There was a buzz of excitement as we piled into a Chicago apartment early that morning. Someone brought donuts. People made coffee. Stacks of letters formed dozens of piles on the table. Nobody really paid attention to any of it.
By that point most of us had only met on Facebook or talked via our insane conference calls of 20-50 people. Our initial encounters followed an almost comical routine:
- See a stranger in the apartment. Do a double-take.
- Look closer to figure out who it was based on their profile picture. Our squinted eyes, puzzled faces and pursed lips made this more difficult to decipher.
- At this point, one person would break and introduce themselves by name, holding out their hand.
- A flood of recognition hits: that’s the person who said… who wrote… who told a story about… Oh! I’ve been dying to meet you!
- Hands held out at an appropriate distance are quickly disregarded as hugs are exchanged and an instant community forms. Fast-paced talking and exclamations ensue.
We soon settle down, over-filling the living room as someone takes the lead splitting us into groups to blanket various parts of campus with our letter. I’m not sure if the buzz in the room was excitement, nervousness or fear.
As I read and re-read the letter, I couldn’t quite grasp why I was so afraid to be seen with it on campus. You are not tragic. You are not alone. Our main message was so simple and I couldn’t imagine anyone finding fault with it. I had helped spend hours carefully drafting each sentence with a close team of 3-4 friends before it was posted online and edited, discussed, debated and re-re-re-written by our lively—and wonderfully opinionated—Facebook community. It’s possible every single word was up for debate at some point (because really, everything “depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”).
And suddenly the carefully worded phrases we thought nobody could possibly read as controversial seemed entirely too provoking, too raw, too threatening of my own security in silence. I’ll admit I had visions of us being escorted from campus, verbally attacked, and confronted with loud theoretical arguments entirely divorced from experience and the messiness of life. Arguments meant not to invite conversation but to silence. Yet again.
Moments before I arrived to campus with my now-non-virtual friends, my phone vibrated with dozens of new text messages from numbers I didn’t recognize (many of us posted our numbers online for logistical ease):
“For the first time in a long while, I have faith in hope. You folks are making it happen!”
“My heart and soul are with you guys!!! FORZA!!!!!”
“Facebook is going nuts. I’m so proud of you.”
And then I stopped dead in my tracks:
“Just got to campus. Cop car outside chapel.”
A minute or so later:
“Apparently they thought we were going to protest by throwing a gay wedding in chapel?! WHAT??!! Why would we EVER do that?”
My group laughed. The absurdity of storming chapel to throw a gay wedding was a great comic release as we stepped on campus.
Deep breathes. Why had I started shaking?
I was no longer close with any of the current students but I still had dear and trusted mentors there, professors I respect immensely to this day. None of whom I was out to. Many of whom I was profoundly afraid of coming out to, the prospect of rejection dangling ever before me. I’ve been harassed on the street many times, yelled at by friends, acquaintances and co-workers. But despite my initial fears all my Wheaton friendships were solid—when I came out to them (which I waited to do until well after graduation) my Wheaton friends were caring, compassionate, willing to listen and for some, even acknowledge the contradiction I saw in a gospel of love prohibiting it merely due to someone’s gender. Yet, my anxiety that day remained a constant reminder of why I was there in the first place.
Handing out letters became a dance between multiple selves and imaginary demons: I was there to be a living testament to those on campus living in fearful isolation yet I couldn’t help but physically shake in fear while walking through the MSC that day. I’m sure I had to catch myself from tripping as I skirted out of rooms, reluctant to be “caught” by former professors. I did run into one professor who didn’t seem to recognize me. I said hi as I walked past and was greeted with silence.
Ducking out of doors and saying hi? Avoiding conversation yet now wishing I weren’t kept in silence? Shaking as I hand students a letter that simply says You are not tragic, don’t be afraid? Worrying about rejection standing with a community of Wheaton alumni that is passionate and strong despite being silenced at Wheaton and later forged through the flimsy-ness of Facebook (of all things!)? The dance was dizzying.
Of course, none of my fears came to be: nobody harassed us and we received mostly awkward smiles; I felt no immediate rejection; and the police left presumably once they realized there was no wedding planned.
But I think this was all part of the point, part of why we were there. What silenced me for so long, what silences many of us, was not just fear of rejection but fear of unchartered territory, of not knowing what responses may lie ahead.
– H. ’08