The courageous act of abandoning labels
I have a hard time writing these columns. Before taking this job I had avoided opinion writing at all cost. I tend to believe that the world is over saturated with opinions, many of them ill-informed and detrimental to larger more constructive conversation.
But I still remember the one and only column I wrote for publication prior to my position with The Telegram. I was a desk editor at the college newspaper in Cincinnati in April 2014. We were putting out our Pride Week Special Edition — a publication celebrating the week of LGBTQ pride events around campus.
It was about one year after Will Portman, son of Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman, publicly came out as gay, which led Sen. Portman to publicly change his stance on gay marriage. Shortly after that, my youngest brother Daniel also came out as gay — the Portman situation had nothing to do with his decision.
Unlike Will, Daniel did not come out in an op-ed in the Yale Daily News. And unlike Emily Bruell, the Roaring Fork High School valedictorian, Daniel did not come out in a graduation speech encouraging us to move beyond labels and stereotypes.
In fact, he only told our mother after she had pressed him on it, or as Daniel said, after “she poked the bear.” I wrote in that first column that our family did not think twice about it — the revelation did not come as a surprise to most of us. He was still Daniel: kid brother; son; friend; soon-to-be college student; etc. His sexual orientation was just one piece, an important one, of his larger identity. That was easy for all of us to understand because we knew Daniel. Often it is when we don’t know people that we get hung-up on one identifying quality — which I, like many, am guilty of.
As Bruell noted in her speech, it is human nature to try and define those around us we do not know. In doing so, we fail to learn the complete story, and an incomplete story is no story at all.
While her message was largely interpreted as a plea for acceptance, it struck me as a call for courage. To truly move beyond labels we cannot be afraid to know and learn about one another. To get the complete story we must be courageous, much like Bruell. With her speech, originally reported by the Post Independent, drawing so much attention, I called Daniel to get his thoughts — not because he is my go-to source for anything involving the word gay, but because he had such a different experience in approaching a topic that a shrinking sect of the population would rather see left in the dark.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I think telling your family is hard enough, let alone telling a bunch of strangers. I couldn’t even imagine doing it.”
At the time, Daniel was afraid how Dad would handle the news that his youngest son is gay. Fortunately his fear was for nothing, as Dad, like the rest of us, did not let Daniel’s sexual orientation dictate our perception of his personal narrative.
When asked by the Post Independent about the attention her speech received, Bruell looked to the bigger picture.
“I think it’s getting out and it’s making people think, so I’m OK with the rest,” she told the PI. “I hope it got to someone who needed that message.”
Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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