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Speak Up!

Monday Morning Warm-Up:

Write about an experience you had when you spoke up, even though you were afraid (and I know it was stupid of me to be afraid, but I've always hated conflict—though obviously I'm getting better at that, I think). Or, think about the main character in your work-in-progress and write about him or her doing something brave.

You know what? Last night I was just thinking that I was in the mood for a Monday Morning Warm-up!

I couldn’t figure J out.

In some ways, he acted like such a country bumpkin … but he had lived in Chicago for several years, which is not exactly the boonies.

Shortly after I started working at BCM, we did the Lunch Room Chat thing, where you exchange tidbits of history. When I told him I had lived in Los Angeles for eighteen years, he said, “Oh! I don’t think I could live in L.A.”

“Really?” I said. “It’s just like any other big city, except hotter. And more smog. And more actors. Beautiful people wanting to be discovered.”

“Hmm,” he said. “It seems like such a promiscuous place.”

I goggled.

You know, you’re right, I felt like saying. I’m glad I moved to Portland so I could give up table-dancing and sleeping with strange men.

I chuckled. “Well, maybe it seems that way based on what you see on TV,” I said. “But it’s full of regular people, too.”

So I wasn’t especially surprised when J made a homophobic remark one day in my hearing. He just seemed like that kind of guy.

It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the exact remark. In fact, the comment I kind of remember is so sickening that I won’t repeat it.

I was shocked, but he said it with a such a smile that I couldn’t respond. Surely that was a joke. J was a church-going guy with three young kids. Surely he wasn’t serious … what if one of his kids ended up gay?

At the time, I did not answer, except to look at him in puzzlement.

But I spent the next hour stewing and simmering. I was new at BCM, still getting to know people. I hadn’t planned on making a stand so early. But I didn’t want this guy to think I agreed with him, or that he could feel free to utter ugly ignorant remarks in my presence.

Shaking, I approached him.

“Um, J? I just wanted to tell you that I was offended by what you said earlier.”

J looked instantly concerned. At heart he was a nice guy and wouldn’t intentionally offend someone. He didn’t know what I meant.

I repeated his earlier remark back to him, then added, “I have friends and relatives who are gay,” I said, my knees wobbling. “And they’re people just like anyone else.”

He apologized.

It’s hard to speak up.

In fact, a lot of people probably don’t do it, because it feels shaky and naked to confront someone.

But if you feel shaky and naked, it probably means it’s even more important that you do it, because the original remark is so ignorant you’re scared to acknowledge there are people who feel that way.

A few years later I met J's sister.

Clearly GAY.

Maybe she hadn't come out to him yet. But I think he figured it out around that time.

After I'd worked at BCM for awhile, I didn't feel nervous about confronting the co-worker who accused some vendors of being “too Jewish” for not sending us treats at the holidays.

The company had grown by that time, too. I was the third person to approach him with the news that I was offended. :-)


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May. 21st, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm so glad you did what you did. See? Hearing these stories really makes me feel like next time I'll be able to say more.

May. 21st, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC)
It can be so hard to speak up, and you did it, and did it well. And possibly your speaking up to J made him more careful, and maybe it made it easier for him when his sister turned out to be a lesbian. And that is all good.
May. 22nd, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)

This is so brave. I am terrible at speaking up like that . . . usually I just retreat into my cave, & despise these people from a distance.

I can remember bringing up (w/family members) that a friend had recently come out. They were horrified & trotted out the "abomination" Bible verse--and they genuinely believed it. Ugh. At times like that, it's like, I don't even know how to talk to them, let alone offer a kindly verbal smackdown. I just kind of quietly stare like, "are you aliens? Am I? How did this happen?"
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