Gene's Column

By Gene Bixler II
December 1995

"Burning Violins" was a speech written by Gene Bixler not only as a coming-out speech, but as a speech designed to inform, reform and transform certain members of society who still view gays as "satan children" and the like. The speech has been well received by Gene's peers and teachers and is set to be delivered to his church and fellow Eagle Scouts in the coming month:

Vic Vickrey, in his book Signs Up, tells the story of one particular Stradivari violin known as the violin that the master forgot to burn. You see, Stradivari violins were all perfect. They had the best look and best tone quality of any violins ever made ... except this one.

Even the best of musicians couldn't get a good tone out of it to save their lives. But, through the story we learn that the true worth of the violin came from its roots - from the fact that it was indeed a work of the master, Antonio Stradivari himself. It didn't really matter that the violin was different because its worth could not be determined by a look at -- or from -- the outside.

The same is true in everyday life; oftentimes we tend to make decisions about things or people without seeking out all the facts, but only after a superficial examination of the surface.

It's this unwillingness to learn about people different from us, this ignorance, that fosters fear, which leads to anger which leads to hatred which leads to cruelty. But, you see, all of these connections take place in our minds so quickly that we don't even realize what's happening. All we are actually consciously aware of goes something like this: "He doesn't conform to what I perceive to be the norm. I hate him. He should be punished." We don't realize that we hate him because we're angry with him because we fear him because we don't understand him.

But usually when we're told that we don't understand someone and that if we only took the time to get to know them, we'd like them much better, we say we don't want to understand them. Why is that? Perhaps this response is due to two major factors. One, if we seek to understand, we may find that our opinions have to be changed. We may find that the "facts" upon which we based decisions may not be facts at all; perhaps they are only the opinions of the uneducated, or perhaps they are unjustifiable stereotypes, or perhaps they are true for some, but completely inapplicable to others.

But, in the end, it is much easier for us condemn others because of our own ignorance than it is for us to simply learn. The second possible reason that we don't want to understand falls under the "guilt by association" ideology. If we talk to them enough to learn about them, people will think we're their friend, or, worse yet, that we're just like them, and of course, we can't allow our reputations to be tainted like that. Certainly, these different people want us to accept them by understanding them, but surely they don't want us to lose face in the sight of our friends because of it. That would be simply unfair! Imagine how we would be treated by everyone if they thought WE were different, too.

Why, they'd ignore us, or call us names, or physically harm us. That would be unbearable. Obviously no one should have to go through that kind of torture. But isn't that what we do to people every day based solely on judgments we make about them because of outward appearances or one character trait which we assume necessarily leads to others? We'd rather completely shut people out than find out who they really are. We'd rather burn the violin that seek out its true value.

"He's Hispanic, so he's dumb as a brick and a drain on the welfare system. He's probably not even here legally anyway. He wears a goatee, so he's a drug dealing Satan worshipper. She's blond, so she's just plain stupid." And I'm gay, so, let's see here...I love to "be close" to as many people as possible, especially six year-old boys, I have AIDS, I talk with a lisp, I can't defend myself, I'm anti-religion and I'll hit on anyone with facial hair. Now, when I talked about stereotypes of blond, Hispanics and men who ear goatees, you probably reacted with some sense of humor because you know enough of those people who defeat those ridiculous stereotypes to understand that in most cases, those things I said simply aren't true. But, I bet you did not so easily dismiss the labels I applied to myself because of my homosexuality. Why not?

Because, sadly enough, all most people know about gays is what the media puts out for them to see, and the gays we see on the news sometimes are the gays that really are promiscuous, that do speak with a lisp, and that, unfortunately, do molest young children. But similar people exist in the straight population in the same proportion, but no one would dare suggest that all heterosexuals are evil because of the actions of a few.

There are men that rape women, but that doesn't mean all men are rapists. There are men and women both that practice promiscuity, but far more of them form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. There are stupid blondes, there are smart blondes; some men who sport goatees sell drugs, others don't. And similarly, some gay men like to have multiple partners, some don't. Some are anti-religion, some aren't. Some are weak, others are strong. Some speak with a lisp and some are truly great speakers. But society as a whole chooses to label all gays in one form or another, stereotypically, in order to make it easier to despise and condemn them all. But if I am doomed to be hated for who I am, I will be hated for who I am, not for who I am perceived to be.

I will be hated as the guy who has formed a long-lasting, meaningful, non-physical relationship with a guy who has actually been on this earth 359 whole days longer than I have. I will be hated as the church-attending Methodist Eagle Scout that I am. I will be hated as the orator and lyricist that I am, but I categorically refuse to be hated for who I am not. If you know me, I mean really know me, and still hate me, that I can accept, but if you turn me away without finding out the truth about who I am, then you are dealing a great injustice not only to me, but to yourself as well.

Anti-gay organizations often like to say that they are simply opposed to the lifestyle and that they do no harm to the individuals themselves, but in researching this topic, I found some very alarming statistics. Hate crimes in the United States are at an all-time high, and a vast majority of those are aimed at gays now rather than racial minorities. But there are statistics out there that are even more disconcerting that need to have proper attention focused on them. Last year alone, in just the United States, there were more than 30,000 attempted teenage suicides reported to the authorities.

The organization known as PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, asserts that some seventy-five percent of those attempts, or 22,500, were by gay, lesbian or bisexual teens, and a full one-fifth of those were successful. You do the math. 4,500 gay kids last year died because of who they were. Now suicide in and of itself deserves attention and should be dealt with, but when such a shocking majority of suicide attempts fall in one category of people, there is something very wrong. Why did 4,500 gay kids have to die last year?

Well, of course, there's not one single answer to that question, but my experience with on-line peer counseling suggests that a majority of the thoughts of suicide by gay teenagers stem form rejection by family and so-called friends. They either intentionally or inadvertently came out of the proverbial closet into a world that didn't welcome them. For some, this lead to a more sheltered life, for others it lead to depression and for others, it led to a desperation that could only be quieted by a gunshot, a rusted blade, or a handful of pills. Now, of course, for some, this kind of treatment by society could be relatively simple to deal with, but imagine, if you will, a thirteen or fourteen year-old kid, just beginning to understand who he is as a person.

Imagine that he's realizing that he's feeling different things than his friends are, an odd sort of attraction to his male companions. Now imagine him hearing his friends talking about how all gays should be killed. Imagine him coming home and hearing his father cheering excitedly because another gay man was beaten down by a hate group. Imagine this child, already in a fragile emotional state, first beginning to realize that he's gay and the world he's part of does not accept him. Now imagine him becoming so distraught that he, feeling he has no one to turn to, jumps off a building or intentionally ingests poison. Finally, imagine that he was your son. Becomes a nightmare now, doesn't it? Suddenly it's your child in the grave; it's no longer someone else's problem. Now be glad you're just imagining. Be glad you can wake up from this nightmare. Be glad it hasn't happened to you.

But there are some that cannot awaken from the terror-filled dream, because what for you was merely an exercise in creativity is, for them, a stark reality from which there is no escape. For them, it is too late to extinguish the flame that consumed the violin. But for others, there is still time to make a difference. And that's what we're asking you to do...make a difference. What we ask is not difficult. It is not beyond the realm of reasonability and certainly not a dream to be shared by only a few. We ask to be accepted as human beings rather than condemned as "different". We ask that people - heterosexuals and homosexuals alike - educate themselves so that we may work together to find a cure for this disease of hatred and fear that we have allowed to spread across this nation virtually unchecked. We ask to be afforded the same inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our forefathers, yours and mine, felt we were all entitled to. You see, that's not so much. We're not asking for special privileges of any kind, just fair treatment. But, don't do it for us. Do it for yourselves.

Hatred is the ultimate prison, and in this prison there is no chance of reprieve or parole. We are locked into a cycle that cannot be broken unless we change ourselves. Society as a whole will not be free as long as we subjugate some in favor of others, because ladies and gentlemen, hatred breeds hatred breeds hatred breeds hatred. The cycle must stop somewhere.

Perhaps Stephanie Davis said it best in the lyrics she wrote for Garth Brooks, "When we're free to love anyone we choose, when this world's big enough for all different views, when we all can worship from our own kind of pews, then we shall be free."

Only when the violins, all of them, achieve a perfect harmony and the orchestra is heard throughout the land, only when we stand together, united, can we move forward, out of the prison, out of bondage, out of darkness in to freedom...with liberty and justice for all.

Gene Bixler, 18 years old, is a senior at Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas. He can be reached online at scoutman@cris.com.
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