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Commentary

by Michael C. Walker Thorsvedtt

"my eyes are like a little bird's, a bit afraid,
my eyes are like a little bird's, a bit ashamed;
. . . . I want to fly!"
-- Ofra Haza, "I Want To Fly"

The song lyrics above, from the Yemeni-Israeli singer/songwriter Ofra Haza, were written about a young girl preparing for her upcoming wedding day, unsure of what the future holds. She is a afraid -- as she has never been through this important event before -- and a bit ashamed, as she knows that she is entering womanhood and leaving her days as a child behind. She might not be ready for this step in her life, yet the Hina ceremony -- the wedding day -- is coming and she must proceed.

I was listening to Haza's 1989 compact disc, _Desert_Wind_, one night and started to think about these lyrics and ended up taking them out of their immediate marital context and applying them instead to the struggle that many queer youth face in dealing with their sexuality. Too often, gay youth must deal with their sexual orientation with little -- if any -- input from those around them, or in a worse situation, with only negative input.

Gay teens have desires, and in saying this I am not referring to sexual desires alone, but more to the desire to be accepted by their parents, family, and peers. The desire to be proud of who they are. The desire to not fear the years to come, to not fear discrimination, to not fear the threat of AIDS, to not fear their lives in a world which is truly as much their own as it is anyone's. They -- or really, I should say "we" because this principle still applies to me, too -- want to fly, but we are a bit afraid, perhaps a bit ashamed. When we come out to someone, when we openly address our sexuality, we are embarking on an uncertain course and often are opening ourselves up for criticism and possible verbal or even physical abuse. And when we enter a relationship with another person of our own sex, we are also treading on uncharted ground. So badly we desire for things to turn out "right"; there is so much which we want to find in another person, and likewise, so much we wish to discover within ourselves.

For the first time in American history, young gay men and lesbians have the possibility of openly expressing their sexual orientation with some assurance of acceptance, with some mechanism for support. And for the first time in recorded history, a young person can not only express the desire for romantic and sexual relations with someone of the same sex, but can do such proactively, in the sense that the youth is in control of himself or herself as a sexual being and not the possession of someone else as a sexual object. We are owned by no one, beholden to no one, or at least this should be the case.

There are plenty of documented instances in a variety of cultural settings -- from ancient Greece to feudal Japan -- which illustrate situations where a younger male was involved in a relationship with an older man, yet while these relationships -- within their cultural contexts -- may be perfectly valid, they hardly represent an equal and mutual relationship. For years, children were "seen and not heard". Even to this very day, persons under the age of eighteen are treated more like parental property than as human beings under the laws of the United States government. But our generation has the ability and the drive to change these circumstances, I just know we do. Now it can be about us, about what we want, about our desire to fly.

Ofra Haza has another song -- from the same album -- which I like very much. It is entitled "Wish Me Luck" and begins with Haza repeating the phrase "ba la gan" several times. In Hebrew, -- Haza's native language -- "ba la gan" means (in the most literal terms) "a very big mess". Usually, this phrase applies more to an emotional or circumstantial state of affairs than a physical one. In the case of this song, Haza asks -- in English -- a series of questions about her future: what will be tomorrow? who will open up my door? Then she says "ba la gan", as she recognizes that the future may indeed be chaotic. But she implores us to wish her luck. She knows that she may well need it.

I would like to leave all of you thinking about three key points. First, the simple fact that if you want to accomplish something -- anything -- you must work to see it happen. Even the best of intentions can't work wonders; people work the wonders and most of the time there's plenty of work that has to be completed before the "wonder" begins to show itself as something real.

Second, we, as queer youth, are only as strong as our collective ambitions are; we must be united. Not a single one of us can right the many wrongs in our world alone, so we depend on the fact that our peers will be as strong as possible and that we each will, in turn, be supportive of each other. Even when we disagree with another young gay person, we must respect them as a human being and also as another gay youth. We have plenty of enemies already without making new ones within our own ranks.

Third, remember that no matter the great progress that gay rights have made over that past few decades, we could slip and lose some of our advancements if we are not ever vigilant and watchful. Many gay men, lesbians, and gay-friendly straight men and women before us have sacrificed a great deal to bring us the climate of increased awareness and acceptance which we now enjoy. We have not only a desire to fly, but also a need to do so. We are at a threshold of sorts, at an open door which has not really even been an option for generations before us. We have opportunities that have never existed before. Sometimes this can be a little scary, and sometimes the idea of venturing out into the world and letting everyone see who were are can make us feel a little ashamed. Still, we want to fly. We have a right to fly, a right to grow and enjoy a peaceful and fulfilling life, to contribute to the lives of those around us in our world.


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