The Day of Silence and Self Acceptance
By: Malinda Lo
April 15 is the National Day of Silence, a day of action sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that seeks to bring attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. It began in 1996 at the University of Virginia, and has since motivated hundreds of thousands of students to show their support for safe schools and their LGBT peers.
I have never participated in a Day of Silence, because when I was a teen, it didn't exist. We had a different event: National Coming Out Day, which began in 1987 and still takes place every year on October 11. I think the Day of Silence has since eclipsed National Coming Out Day as a gay rights event, though, at least for teens. Maybe that's because Day of Silence can involve more people — you don't have to be queer to participate — and also because in many ways, being silent (even in an activist way) is easier than coming out.
I'm not saying that one event is better than the other, but in many ways they're two sides of a coin. LGBT teens who have been silenced due to anti-LGBT bullying simply can't be part of National Coming Out Day. I really hope that the Day of Silence shows queer teens how many supporters and allies they have around them. I hope that the Day of Silence gives them the courage to break that silence and come out.
That can be the scariest thing in the world: opening your mouth to say the words "I'm gay." For years, I simply avoided saying them.
Even the thought of saying them made me break into nervous sweat. Sometimes I'd feel this kind of tingle rippling through my body, sort of like the beginning of a fever. It would feel as if my entire skin was turning red, as if a giant flashing sign was pointing down at me, declaring: SHE'S A LESBIAN! SHE'S A LESBIAN!
The truth is, nobody was as freaked out about it as me. I had to deal with a lot of internalized homophobia, as do most people who grow up in our society. Things are a lot better these days, but I'm sure that many folks on the verge of coming out still get nervous sweats just thinking about making a statement about their sexual orientation.
This is probably why my novels Ash and Huntress don't really have much to do with coming out. Because I want to live in a world like the one in my books: Where nobody has to come out because nobody's sexual orientation is assumed, and it's perfectly fine to fall in love with someone of the same sex.
They are fantasy novels for a reason. In the real world, things just aren't that simple yet. That's why events like the Day of Silence exist — to bring us closer to a day when nobody has to be silent about who they are.
Eventually, I got over my fear of saying "I'm gay." In fact, I've said it so many times now that I rarely ever feel self-conscious about it anymore. Now that those words have lost their power to shame me, I can feel how powerful they are in a different way. By saying "I'm gay," I give myself the freedom to be the person I am.
Malinda Lo is the author of Ash, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, and Huntress, a companion novel to Ash that was just released this month. Visit her website at www.malindalo.com.