Silence

May 14, 2017.

Lately I’ve been getting up early, often a few minutes after 5 a.m. Many things in my life are changing, and the emotions and thoughts stemming from these changes wake me up. Three Sundays ago it was the same. When I woke up, it was still dark and the house was quiet. I brewed myself some coffee, took a few shortbread biscuits, picked up The New York Times from the front porch and, having cuddled under a blanket on an armchair, started reading it.

I came across an article about people who “don’t exist” by Andrew Kramer. The article began with excerpts from an interview with Alvi Karimov, the spokesman of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic. Kramer was asking Karimov about the arrests and torture of gay people by Chechen security forces. Karimov was insisting it was impossible that homosexuals were being arrested in Chechnya because such people don’t exist there. “In Chechnya, we just don’t have this problem,” Karimov claimed. Kramer then asked Kadyrov, himself, whether it was true there wasn’t a single gay in Chechnya. Kadyrov replied that he was certain there were none.

Kramer decided to dig deeper and went to Grozny, to the office of the head of Chechnya’s Human Rights Council Heda Saratova. She told him: “I never saw them with my own eyes. And I never heard of them. I never thought of them. In my 50 years, I have never seen a gay man. […] I see flies, I see mosquitoes, but I have never seen a gay man”. A man Kramer met by chance in Grozny also said he didn’t know any gay people, and that “under Islam, lying with a man is a sin”.

Silence by Henry Burrows Creative Commons
Silence, Henry Burrows, CC BY-SA 2.0

The second article I read that morning in the New York Times was titled “Food, Sex and Silence”. It was a recollective story about the outstanding cook and gourmet James Beard. Large, bald, portly – this is how he was described in obituaries after his death in 1985. Beard was also gay, but this information wasn’t mentioned in any of the obituaries. Unless we consider the words “a lifelong bachelor” as some kind of code. There was no information about Beard’s thirty-year relationship with Gino Cofacci, even though Beard included him in his will. The obituaries also didn’t mention that Beard had been expelled from university in the 1920s for his involvements with other men. It was limited to the statement: “a college dropout”. The article’s author, Frank Bruni, wrote that the silence about Beard’s sexual orientation was not only a falsification of his image, but also oppression, for oppression not only stems from what people impose on or demand of others, but also from their silence.

In my small hometown in the 1980s and 1990s, gays “didn’t exist”; I didn’t know any, and nobody said the word ‘gay’. The word ‘fag’ appeared in jokes. I have the impression that not much has changed, despite how much time has passed. Especially in smaller cities. Two years have passed since the suicide of Dominik Szymański from Bieżuń – a small town in central Poland. Dominik couldn’t stand being humiliated by his classmates, who laughed at the way he dressed and called him a ‘faggot’. His friends harassed him while the adults remained silent.

When I tell my parents about my partner, they also usually remain silent. Even though they found out about him over two years ago and I often mention him in our conversations. When I send my mum a photo of my partner and I together, she replies that she’s planting flowers.

A friend recently told me she had heard a homophobic comment at work. I asked her, “What did you say in response to that?” “Nothing.”

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