I recently saw a wonderful documentary about the American playwright Tony Kushner.
In one scene, Kushner delivers the commencement speech at a university. I was at once jealous of him (how come nobody ever wants me to commence them?) and worried for him (he could ruin their graduation!).
Writing this final Siren column felt a little like that too.
Should I be trying to impart some sort of wisdom? Should I be uplifting? Amusing? What if I end three years on the wrong note?
Then suddenly, it all came together.
Gay Graduates of 2007:
I am so honoured to be here today. I would like to thank you for inviting me and tell you what an excellent choice you’ve made as I am absolutely brimming with wisdom about how to be a good gay person. I am also very modest and incredibly attractive.
Ah, but I jest, graduates.
In truth, I know only a little bit about a little bit. As this has never before stopped me from expressing an opinion, I don’t see why I should start now.
So as you step out into the queer world today, I offer you the following advice:
Take up space where it is warranted, and make space for others while you’re at it. It’s a not-so-fine line between making sure you’re heard and silencing others.
Speaking of hearing, shut the hell up when you’re at a live performance. You wouldn’t go to a movie drunk out of your gourd only to talk and dance through the movie. Why do you do it at a live show?
You are not the most oppressed person in the world. I guarantee it. The hierarchy of oppression in the gay community with everyone clamouring to be on top has grown insufferable. Please stop.
You don’t have to put others down to raise yourself up. Queers have to get over our scarcity thinking or we’re doomed to remain lobsters in a pot.
Live and let other queers live. A bland, homogenous queer culture is nothing to strive for. One that draws lines and gatekeeps isn’t either. As the elders say, “Mind your knitting.”
You’re not the first queer on the planet. Those who came before allowed you to be who and where you are today. Gratitude can’t be legislated, but the least you can do is Google up a bit of your history.
Fuck the revolution. It’s asking too much to overthrow this mess we’ve built. We are so far from revolution being a feasible solution right now that to endorse it feels to me irresponsible.
So what is the answer?
There isn’t one. There are billions.
There are too many answers to count and they are all so tiny that they go unseen every day. Each of us has a different one.
Me? I can make people laugh.
You see, I believe that laughter is resistance. Laughter is refusing to give in. We laugh when we recognize ourselves in each other and realize we are not alone. We laugh when we’re taken by surprise and the world feels exciting and unpredictable for a minute. We laugh when we’re reminded that, in spite of everything, we still can laugh and in that small act, we are reminded that there is hope.
My favourite story is Raymond Carver’s A Small, Good Thing. In it, a baker shares fresh rolls and coffee with a couple whose little boy has just been tragically killed.
“You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”
He served them warm cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, the icing still runny. He put butter on the table and knives to spread the butter.
Then the baker sat down at the table with them. He waited. He waited until they each took a roll from the platter and began to eat.
“It’s good to eat something,” he said, watching them. “There’s more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There’s all the rolls in the world in here.”
So my question to you, graduates, is this: what small, good thing can you offer the world?
Please don’t answer that you will continue to fight until you die or that you will lay down your life for your cause. I don’t want to hear about grand and futile heroics. I want to be inspired by your seeming insignificance.
There is a boldness in such things that is tangible and hopeful. We are most moved and inspired by the smallest of gestures.
We don’t need empty promises of revolution.
We need hope.
We desperately need to believe that it’s going to be okay.
Graduates, I stand here before you today, sweating under these robes, to tell you that it’s going to be okay. You can trust me. They don’t just let anyone give these speeches, you know.
I know it’s going to be okay because there’s still all the laughter in the world here.
So eat all you want. And then go share with the world a small, good thing of your own.