2019 Sep 29
My grandmother, whom I lovingly called “Grammy”, was a Baptist, mother of 2, member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a vicious bigot. I was raised to be submissive, but as I grew older I started to “handle” Grammy. When she refused to be waited on by a person of color, I secretly apologized and slipped them a generous tip. When she was fired for using racist language, I kept that a secret. When she reminded me to never trust Catholics, I rolled my eyes. I separated her from my Puerto Rican best friend. I hid my Jewish boyfriend. I apologized to strangers A LOT. It was embarrassing. I wished she were a better person.
But I “handled” it.
Until the day came when I told her I was gay and I was getting married. I thought she loved me enough. I was terribly naive.
To add to the repercussions of coming out as gay in 1994, Grammy’s hatred was now directed at me. Left without a choice, I found my voice. I fought the good fight and I mostly lost.
It’s okay, we all started winning eventually. But in 1994 I didn’t need to win. What I needed was for someone to publicly stand behind me; or better yet, to fight alongside me. But with my family I stood alone. And standing alone hurt more than losing.
That’s when I realized “handling” my grandmother all of those years protected no one except Grammy. Remaining silent was wrong. Quietly apologizing was wrong. Coddling her prejudice to avoid being uncomfortable was wrong. And I am ashamed that I did not understand that until she came for me. Grammy didn’t just need to be a better person. I needed to be a better person. This meant using my place of power and privilege to stand up and fight, especially when the injustice was not against me.
There are people who are voiceless. There are people desperate for allies. There are people who need us to show up and do the right thing. And even though I sometimes fail, my soul needs me to show up for them. I owe them a debt. I owe a debt to all of the people I’ve harmed by my silence. And it’s huge and never going to be repaid. But trying to pay it is how I can become that better person.