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You Don't Have to Be Gay to Say: Thank You, Ellen Page

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This morning Emma showed me the YouTube of Ellen Page's speech in front of the LGBT youth conference where she spoke for some minutes before mentioning her own sexuality, her being gay -- and her own suffering from Hollywood stereotypes. Emma had cofounded the first LGBT organization in Port Washington, N.Y., and I remember well the harassment she got and even the disbelief that she faced when asked why someone not gay would "do such a thing." She had wanted to start a group dedicated to having a safe place for people to explore their identities in which people could also explore -- not indulge per se -- their prejudices.

The speech, Ellen Pages's that is, was not merely a dramatic breakthrough confession of any one thing, but a testimony to the complexity of our humanity, to how much it can hurt to be singled out as a source of bullying and isolation. What's more, and the thing I would like to thank her for in particular, is the broadness of her addressing the issue of how we treat each other in general. More specifically, when she said it's not that hard to be kinder to one another she paused quickly to add that it isn't always so easy because without love for ourselves it is hard to share the love and empathy which are part of kindness, curiosity and tolerance.

Ecco, right here, I'd like to stop and add. I'd just like to emphasize this part that is too often missing from our yearnings, our singing for peace and love. It feels so wonderful to be effusively wound up in groups filled with the urgency of freedom and caring, and I say nothing bad about that. We need the urgency, the belonging in circles, in saluting and recognizing the enslavement that so many women are condemned to across the world, that those gay brothers and sisters and children experience across the world and at home, that people experience and have done so because of racial and ethnic affiliation only, and so much more. But after the marches are over or before they begin, there are those of us who want to do our part to change, and my suggestion involves two things. Not as in two simple steps to save anyone or anything, but two broad stroke concepts that could be crucially important.

One is looking more deeply at Ellen Page's tribute to self-love and self-dignity and respect, getting to respect from the inside out. When a person gets home to a mirror of self-loathing for being imperfect and less than in a host of ways, there is really no possibility of giving of empathy from a cup fuller than not. It is hard to interrupt the person who ate or drank too much, who spilled a cup of coffee for the second time in a day (it seems so silly in writing, yah?) or for having internally experienced a thought or sentiment that might in fact be filled with prejudice. If we can't experience our imperfections, we can't grow from them, we can't metabolize our prejudices by knowing we all have them and that we can try to discover from whence they come instead of negating their existence so they can rise up within us or demonize someone else when we aren't noticing.

The second in a way starts at home in a way, and is also something hard for many of us. We tend often to feel it isn't right to interfere in the "affairs" of others, meaning in the daily life choices. Parenting, drug use, low-level abuse we suspect, can be among the no-no's of our cultural heritage or our fear. And that fear is not only of overstepping but being the recipient of anger or even losing a friendship. As a woman I am aware of some situations in which someone I knew of had been living in situations that border on domestic violence, though it's happened in a friendship with a man as well. How easy is it to ask, to say the tenor of a conversation sounded scary, to inquire? Not that easy. Also because those of us who are alive to moods and changes have also hit our own kind of bottom and sometimes those moods become abusive. Another reason this is hard is because I know parents of kids with special needs or with temperaments that require a level of attunement and sensitivity that can seem strange to others in the opposite of caution, where outsiders have no curiosity and respect for the other's circumstances, for walking in another's shoes so to speak.

Ultimately this is about getting to know our own vulnerabilities better so we are not in such a rush to judgment, so we get to that place in every movie, every novel, every story where we can begin to fathom how each person gets to where he or she gets to. To care -- about other people and about other things -- such as the global warming behind all the winter storm freezing disasters -- means to get outside ourselves and our self-absorbing details and difficulties, at least some of the time. But it is difficult to do so when our base line temperature is already cold on the inside.

Diversity is hard, and it's also something we can find internally, in terms of the different parts, experiences, aspects, opinions of ourselves. If we feel that part of the program we can advocate is a getting to know ourselves which can include the practice of conversation, of flexibility, and of risk when it is necessary to save ourselves or another, we can start doing the homework.

Today, just today I'm seeing Ellen Page as the teacher, and the rest of us as getting ready for the work. She is young, but so very often that is where we will get our wisdom from.