The Day of Silence is a day of action in which students across the U.S. take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Through their activities, students can speak out against harassment and organize for change for their schools and communities. The D.O.S. as it has come to be known, was founded in 1996 at the University of Virginia and by the next year became a National Movement. Since then it has received world wide attention.
The “Day of Silence”, has been held once every year, with apparently no consistent date in the month of April since its inception. In my interpretation, as it is fundamentally intended to be a “Student Movement” against the bullying in the Schools, its scheduling demands some degree of fluidity. In other words, if the date was fixed on the calendar then the concept of the movement would prove less than effective for its purpose, in the event that the date occurred on a weekend or any other non- school day. In the year 2011, it was held on April 15th and I only learned about it earlier that week from a friend, who got it from a friend who…you know how it is in Trinidad. If you read my “about me” section on my profile you’d know that I’m game for anything anti discriminatory… (“At Tatil people are people. yuh know what ah mean” ), and willingly surrendered voice for the next 24hrs.
“Beluga, Saruga Come winds of the Caspian Sea. Larenxes, Glacitus and max laryngitus, la voce to me!!”
~ An excerpt from Ursula’s voice stealing incantation from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”
This was my first involvement in the movement and it was indeed an enlightening experience. I was proud to have made it though the day… well, that was until that one time when I accidentally spoke. Ugh! I was so annoyed. That was such a failure I know. *Sigh* It was ironic though, that the aim was to speak out with silence. In many ways it reminded me of episodes during the U.S. civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. I was oblivious however, to the degree of awareness or lack thereof that my silence rendered. The experience actually felt more like an agent for personal development. Suffering really does build character. Lol.
I cannot recall having ever felt limited by society’s “boxy” expectations, (Mummy prayed for confident, outspoken children and that’s what she got…True story). However, during those 24 hrs, (except for that epic fail at 9:30pm) it occurred to me how much I took such civil liberties for granted. My silence was MY CHOICE, and only for one day. Yet under those circumstances, at barely a chip off the iceberg, I shuddered to imagine what it feels like for all those who are continually silenced everyday by intolerance and the fear of being bullied and discriminated against. I never realised how much I had to say, wanted to say, until I was silenced. This experience was actually the inspiration to create this blog.
I guess by now you may be wondering how is “The Day of Silence” connected to the whole idea behind “Break the Proscenium”? Just bear with me for a few and you’ll see In the eventuality of time, everything is connected in the Great Circle of Life.
Note: Break the Proscenium was the name of this blog before I co-opted it for official use by the Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network.
Contrary to popular belief, Anti-LGBT bullying is not only limited to those in “the community”. Heterosexuals may also experience harassment because they have friends or family in “the community”, they support the LGBT movement or they are stereotyped as such because of their desire or active involvement in the Arts. This is especially perpetuated towards the males in areas such as dance, hair, makeup, as well as costume design. This of course is not to trivialize that which is experienced in other arenas as well. In my silence, I flashed back to a period in my youth, when I was a young fledgling preparing to compete in what would be my first performance ever. It was my high school’s aerobic dance routine competition in 2003 and in those days it was seen as a “female thing”. I do recall some “remote” form of harassment from a few schoolmates but it was insignificant. It was my assumption that it was because in those days, I had already gained a reputation of being notorious (yes I was a little hoodlum in my young days), or perhaps the school population was long accustomed to me being uninhibited and unorthodox, but presumably It could have been because I had the support of my best friend and sister (Alisha Wallace) who was also performing with me, as well as from the teachers who were all to eager to have me diversify from thuggish ways… Then again, I never did care much for what ever negatives others thought of me (thank you mummy). All the same, what little harassment that did exist became silenced when we won 1st Prize.
Our triumph made the local newspapers the next week, picture and all with the journalists referring to it as “A perfect routine”. Eventually, we went on to represent our school, St. George’s College, at Nationals, qualified to represent our country at the The Association National Aerobics Champions Worldwide, as well as be selected to be one of the featured performers in the opening of the UWI Sport and Physical Education Centre later that same year. Booya!
Since that first performance, I have traveled an extraordinary path, where I discovered our local Hip Hop culture, other genres of dance, music and ultimately theatre . Yet, In my silence I wondered, “Dayum!! What would have become of me had I given a rats a** all those years ago? Is this how I was to feel had I been too afraid to take that first memorable leap in decorated spandex, too ashamed to experience the liberation of dance?” At that moment I began to feel suffocated, trapped, albeit eight years after the fact. For the very first time, I experienced the confinement that many people still face every day.
I can recall a few more incidents in recent history, not involving me though, when young talented people were afraid and ashamed to either un-inhibit themselves while performing or pursue their passion in the first place, because of what their friends and family may think or say. Throw stage makeup and costume and the occasional hair piece into that mix and It’s a recipe for a “make out scene”. Heck! There is even a stereotype attached to being a choir boy… even in church these homophobic attitudes still tear at the fragile identities of our youth, starving their talent and stifling their personal development as well as the very element which should them joy. Is nothing sacred?
It is not my intention to discuss the morality, or validity of the LGBT existence. “Break the Proscenium” is certainly not the place for that. I will say this nevertheless: No career path can be described as inherently “Homosexual”. Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender individuals are ever present in all walks of life, not just the Arts… Accept it! Regardless of your personal and religious beliefs on the matter, they are still human just like yourself and have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. No one regardless of class, color, creed, race, or orientation has the right to be hassled just for being. The truth is, when that curtain rises, such trivialities become ever more insignificant. Only the talent matters as they perform and entertain you through their art.
If not simply for its intrinsic value, by speaking out against anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, and fostering ideals such as respect and tolerance, you can play a significant role in liberating the younger generation from that fear which holds them captive from a passion which is still preceded by its stereotype. To end the harassment that sill afflicts the artist in the field and adding to the already difficult task of creating the masterpiece for your wonderment. They are your brothers, your sisters, friends and children and they need your support. Till we reach that day when we are free to say “Mama, I want to sing”, “Dad, I want to dance”, “Friend, I’m a guy but hey, I do some kick a** makeup”, without fear of being bullied and harassed…