Essays

Breaking the silence

Last night I went to see the film Moonlight with a friend. We came in just as the movie started and we were surprised that the room was almost completely packed, shoulder up against shoulder, and a level of attention on the screen so great it was palpable.

We ended up sitting in the first row, noses practically pressed up against the widescreen, and that provided an all-encompassing sense of a reckoning.

From that moment on, I was in stunned silence. Deep, deep inside of me, at too many scenes, I nodded, saying and feeling in my head: “Yep. I’ve been there. I get it. Oh, yea, that is exactly how that feels. I see that. I know that.”

I don’t think I’m spoiling this for anyone, and if I am, I apologize, but you will quickly understand that this movie is driven by silence. I once said to someone that they thought presence was presence, but I knew that absence was more than. You could say the same about noise: you think noise is more real, but it is silence that is telling.

In fact, it is silence that says most of all.

For that is the thing about being different and coming to that recognition, possibly, and far too often, when you are not ready for it and you do not have the right words for it. You become silent. You become silent because why speak when you don’t think anyone will listen? Why speak if you can’t even understand it? Why speak if you cannot make sense, form an idea, or be sure of what it will do to (and by ‘do to’ I mean ‘make worse of’ you believe) your life?

Coming to the understanding, or at the least beginning of it, that you are gay is a seismic incident on your entire world. The easiest thing to do in the face of that is to be silent. I should know — it happened to me.

Now, some people really do become completely silent, but most? No. It is not that simple. You stop speaking, but you start talking.

Talk is cheap, right? We have all heard that saying. Talking is the easiest thing in the world. You use words, you joke, you flirt, you charm, and you become a cynic. You get opinionated, or become passive, or you double-down on things and you maximize. Or you then minimize, often people, for this is transference, of course, and you are really minimizing yourself all in an effort to self-protect, to hide from, to play pretend that certain, irrevocable and incontrovertible truths simply do not exist.

You start talking, but you stop speaking, because speaking is about true things, and talking is about nothing.

I do not say this from a distance and most certainly not from a pedestal. I say this standing in front of a mirror. I say this because last night I saw myself and I could not look away.

I was 14 when realized that I was gay and I became silent. Over those years, I became a championship talker. I still am because it is still easy. It is easy to work ridiculous hours, it is easy to have a never-ending parade of hobbies, to have conversations with anybody about anything, to make quips and drop clever remarks. All of this is just like breathing because when you do something long enough, it is just a habit.

However, know this: life is too short and worth far too much to waste on idle chatter. If you are ready to speak and don’t think anyone will listen, try anyway. If you are speaking and no one is actually listening, find better people and make better friends, because you deserve to live a better life.

A long time ago, I stopped speaking, but what lay underneath never went away. It cannot and it will not, for it is impossible to kill your own truth. So, I asked myself, and I continue to ask myself, repeatedly: What is a good life? What is it all worth?

Talk is cheap and is worth nothing. I would rather break the silence.

Originally posted on Medium, 3 December 2016.

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