"Sometimes I sing
like my life is at stake,
'cause you're only as loud
as the noises you make.
Silence is violence
for women and poor people
if more people were screaming
then I could relax,
but a good brain ain't diddley
if you don't have the facts."
- ani difranco
Look, some of you may have heard about this thing called the National Day of Silence. It was cooked up by some students at the University of Virginia as a way to show support for gay rights. The idea is that students at colleges and high schools across the United States should take a vow of silence on that day (April 8th) in recognition of the silence in which gays and lesbians have historically had to live their lives. The originators, B-GLAD, have received numerous awards and loads of recognition for their idea.
HOWEVER. I think that it is a spectacularly bad idea. No one should do this.
Yes, I'm angry. No, I'm not going to be funny this month. Bear with me.
First, I think that the Day of Silence is self-censorship. It's a way of doing to ourselves exactly what the straight majority wants to do TO us, and we're deluding ourselves into thinking that it's going to help our cause. I refuse to silence myself for any reason. I think silence is the voice of complicity, and to censor my own speech would be to give the homophobes exactly what they want. While I have the ability to speak, I'm going to take it. Hell, I'm going to shout and yell and sing and protest if I want to. Now that I can finally speak about my boyfriend to co-workers, now that I go to Gay Pride rallies in the Deep South, why should I shackle my speech like this? Instead, we should celebrate the freedom that we have, and USE that freedom to gain further ground.
Second, it's self-pitying. A Day of Silence is wallowing in a past which no longer exists. Yes, it can be difficult to come out. Many of the people who read this web-zine know how hard it is, especially if you're still in high school. But the fact is: it is possible. I personally know a half-dozen high school students who are out of the closet, and by and large, gay people can speak freely. A Day of Silence only replicates the historical closet -- it doesn't challenge it. It's like saying that we should have segregated water fountains on Martin Luther King Day -- it's ludicrous. Oppression exists, but we don't need to stagnate under it.
Third, it casts gay people as victims. I will grant that we have been victimized, beaten, extorted, and tossed into concentrations camps. Still, we aren't going to get anywhere with the straight world by complaining about how oppressed we are and asking them to set it right. We have to take any rights which we are going to have. Straight white males are defensive enough already without us complaining about how we've been kept down. They aren't going to give us anything if we whine about past injustice -- and refusing to speak for a day is a pathetic kind of passive-aggression. We should simply assume the rights which we deserve, not dwell on what we are owed. Acknowledging the heterosexist past only legitimates the power it held over us. It is time to move on, people!
Lastly, it's been done. Gay people are the most creative, outspoken, and artistic people in the world. Other people follow the trends that we set -- we started the Quilt, now there's the Clothesline Project. We started the AIDS Ribbons, and now there are ribbons for every cause that exists. But the National Day of Silence just follows in the footsteps of Students Against Drunk Driving, with their campaign of people "dying" during school to show the number of deaths from drunk driving. Come up with something new, damn it!
The supporters of Shut-your-mouth Day argue silence can speak louder than words, and that by silencing our normally bright, happy (gay) voices, we forcibly draw attention to the much larger historical silence. This, straight people will recognize that we have a legitimate gripe.
No, they won't. The homophobes will just taunt anyone who's being silent for the day. The more reasonable straights will wonder why we're bothering when we already have the freedom to speak about our lives, and the really open-minded will recognize that the closet was a really Bad Thing. We're just preaching to the choir. The National Day of Silence isn't going to change anyone's mind about gay people, and it's not going to advance our chances of getting marriage rights in Hawaii. All it's going to be is a bunch of gay people with their mouths closed, holding a pity party for the past.
Please folks, if you're asked to participate in this thing, don't. Scuttle plans for it at your school. Instead, wear your freedom rings. Come out to somebody. Live out and loud. It's the only way anything's going to change.
That's all for this month, kids. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org Flames will be gleefully mocked.
In Defense of Silence: The founder of the National Day of Silence responds to Bill's criticisms.
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