Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Only if you say something nice.

When I was 14, everyone in my 8th grade health class had to say something nice about me.

Being 14 years old is a great way to have little self-esteem and little self-worth. To help distract from bullying, middle school clique-warfare, and everything in between, my health teacher, Ms. Weldon, made the class participate in a self-esteem building activity.

Ms. Weldon gave every student a piece of paper. She instructed us to write our full name on it, and to pass our piece of paper to the person on our right. Then we had to write one good thing, something nice and anonymous, about the student whose paper was in front of us. We passed the papers around the room until each paper was back with its original owner.

Each student ended up with a piece of paper with 30 handwritten compliments scribbled on it.

After the activity was completed, there was this energy in the room. Everyone was eager to read what had been written about them – it’s not everyday you get to read 30 compliments about yourself all at once.

On my paper, people had written things like: “You do your hair just perfect!”; “You’re so nice to everyone!”; “You’re smart!”; “I love playing basketball with you!”; “You’re beautiful!” One person even said, “Thank you for always helping me with my math and being patient.”

I felt good about myself.

We all felt good about ourselves.

What a magical feeling. It was a room filled with 14 year olds who all felt appreciated, valued, and noticed. It’s hard to replicate that kind of positive energy. A group of people had just told me, “Brook Ellen, you’re all right.”

It’s a rare feeling, when you think about it. Maybe you feel this way – valued, appreciated – after you get a raise or bonus. Maybe you feel this way when you get a new job. Maybe you feel this way when your kid creates a finger painting masterpiece of the whole family. Maybe you have recently called an old friend and realized what you mean to them, and vice versa. Maybe someone sends you a text that reads, “Thinking about you.”

These feelings of human value don’t happen everyday. If they did, they wouldn’t be so special.

But this past week, I have been transported back to Ms. Weldon’s class, and I feel the same way I felt after reading those 30 compliments for the first time.

Last week, the Washington state Senate passed legislation to legalize gay marriage. Today, the same legislation passed the House in a 55 to 43 vote.

I feel like I just got 55 compliments, all at once.

After the legislation passed the Senate last week, Emily (my partner) and I kissed in the street. Twice. In the same day. Like, big kisses. Maybe this is the sort of thing my family, and maybe even Emily’s family, wishes I wouldn’t talk about on my blog. Maybe it’s too much information, or is something people don’t want to think about. Knowing we’re gay is one thing, seeing it is another, right?

On my Facebook newsfeed, today, February 8th, 2012, someone posted a picture of a car. The car has a license plate that reads: “BUTCH”. Several people have commented on this picture, and one comment in particular reads:

“OMG Are you kidding me why would someone put that out there like that I don't have a Problem with People and the Sexuality its there Prerogative but that is just wrong...”

I promise I did not make this up. I am astounded that I saw that comment today, of all days, as I’m writing this post. It makes my point perfectly: People are fine knowing gay people exist – they aren’t ok with seeing them. For some, it's "just wrong" to "put that out there like that." As a lesbian I am supposed to hide and keep any and all rainbow stickers off my car, too. (And I love the lack of punctuation, disrespect for grammar, and random capitalization.)

I’m not a huge fan of overwhelming PDA (public display of affection). People who are making out, and grabbing each other’s asses, are just too much for me, gay or straight.

Emily and I keep it pretty mild in the public affection department. We’ll put our arms around each other. Engage in *occasional* handholding. And if we’re in a booth together at our favorite pub, we have no problem touching each other’s arms and sharing small gestures of affection.

But kissing, on the street, where people can see, makes me nervous. I’m not too scared to do it, but I am still worried that something might happen – dirty looks, people screaming “fag!” as they drive by, or being physically assaulted (I’m quite the paranoid person, actually). Maybe my insecurity stems from my Southern roots, where it’s best to keep things secret and swept under the rug where they belong. Kissing your same-sex partner in public isn’t exactly conducive of that.

Not today, World, not today. Because today, 55 people said, “Brook Ellen, you’re all right.”

Today the Washington state government told me I am valued. I am noticed. I don’t have to be ashamed. I don’t have to be nervous.

I can be proud.

I’m proud of my healthy, fulfilling, loving relationship. Emily is my best friend, my home, my everything. There will still be people out there who wish to do the LGBT community harm, and wish to strip away our rights. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not na├»ve.

I am quiet on my blog about being a lesbian. I also keep quiet about my religious and political views. I don’t know what I’m so afraid of – being honest, perhaps? Not being “liked” by everyone? That sounds like a psychological dissection that I don’t quite have the energy for right now.

What happened in the Washington state House today is nothing short of remarkable. I never knew that the choices made by 55 people had the potential to open a door to a realm of honesty and openness that I didn’t realize existed within me. I am truly grateful, and profoundly touched. This vote has given me the courage to display my affection and commitment more freely.

There will always be those who oppose and will criticize, but I will no longer let the judgments of others condemn my devotion to the one I love.

Now, on to the Governor!


  1. I love you, Brook. And I'm so proud of our state for finally doing what is right and was too long in coming. And I'm a big sap and I thought 'YES!' to you kissing in the street. I'm of the opinion that the world needs more loving, happy people kissing in the street.

  2. I agree with you, Joey, on every point. The struggle toward equality marches on. You make me very proud. I love you, Ellen.

  3. Hey Brook! I live in the Gig Harbor area and I just read your piece in the Advocate and I have to say that I feel the same way! I was there with my 2 month old daughter, in fact she and I have been there for every debate and every vote. I looked at her and felt like she was going to get to grow up with the feeling that others think her family is "all right". How wonderful for her!