The thing about me is, I have never known how to shut up. I have this merit card that I was given in kindergarten that says “Presented to: Esther O’Rourke, For: Trying to be quiet.” I think that says it all. Poor Mrs. Wakeley wanted to be kind and encouraging, but the best I could earn was an acknowledgement that I’d given quiet a shot and decided it wasn’t for me.
My mum and I would take road trips down the east coast of Australia when I was small, and there would always be a point on one of those long stretches of highway when she would say “Esther, I just need a bit of quiet time now,” upon which I would concentrate very hard on physically closing my mouth, so the stream of words would have no way to escape. These herculean efforts were short lived. Mum had to develop other ways of tuning me out for the preservation of her sanity.
As I’ve gotten older, this propensity to run off at the mouth has remained a stubborn feature of my nature. I very much hope that it’s at least a little bit charming and endearing, and not just monumentally irritating to all who encounter me. Either way, I’ve learned to accept it, and more importantly, I’ve learned to use it.
I’m not just a chatterbox.
I’m a spokeswoman.
I’m a mouthpiece.
I get the job of saying things that other people might be scared to, or not know how to.
And that’s why I talk a lot about being gay.
Everyone I chat to at the park knows Arty has two mamas. The staff at our local cafe and supermarket know it too. When we start a new playgroup or dance class, I make absolutely certain that I bring it up, and if people have questions, it becomes a conversation.
This is partly because I can’t shut up, and partly because of the people who wish I would.
I read stories about places like Russia and Uganda where gay people are actively persecuted by their communities and their governments, and I’m reminded of something I learned while studying psychology: it’s much easier to be cruel to people, and strip them of their rights when you lump them into a big group.
The psychological process goes like this:
First you “deindividuate” the person, and reduce them to what you consider to be the defining features of the group they belong to (gay, asylum seeker, single parent, jew…). They become a kind of caricature of a person, rather than a fully developed one. They’re less real.
Once you’ve done that, you start seeing them as less than human, and therefore less deserving of moral consideration. Suddenly you can justify denying them all kinds of rights.
“Dehumanising a group diminishes people’s empathy for them… When a group is dehumanised people feel less moral concern for them and are less troubled when they are treated harshly.” (source)
It’s easy to wave your hand at a big amorphous group and make all kinds of generalisations about them. It becomes a lot harder when a member of that group is standing in front of you. Suddenly, it’s impossible to deny that they’re more complicated than your set of stereotypes. Suddenly you start to wonder if your group-based assumptions will stick.
By talking in my talky way, I’m choosing to be that person.
I’m choosing to be right up in everyone’s face, saying “Hi, this is me, I’m a human being like you with ideas, and potential, and feelings, and rights. And so’s my partner. And so’s our son.”
We’re here, and we’re a family, and we matter exactly as much as the next one.
Let’s talk about that.