Every summer my family drives up to the small town in Vermont where my mom grew up to visit her side of the family. The summer going into 8th grade, I had already made the assumption that this trip was going to be awkward, based on years of previous experience. I have an awesome family, but when it comes to my mom’s side it can be hard to coincide with them. The two main reasons behind this would be, number one, the lack of children, and two, the many uncomfortable scenarios that could play out with my older relatives. I had assumed that was all I had to worry about, I was wrong.
This particular summer it seemed that anyone who had ever descended from my grandparents flew in to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This included my cousin Michael from Iowa whom I had only met once before when I was a baby. There was a big outdoor party thrown at my Uncle’s house, with loud music, tons of food, and LOTS of family pictures. For dinner I sat at a table with my aunt, sister, and Michael. My aunt was showing us pictures of some of her other nieces, one of them with her wife.
Michael started laughing, “I have one of those in my class.” he said.
“What do you mean one of those Michael?” My aunt replied.
“You know, like a boy, that likes other boys. Ha! My friends and I don’t look at him or talk to him. We do our best to ignore him.” he said chuckling.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had no idea how he could just sit here and talk like this. But, I didn’t say anything.
My aunt on the other hand wasn’t having it, “You know when someone tells you that this applies to someone in their family, this is when you stop talking and act respectful.” she said.
Her response didn’t seem to bother him as he continued to snicker. I excused myself and went into the bathroom, I had no reason to be offended by what had just been said, it didn’t personally affect me. Nonetheless when I shut the door and turned on the light I saw my livid eyes in the mirror.
How could his parents let him talk and think that way? My fists clenched. I’m not even surprised. My jaw flexed. It doesn’t even matter, you shouldn’t care. I inhaled through my nose. It’s not worth getting upset over, he is so not worth it. I exhaled and made my way back to the table.
For the rest of the trip I enjoyed myself as much as Vermont would allow me to. When it was time to leave, we got in the car and began our 5 hour ride home. Instead of reading like I normally would, I put in headphones and looked out the window. I zoned out and my mind started to wander. I remembered what Michael had said, and reflected on the situation. I imagined what would have happened if I actually said something. What would he have done if I yelled at him? That probably wouldn’t have ended well. Even just a simple “that’s not nice” would have been something. If I had at least done that, I would have said something. But I didn’t, and I was not going to make that mistake again.
This negativity and derogatory behavior towards people because of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever the reason, needed to stop. I would not stand by and do nothing about something that was happening all around me. There had to be something that I could do, something that could help those targeted by negative opinions and stereotypes. I didn’t have a social platform to spread awareness on, nor did I have the entitlement to discuss certain issues, when there were much more educated and experienced individuals up for the job.
Then it hit me. Or perhaps the realization was more of a finished idea that had been snowballing without me realizing it was even there. I was blessed with the freedom of speech and education, and to not utilize these things, to help those who are unjustly less fortunate than myself, would be to sacrifice the gift. I would not wait any longer, and I most certainly knew that I would not stay silent any longer. Every chance I got I would speak out for what I believed was right. If I wanted to see a change in the way that people were treated, it had to start with me. When school started this year, I kept this in mind, and I am proud of the opinions I have been able to make and what they mean to me. I have learned that simply raising awareness on a topic is a very powerful thing.
To Michael, his words were ordinary, to me, they were a trigger.