On October 11, for National Coming Out Day, I shared a graphic on my Facebook wall that a kind pal made for me a few years ago. It was just an image version of my Facebook status from NCOD in 2013 he'd particularly enjoyed, laid over a rainbow flag.
When I posted it this time in the image form, it spread across the internet fast -- much faster than it had a few years ago. Something else was different about this time, too: a small subset of people, maybe 5 percent, seemed to read it as snide, sarcastic or ironic. While the overwhelming majority of the people who interacted with the image and accompanying sentiment clearly understood that it (and I) was sincere, I was taken to task in a few places for being thoughtless, heartless and so on.
"How odd," I thought, as the likes and shares and retweets poured in, as I got a flood of positive feedback about the image. But as the day wore on, I saw it pop up again, and then somewhere else again, enough times that I was eventually able to triangulate the place where some people fell off the sincerity bus and splashed into the sarcasm gutter: it was the word precious.
Now me, I am a sop and a sap, an optimist and a romantic, a tender-hearted storyteller who uses words like precious (and tender, for that matter) every day. For better or for worse, I am pretty often looking for the nicest part of a bad situation, giving people the benefit of the doubt, investing in people's intention rather than their impact and so forth. I want people to be good, and I want them to be well, too. So you can take it to the bank that when I am talking about your precious self I for sure mean, without even the whiff of sarcasm, your very precious actual self.
I'm aware that we live in an Age of Snark, and it's not that I have never engaged in that fine and sharp art. I can quip and crack -- if not with the best of them, then certainly at a semi-pro level. But not about so important a concept. I absolutely and unreservedly believe that the most important thing for lesbian, gay, bi, queer and trans people to do is stay alive and keep trying if they possibly can. If today is not a safe day to come out -- don't. Play your cards close, strategize to launch, make a safe place for yourself in a private social space or on the internet or in the garden of your own thoughts of that's all that's available to you but make it lovely and loving.
On the flip side, if you can come out -- if you have the social and economic privilege to be out (and the patience on any given day to sort through the aftermath if need be), to tell people your truth and stand in it, then please oh please: do it. One of the things I have learned in over a decade of running around the country like the proverbial chicken is that it's actually not the work I do behind a podium that matters most but the work I do in the grocery line. It's coming out as a gay dad while waiting for my plane to board and revealing myself to be a transsexual at the library that seems to touch hearts in the most direct way. Out people provide models; we are features on the landscape of the imagination. When we can be out, we give people who are trying to figure out who they could possibly be in the world more options.
Here's the thing, though: I don't think it was choosing the word precious that sunk my status. Or rather, I don't think a different word would have done better, even if I meant something else (which I do not). I think the problem is that we all, under the LGBTQ tent, have been told so loudly and for so long that we are worthless -- that we're broken, rotten, intrinsically bad, harmful, dangerous, poisonous, that we can and should be treated like garbage -- that many of us can't hear precious. It has to be sarcastic, right? It has to be, because who in the world could be saying precious, valuable, desirable and when they say those things, mean us?
Well, me for starters. However ridiculous I am, it is also true that I am sincere as a bell and I absolutely hold all of us queers and transfolks as precious. We are necessary and valuable, in addition to being tender and strong and thoughtful and great-looking and frequently very well accessorized. I am in totally non-ironic love with queer communities even when individual people make me tired, tired, tired, and I will spend all the time I have with the other lesbians and gays and bis and enby folks and transpeeps and queer queer queerios of all stripes (and our co-resistors too, and you know who you are) whenever I have choices about where to spend it.
There's a line that Jewish husbands sometimes say to their wives on Shabbos, adapted from Proverbs: "A woman of valor, who can find? She is more precious than rubies; no treasure can match her." That's how I feel, is the truth. No matter what anyone else says or ever has said, no matter what the echo chamber of meanness and snark that the interwebs can be might magnify or amplify, here's the bare fact: I treasure you above all things. If you can hear that today, I am so glad and grateful. If not, please reread this at intervals until you can because the other very real fact is this -- you deserve to hear it and feel reflected in it.
You're precious. We all are.