Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bonnie Raitt is a Sage / Things I Learned in College

The other day, I read a piece on ThoughtCatalog called “Some Honest Advice for College Students.” Being a college student myself, I thought I could use advice – who can’t? So I read.

What gripped me was this line:

On top of the actual education [college students are] getting from their teachers, they’re learning so much about themselves.

As far as advice goes, I will admit that this bit is not the most profound. And yet, it is. It’s one of those things that seems so obvious that you need it spelled out for you before you realize how much it pertains to your life.

It made me think: What am I learning in college? What am I learning about myself? And then I realized:

The most important thing I learned about in college was Bonnie Raitt.

Bonnie Raitt is a genius. Bonnie Raitt is a saint. Bonnie Raitt will tell you the God’s Honest Truth and break your heart doing it. Bonnie Raitt will tell you it’s “tough love” and demand that you get over it when she does break your heart; you won’t get over it, but you will be wiser because of it.

What I’m talking about, of course, is the 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” To be fair, Raitt did not actually write the song – that honor goes to Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. But goddamnit if that woman didn’t perform the hell out of it. She sang those words, made you think about them, and by the end, you were crying your ass off (I was).

I read that the song was inspired by a court case where a man got drunk and shot his girlfriend’s car. In the case, the judge asked the man what he learned, and he answered, “I learned, Your Honor, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.”

Isn’t that just the most honest thing you’ve ever heard? I suspect that at least part of what makes it so profoundly true is that it was a revelation inspired by alcohol (and alcohol, that cruel mistress, will certainly reveal some hard truth sometimes).

Learning that I can’t make people love me who don't is a lesson I struggle with daily. It’s something that hurts to realize, but that doesn’t make it any less true that I can do nothing about how others feel. What I can control is how I respond, although learning how to respond is an entirely different lesson for which I have yet to find a Bonnie Raitt song.

At the end of the day, what “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is about is acceptance. Trying to accept yourself. Trying to accept others. Trying to let go. College has made me accept a lot of things about myself: That I won’t always have the body I want, that I am more depressed and anxious than I care to admit, and that I can’t force people to care about me. This is a lesson that I’m still trying to perfect, but it’s one that I still cling to.

Tonight, I’m going to live Raitt’s words. I’m going to:

close my eyes, then I won't see
The love you don't feel when you're holding me
Morning will come and I'll do what's right
Just give me till then to give up this fight.

Tomorrow, I will come to terms with the fact that I can’t make people love me who don’t. And I will be ok.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Speaking Out

Tonight, Spectrum, my college's gay-straight alliance, hosted a panel to talk about the experience of gay students at Wofford. Five students, myself included, gave talks about their experiences to a packed room. Discussion about gay life at Wofford followed.

Wofford is extremely conservative, and gay life, if it can be called that, is minimal. Having the chance to speak on this issue was one of the more gratifying experiences of my time here, and I cannot express how proud I am to be a member of Spectrum and how proud I am of our members.

Here is the talk I gave:

I spent the summer of 2011 being verbally berated by the news. Each morning when I read the paper, I would read about another teen pushed to suicide for being gay. I read stories like this so much that I began to feel like nobody was doing anything to help. Anything people did do only hurt more; legislators in Tennessee banned the discussion of homosexuality in classes, while every other day it seemed like a Bachmann was calling homosexuals “barbarians” who needed to be “educated”. 
Despite being gay myself, stories like those I read never seemed to hit home, at least not until I met Michael. When I met Michael, my stomach did flips. Falling in love with him seemed easy and natural. I loved him for his sweet smile, the green color of his eyes, the way that I could see small silver hairs when the sunlight hit his head just so, the way he sounded just like Morrissey when he sang to me, and his kind words. Most of all, I loved how he made me feel so comfortable to be myself. I loved this boy so much and for so many reasons that I could not imagine why anyone wouldn’t feel the same. It hurt to think that Michael was simply another “barbarian” to people like Marcus Bachmann. It hurt to know that his family would never accept him for being gay, especially when I accepted him so easily. And it hurt most of all to know that if society had its way, then being gay meant that Michael, this person I loved so much, would never be safe from threats of depression and violence. 
I became determined to make things better for Michael and other gay youth like him. I was convinced that I could help by being more vocal in my support of LGBT people and coming out. But when I told my mother I was gay and all of the hope I had for making the world a safer place for gay people like Michael and myself, she sat in stunned silence. When she finally did speak, she assured me that she loved me, but she told me she couldn’t accept that part of me. That hurt. But what she said next hurt most of all: “You know,” she told me, “the world will never be safe for you. There will never be an end to homophobia. Why fight against that?” 
I was so shocked to hear her tell me that, to believe that the world will continue to be a danger for LGBT people. I cannot let my mother’s words be true, if only because so many small acts of kindness already show signs that the fight against homophobia is one that will be won. 
Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Campaign is a great example. Through the small act of posting reassuring videos on YouTube, people throughout America have offered support to each other. The gay teenager in Minnesota, instead of feeling isolated and ostracized, now has the opportunity to find a community that accepts and supports him. He is able to leave a world where he is the only gay man and enter a community where there are many people like him. These videos serve as proof to this teenager that his life won’t always be dreary and lonely but that, literally, his life can and will get better. Nobody will be able to tell this teenager, who now sees how life can get better, that homophobia isn’t declining, that the fight isn’t working, or that it is a fight that doesn’t matter. 
Even smaller actions make a difference. I remember one day in my tenth grade English class when a student made a homophobic slur. My teacher, Mr. Barnet, stopped class and corrected the student. He told him that his words hurt and that they were a threat to his peers, who may have been gay. Mr. Barnet’s words, while small, mattered, and they continue to matter to me. It was the first moment I saw an adult support gay rights. It was the first time I saw a straight, professional person support gay rights. This small act continues to be a sign that not everyone in the world is content to let homophobia continue. It inspires me to stand up for myself and others. Nobody can tell me that his words don’t make a difference. 
I cannot be comfortable in a world that continues to issue frequent reports on homophobic violence and gay teen suicides. I am convinced that something must be done about this issue, and I remain resolute in my belief that even the smallest act, like lending your voice to the cause, can and does make a difference. At Wofford – a place where the words “fag” or “gay” are not only considered insults but are used as such frequently, a place where students snigger when homosexuality is discussed, a place where gay students feel uncomfortable holding hands or even just being out – there are so many opportunities for to practice the small kindnesses that can make big differences to LGBT students and help to foster a more open, loving community. 
When describing their mutual experience being gay, F.O. Matthiessen wrote to his partner Russell Cheney, “We stand in the middle of an uncharted, uninhabited country. That there have been other unions like ours is obvious, but we are unable to draw on their experience. We must create everything for ourselves. And creation is never easy.” Matthiessen is correct when he notes that creating a world accepting of homosexuality is “never easy,” but it is my hope that at Wofford, we can create such a place.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things that Make Me Happy: Feist on Sesame Street

There's something about this video that I just love. And it's not this comment:

Anyway, I promise to actually post something original soon. Enjoy Feist!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Goodbye - Steve Earle


I thought I understood it
That I could grasp it
But I didn't
Not really.
I knew the smudgeness of it
The pink-slippered-all-containered-semi-precious eagerness of it
I didn't realize it would sometimes be more than whole
The wholeness was a rather luxurious idea
Because its the halves that halve you in half
Didn't know
Don't know
About the in between bits
The gory bits of you
And gory bits of me.

This is a poem from Like Crazy that I absolutely love and wanted to share. 

True or False - John Ciardi

Real emeralds are worth more than synthetics
but the only way to tell one from the other
is to heat them to a stated temperature,
then tap. When it's done properly
the real one shatters.

                  I have no emeralds.
I was told this about them by a woman
who said someone had told her. True or false,
I have held my own palmful of bright breakage
from a truth too late. I know the principle

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Directions

The thing about research is that it never ends...or at least it seems that way. My research on gay British writers from the height of the empire is far from over; in fact, I'll be presenting some of my work from this project at a conference at the end of the month. 

At the same time, my work on this project is in a bit of a lull, and there are new projects I'm starting. One of these projects is for my religion class that I'm taking this semester, Gender and Conservative Religion. For my project, I'm researching how gay Orthodox Jews attempt to reconcile their sexuality with their faith. I think I'm going to use this blog to catalogue some of the work I do for this project as well, and I wanted this post to kick of that work with this video I just found of testimony from gay Orthodox men. Enjoy!