When I was in 8th grade my middle school choir class went on a trip to New York City to perform in various competitions. My best friend (at the time) and I, were luckily both in choir and super pumped to explore the big city together. To no surprise of mine, my mom, in typical fashion, volunteered to be one of the chaperones for the weekend. A task she would often take, because being Iranian means your parents helicopter your every move.
At this point, you may be wondering where I am going with this story. Seems pretty innocent, right? Let’s set the stage. It’s 8th grade. A girl (me) and her best friend (unnamed) go on a choir field trip while one of their mom’s (mine) chaperones a group of 20 pre-teens. Well, no trick here, it was innocent. That was until my mom scoffed at the idea of me being lesbian. Then things got a little weird.
I can’t remember exactly where we were or how it happened, but when you’re 13 years old and living the life in the Big Apple, you feel unstoppable. You’re excited to be out of your hometown and missing a few days of school. All of your friends are together, and you feel as if life couldn’t get any better. At some point (as many young girls do), my friend and I were holding hands and walking with our group of peers, my mom acting as guard at the rear end of the pack. That was when she pulled me back and whispered to me, “Don’t hold hands like that. People will think you’re lesbian.” To say I was mortified would be an understatement. Not because I even understood what being lesbian even meant at that age, but because I felt I had done something wrong. I felt like I was being reprimanded, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what I had done to warrant such a comment. What I did know, even at such as young age, was that something didn’t feel right. Something in my gut told me what she said to me wasn’t appropriate, but I couldn’t justify exactly why.
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized the implications of that moment.
Years and years have gone by, and I still remember the exchange vividly. Worse, I remember many others similar to that. Instances where others close to me have made comments about the LGBTQ community, often leading with a negative connotation. Comments such as, “I heard there is something in the water that is making people gay.” Absurdities like, “I don’t want you hanging out with him, he’s gay and gays are promiscuous.” Exchanges of looks eyeing a gay couple up and down in disgust and turning the head quick enough to look away, but not so quickly that the couple didn’t feel the utter disapproval that was unjustifiably put on them. For this and many other moments in my life, I am ashamed. I am heartbroken. I am thoroughly crushed and embarrassed to be surrounded by such hatred, bigotry, and ridicule, but the saddest part of it all? I know I am not alone.
When I look back on that moment in 8th grade and many others throughout my lifetime, what amazes me the most is the fact that I come from a culture that shuns the gay community. From a religion that tolerates the privilege to be gay, but pleads that you do not act on it. Most viscerally, I am stunned that I come from an upbringing which made me believe that holding a friends hand at 13 years old, was unacceptable and God forbid, “lesbian-like”.
Now I know this may be coming off as an attack on my culture, my religion, my family, or more specifically my mom, but let me be the first to say that I adore my mother. She is my best friend and the kindest, most generous, and supportive woman I know. I do not believe her intentions were maleficent or coming from a place of hate, but rather concern for her child. You also have to keep in mind that times have changed drastically, and people have become less oblivious and more educated, and this alone has begun to pave the road for the LGBTQ community. That being said, however, I often wonder, what if I were lesbian. What if I was holding my friends hand because I had feelings for her and her for me? How would that comment from my mother, whom I adore and value, have changed the trajectory of my life? I hold that moment with me still, almost 15 years later, and I am not gay. So how may that have affected me had I understood the implications? Or had the implications been an accurate jab at who I may have been on the inside—a lesbian.
We’ve seen what society has done to these individuals, whom, like you and I, are simply human. Like you and I, have love in their hearts. Like you and I, yearn to share that love with another; but unlike you and I, cannot do so freely. I have seen it in my peers who come from devout Muslim families and have been abandoned for it. I have seen it proclaimed in my own community, that just because of the fear of being true to character, devastating trouble has come from it and caused total robbery of their youth. I have seen it in my friends who have taken their lives, because of the pain, embarrassment, and isolation they felt from the very people who gave them life. You know it, and I know it– the stories are endless and the ignorance abundant.
So what can we do to make it stop? How can we provide our support and open our hearts to all of humanity and everything it has to offer–gay, straight, bisexual, or otherwise?
We must lead with love, first, and always. We must hold the hands of our brothers and sisters and guide them to their given right to be free. We must remember that a soul is a soul and God, or the great above, or the universe, or science, or whatever it is that you believe in, does not discriminate against its own creations. We must remember that being gay is not a “choice”. Feeling like you were born into the wrong body is not a “choice”. Going out into the world every day and being afraid to speak your truth, is not something one “chooses” to be a part of. And who are any of us to decide what is and is not valuable or worthy of simply being?
Many of us lead with blind faith, which we all know of as a belief system. “I was told, and therefore I believe.” Coming from someone who believes in her faith, I am here to tell you, you must ask questions. You must be curious. Trust, but verify. Do not take things for face value just because you “believe”. We are far to resourceful, far to intelligent not to want more. Trust, but verify. I took some time to include a few quotations from various different belief systems in regards to love and compassion. What you will find here, is that we are ALL essentially saying the same thing. Here are a few words from various walks of life that I found.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – Corinthians 13:4-8, Christianity
“Love never claims, it ever gives.” – Gandhi
“O FRIEND! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold. Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly.” – The Hidden Words, The Bahá’í Faith
“He who love touches walks not in darkness.” – Plato
Love among human beings. One of the core commandments of Judaism is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – The Torah, Leviticus 19:18, Judaism
“One is not called noble who harms living beings. By not harming living beings one is called noble.” – The Buddha
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
So you see, we’re all saying the same thing. Love is love, is love, is love. So let it be. Empower those around you to fight for what their basic rights as members of the human race. Stand up for those souls who did not have the courage to stand up for themselves. Communicate compassionately with those who do not yet understand and provide them with the information they need, in a way they will receive it, to assist in their journey toward loving all of mankind for who they are, as they are. Our world is changing ever so swiftly and mostly in the right direction. Do not be silenced by the overarching shadows of those who wish to bring others down. Do not let your naiveté convince you that your voice does not matter. There is power in good intention and with enough strength and purpose, your cause will be heard. Don’t just watch history be made around you. Be a part of the movement. Open up the hearts of others and lend a listening ear in need. Change the world. STAND IN SOLIDARITY.
With all my love, May
**For more in depth conversations on this post and many more, tune in to ‘Ever Forward Radio’ on Apple Podcasts and Spotify (or your favorite Podcast player) every third Wednesday of the month!