We need to get better at this.
By this I mean this business of being kinder to each other. More compassionate. More understanding.
And by we, I don’t necessarily mean you, the one reading these words. I don’t even mean Pittsburgh, but … well, more on that in a second.
More of a collective, general, all-purpose, catch-all we. Or you. Me.
I am in the midst of reading Maria Bello’s astounding memoir, Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves. Trust me, I had a hard time putting this down to write this post. It is refreshing and honest and courageous as hell. Just like the Philadelphia girl that actress and activist Maria Bello is. I’m proud to share a hometown with her and I will definitely be talking more about this book and its effect on me.
Sometimes, when one is an avid reader, life coincides with the written word. The irony does not escape me that I am pondering the questions posed in this exquisite book amidst a shit-storm a-brewin’ here in Pittsburgh regarding an opinion column by an associate editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Caitlyn Jenner. I will not link to the article here on my blog. You can take my word for it that it is a negative, hateful piece that refers to Caitlyn or you can Google it for yourself.
Among other things, the article refers to Caitlyn as “Brucette” (what the fuuuuucccck? is this elementary school?), insinuates that Caitlyn is akin to a circa-1860s circus freak show attraction of the likes of bearded ladies, and calls Caitlyn “still a ‘mister'” because of a technicality: she hasn’t had “below-the-belt” surgery.
I, and quite a few others here in my adopted town, are appalled. To put it mildly.
(As a relative newcomer of four years here, may I offer an FYI to the associate editor who penned that piece – who, again, I’m not dignifying with the publicity. You’ve made a hell of an impression during your first few months here in tahn. We place some importance on that around here and, like the elephants in your circus, yinzers have really long memories. We’re about playing nice with people, most of the time, and make no mistake, Pittsburgh is a connected, relationship-heavy, big small town. In this city of bridges, you’ve burned more than Pittsburgh has within a few column widths.)
But I digress. Sorta.
Back to the labels. And Caitlyn.
To which I say, does it really matter what label we give her? Does it really? Is it convenience for our sake? And if so, at what price to another?
Our society is so quick to label. So very quick. And because we are, the label becomes damaging, a cross to bear, an albatross, a slur, an insult. You can think of some, no doubt.
I wish we could have a do-over with our language. To scrub our existing dialogue of hatred and bigotry and political correctness and ignorance. To birth a language from kindness and compassion.
With few exceptions, we do not make things easy for those who have been labeled as different, who are struggling in ways hidden as well as visible.
We call them circus freaks and “mister” when a preference is definitively stated. We fire people when they speak out about co-workers’ use of a word routinely used to malign people with developmental challenges. We are quick to judge, to assume. We kill people who don’t meet our expectations of “normal,” whatever that is these days.
We are at the end of a most challenging and difficult school year for both of our children, the hardest I can ever remember. Still, I took a few moments today to send a thank you note (cc’ed to the principal) to a guidance counselor who took considerable time with my girl and helped give her the tools she needs to build a strong foundation in life.
A local writer friend, immensely talented, has been missing for nearly a week, without a trace nor a word. The outpouring of concern and caring for our friend among our small writing community is palpable.
In all of these situations, the ones playing out close to home and the ones in my city, there are labels and there is love.
Writing this in the midnight hour, I don’t have answers embedded in this post.
Only a belief that sometimes less is truly more.
For additional thoughtful perspectives reacting to the hateful Post-Gazette column on Caitlyn Jenner, please consider reading the following:
Also, I feel compelled to say that I am a freelancer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and plan to continue in that role as long as they’ll have me. In reflecting on that, I look to Caitlyn Jenner herself and the words of the extraordinary Buzz Bissinger on her perspective in Vanity Fair about her upcoming docu-series on the E! network this summer:
For her part, Caitlyn is prepared for the criticism that it’s a publicity stunt: “‘Oh, she’s doing a stupid reality show. She’s doing it for the money. She’s doing this, she’s doing that.’ I’m not doing it for money. I’m doing it to help my soul and help other people. If I can make a dollar, I certainly am not stupid. [I have] house payments and all that kind of stuff. I will never make an excuse for something like that. Yeah, this is a business.
A hell of one, at that.