. And New Order. And Big Audio Dynamite, though BAD was born out of an earlier era in music that was even better. And Alphaville. And Ultravox. And so many more.
I found my niche in the speech and theater department, though on the edge of that niche. Really, I've never thrown myself headfirst into any social realm. I prefer to be alone or in conversations one on one. I've never been one to mingle.
I was drafted onto the speech team out of need. The star radio speaker would be graduating in a year – or was it two? – and she had no acolyte until Mr. Benjamin tapped me to try. I learned the ropes. I did OK. Performance anxiety and all that. Even alone behind a mic. But I appreciated Mr. Benjamin's encouragement. Years later, I would briefly pursue voiceovers as a vocation. I can't imagine I would have done that if it hadn't been for Mr. B.
I took a Theater Arts class because it seemed like a good way to spend a part of my senior year and Mr. Sweeney was my homeroom teacher for part of my high-school stint, so I took it. And I let myself be convinced that I should do a couple of interpretations in competitions. Interpretations. As in interpreting scenes. As in acting. With partners. In front of people. Me, the girl who prefers to be alone. We did not place well. Apologies to my acting partners.
But Mr. Sweeney was an early encourager of my writing, one of the first to help me to see that there was some talent there. Indirectly, I am not a doctor because of him. As a pre-med major, it had been my intention to find the cure for cancer – make no small plans, eh? – but instead, you're reading this post.
I was happiest in the auditorium. I have always loved the view from a stage. Performing appeals to me and terrifies me in almost equal measures. Terror has the edge. I was on stage for one high-school play. I had very few lines. And I couldn't commit even those to memory. Which, of course, hampered the performances of those on the stage with me. Acting is like tennis: you have to lob the ball over the net in order for your partner to return it. I lobbed balls smack into the net too many times. Once again, I plead performance anxiety. Once again, I apologize.
And so, it made sense for me to work on crews, to putter on the stage and in the wings and in the workshops but to leave the acting to those who could act. And so I did. And I am glad. Because my mom would drop me off early on Saturday mornings – crew days – and Mr. Nerius would show up with a cup of coffee and we'd sit on the edge of the stage or at the table on the stage if a table was part of the set. And we'd talk. I like one-on-one conversations, as I've mentioned, and I've always gotten along better with folks who are older than me. So chatting with Ner, as we called him, was one of the best parts of my high-school experience.
Today, I call him Rob, as we're both grown-ups. He most assuredly, me ostensibly, though somehow I'm the only one with grey hair.
Which brings me to the reason I sat down to write: being a part of the theater realm, however peripherally, was being a part of a microcosm of the world. As James Corden said in his introduction for the Tonys, the theater has always been a place where everyone's accepted. And so it was that I got to know, in some small measure, the first of my classmates I learned to be gay. But we already had theater in common, the intersection of our Venn diagram. And so "gay" was just a trait of each of those people, not the people themselves.
I went on to college and my experiences expanded. And friendships formed, many that endure to this day, some friends who were gay as gay could be – assuredly gay – and others who either weren't yet entirely sure or who weren't yet ready to make it known.
In this week post-Orlando, as I've seen too many allusions to hatred – secondhand glimpses in my Twitter feed mostly – I've been wondering yet again about why some people fear "otherness" so profoundly. Why all the vitriol? Do they simply not know anyone who's gay? But how can that be? Doesn't everyone know someone who's gay? But perhaps not. Perhaps I've once again fallen into the thinking that everyone's experience mirrors mine, even though I know that that can't be true.
But then I think about today's generation of younger people – because I am old enough to use a phrase like "today's generation of younger people" – and it appears that, incrementally, we're moving toward a human experience that's much more loving and appreciative of our differences rather than judgmental and divisive. There is still judgment and division, to be sure. But I have friends on Facebook who share stories about their kids' good hearts and I see the shift, post by post. And then I multiply that in my mind by all the posts that I don't see, by all the people whom I don't know. And it's there.
I don't mean to exclude anyone. I don't know any trans folks, for instance – at least, I don't know if I do – but Jenny Boylan, if you happen to see this, if you're ever in Chicago, I'd be delighted to buy you a drink.
I love that marriage for all is the law of the land. I love that I'm seeing discussions about the meaning of gender and that "binary" in some contexts is becoming a four-letter word. We are who we are. Difference is just difference just as red is not the same as blue. Whether I want someone in my sphere comes down to a simple yes or no: are they a good person? It's the guiding principle by which I live my life. I try to be a good person. Some days are better than others. But the overall trend is to the good.
I know that great challenges persist. I know that many resist in their hearts and minds.
But change lies in another simple query: What would love do? It applies universally, to every choice. In the end, everything is either love or fear. May we all do our best to choose love.