His eyes were transfixed on the figure on the screen, but even more than that;
he listened to every word as if his life depended on it....
for Jamie Lou
Penn Yan, New York, 2012
“I got….I’ve got something to tell you, Ry….” Phil paused, holding his cell phone from his mouth. He faked a cough, trying hard not to cry.
“Yeah…Can you come over here today? What? Mom is working and Dad went…yeah…” Phil’s father was in Syracuse to pick up the other Caputo child for Spring break. He and Suze wouldn’t get back until Sunday, which left Phil ….alone. Too painfully ironic even if his best friend was coming over for the afternoon.
“Sure…Mom left a couple of twenties so we can get a pizza…yeah…she’s doing a double at the hospital. Yeah…. Assassin’s Creed? Sure….I’ll see you in a few…” Phil hung up the phone. Geeky kids with geeky friends usually means a very small sphere of support. He looked in the mirror one last time, he hoped, praying desperately that he was doing the right thing, recalling the YouTube video…
…there is dialogue from the film merging easily with the discussion and I find myself repeating a line from a character who I was very attached to who speaks about her own decision to come out. She says, “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have remained hidden and I couldn’t allow that.” And she says this aware that even at the moment she’s saying it that the sacrifice she has made will cost her her life.
A short time later…
Ryan knocked on the door and heard footsteps. A second later the door opened, revealing a nervous but familiar looking girl.
“Hey, Suze….I thought you weren’t getting home until…holy fuck!” Ryan practically fell over trying to step backwards. He ended up catching himself on the porch column.
“Hey, Ry…” The face was very pretty, surprisingly, but the voice was a bit deeper than what fit the moment. The girl in the doorway wore a turquoise half-sleeved jersey with a wide collar; revealing the black sports bra underneath. Her jeans were skinny-cut and distressed with black low heel riding boots. Her blonde hair framed her face, with small silver cross earrings barely peeking out and a thin silver loop around her neck. And she wore a nervous smile, which belied the tear stains on her cheeks and the redness of her eyes.
“Holy shit, Phil?”
Ryan started to laugh; a calm what-the-fuck sort of laugh you might expect from the surprise his best friend laid on him. Phil was shaking by then, and went to step back away from the door. As he grabbed the handle, Ryan waved frantically.
“NO…don’t…fuck…I’m sorry, Phil….” He stepped closer and Phil once again went to close the door; this time stopped by Ryan’s hand grabbing his arm….gently.
“Hey…it’s okay…really.” The look on the speechless boy’s face whispered ‘It is?’
Ryan nodded and smiled. Stepping past Phil, he pulled his friend away from the door and closed it. He turned and did the only thing he knew to help his friend. He walked into the kitchen and pulled a can of A&W Root Beer out of the fridge. Holding it up, he tilted his head slightly and smiled. Phil nodded and he grabbed a second can before returning to the living room. He sat down and motioned slightly with a head nod for his friend to do the same. As if he understood...
Suddenly I begin this very intense rush of images, thoughts and memories going through my mind -- a kind of life flashing before my eyes that happens. People describe near-death experiences. As it begins I start to understand just how complex the relationship between visibility and invisibility has been throughout my life.
“I….I didn’t know who….Suze knows.” Someone must have known, since the boy probably didn’t figure out how to dress and wear makeup without help. Ryan nodded.
“Wow…you’re….you look just like her.” Of course he resembled his sister. Suze was fairly pretty in a country girl sort of way. Phil wore her clothes well, apart from the awkwardness of appearing before his best friend, Ryan thought that if no one knew, that Phil would hardly get a third glance. He was ….pretty.
“Holy fucking shit, Phil. Does your mom know too?” He nodded yes.
“Tell me your dad doesn’t know.” Phil half smiled and nodded yes… that his father did know.
“What the fuck….are you queer?” He didn’t mean to sound mean, but it came out that way.
Labels can be so crude. Queer in the true sense of out of the usual? Different? He turned away, staring at the front door; as if at any moment his best friend would cut and run right out. Moments like this where he felt like he couldn’t live another day. It wasn't like he hadn't thought of it a millions times. But it also wasn't like he was alone...
After school I go to the nearby Burger King and write a suicide note. It ends up being over four pages…I’m a little talkative. But it was addressed to my parents and I really wanted to convince them that it wasn’t their fault, it was just that I didn’t belong.
“Fuck, Phil…this….” Ryan struggled for words, and the boy took it completely wrong. He put his right hand up and covered his face while shooing away the other boy with his left hand. A second later he felt Ryan grab the free hand. Without opening his eyes or uncovering his face, he sensed something familiar but entirely unexpected. Acceptance? Feeling like he belonged?
In Catholic school the girls wear skirts, the boys play pants. I am told I have to cut my hair. I want to play Four Square with the girls but now I’m one of them -- I’m one of the boys. Early on I am told to get in line after a morning bell, girls in one line, boys in another. I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.
“Phil…fuck it… we’re best friends…..like fucking forever.” Ryan sat on the couch on the other end; turned and facing Phil, who had virtually retreated as far as he could without going through the living room wall. He spoke with his face still turned away.
“I…it’s been like this since I was little….you know when your sister would come in when we were playing GI Joes? She’s got her Barbies and she like…teased us?” Ryan nodded; he didn’t know how Phil felt, but he knew where his friend was going.
“You…you wanted to play Barbies with her?” He didn’t mean for it to come out critical, but even best friends can be confused and even a bit obtuse. Phil began to cry. It wasn’t like Ryan had never seen his friend crying; he’d borne the brunt of enough bullying himself to have cried his own share of tears. Phil desperately needed a hug, and Ryan was totally incapable of offering it...yet.
“Hey…fuck…stop…Oh shit, Phil…come on….” Ryan protested.
“You’re just like everybody else,” Phil sobbed. He was wrong. He had his family...
When I told my mom what was going on, she jumped on a plane immediately. It was this big, tear-soaked baptism, and she confessed that she had been afraid to arrive and grieve the loss of her son. But when she arrived she found it wasn’t so much a death as it was a discovery. That there was this other part of me, an unseen part, and she felt it was like a gift because now she could get to know that part of me.
“You’ve got your mom and dad and Suze.” Ryan paused. It wasn’t for effect; he wasn’t at all that dramatic, but the moment became that anyway.
“And you’ve got me.”
I am here because Mr. Henderson taught me that there are some things we do for ourselves, but there are some things we do for others. I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.
If I can be that person for someone else [pause, applause] then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value. I know I am also here because of the strength and courage and love that I am blessed to receive from my wife, my family and my friends.
“You mean that?”
Something deep inside pushed past the fear that hovered just under the surface, reminding Phil that life was about connections…. The visible evidence provided by real people that we matter. That no matter how less typical we feel or even are than some, it's that evidence...the visible connections that give us the strength and courage to go on.
“I don’t have to kiss you, do I?
Ryan tried to make a joke of it, but some of him was serious. And boys AND girls at thirteen sometimes like things like kissing and such, but perhaps almost as often don’t care for that…yet. Phil shook his head as if to say ‘don’t worry,’ and in that moment Ryan saw his best friend for what he…who she really was. He smiled a relieved smile but in the back of his mind he was just a wee bit disappointed with himself, and more than a bit awkward and confused. Maybe one day? But at that moment, there was only one thing on his mind….Well two things, counting ordering out for pizza and wings.
“Okay, so what do you call her?”
Ryan stared at his new old friend and the girl blinked back the last of her tears before a smile crossed her face in realization.
“Well, I don’t mind the name Phil, but I thought that since it’s really my middle name anyway, I’d keep it and change it to Philippa. But for my first name? You can call me Lana.
All quotes from Lana Wachowski's acceptance speech for the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award.
Lana Wachowski accepting the Visibility Award Thanks to Jamie Lou for the link!
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