I received an email from a disgruntled reader after my last column that hasn’t stopped pinballing around my brain. The reader is at her wits’ end having my sexuality “thrown down the global population’s throat” and suggested I just go be proud ... to myself.
At first, I shrugged it off (admittedly, her telling me to “right [sic] about real injustices” didn’t win her a ton of credibility). But her sentiment lingered despite my best efforts to let it roll like water off a duck’s back.
Why do I keep sharing my life experiences — from the mundane to the more intimate — if the result is so repulsive? I’m certainly not using precious time to purposefully annoy people who are uncomfortable remembering that queer people exist.
If this letter from a person I’ve never heard from bothered me, then I wondered what it must be like to have powerful critiques delivered publicly by, say, the president of the United States. I was thinking about those endured by the congressional lady “squad” made up of Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. These courageous women of color are proudly rocking their youth and their cultures along with their political prowess — and much to our racist president’s chagrin.
Beyond just being asked to be less visible, they’re being asked to leave our (and I mean theirs too) country and having their lives threatened sometimes daily.
But if anything, these powerhouses seem emboldened by the prejudice, and more resolved in their efforts to not just be productive members of Congress, but public, poised and different-looking lawmakers.
And the different-looking part really matters.
I grew up seeing so few reflections of my own identity that I didn’t even realize what or who I was. The erasure of LGBTQ people in public life was — and I know this sounds dramatic, but — nearly fatal for me.
Humans are, in our most basic ways, pack animals. Feeling like we fit in matters on an emotional level. And, because we’re more evolved than wolves, fitting in translates also to access, equality and opportunity.
Alternatively, being different can result in injustices that range from minimal (exclusion in private life) to monumental (legalized discrimination all the way to rationalized murder).
We see this in our country’s history of systemic racism, in eras-long mistreatment of Jews, our lack of love for women’s contributions to society, our indifference for or slowness in better accommodating people with disabilities, etc.
Being visible and having a voice as people who differ from traditional norms, even in what we lovingly refer to as our melting pot nation, isn’t just a matter of comfort or arrogance, it’s a matter of survival.
Here in Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people ages 10-17, and we know that LGBTQ youth are oftentimes already at significantly greater risk. Many things contribute to that painful reality, but it’s my hope that not seeing versions of themselves in public roles isn’t among them.
So, next time a reader has me questioning why I spill my gay guts here for all to see, I’ll try to remember the power in this vulnerability (I love you, Brene Brown; your TED talk about this gave me life) and charge on.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.