Yesterday, the sixteenth, was not just another calendar day, was not just any old Friday. Yesterday was the Day of Silence, a national youth movement to raise awareness about anti-GLBT bullying, name calling, and harassment in schools. Usually it’s done by mostly by high school groups, but college groups also participate, and ergo, I participated for the first time this year.
It wasn’t hard being silent. Let’s face it, until about a year ago, silent was my usual state of being. What was difficult, however, was what being silent entailed: When people held the door for me, I could not say “Thank you,” and if I were to hold the door for them, I’d be unable to say “You’re welcome” (a fact that unconsciously kept me from holding the door all day). Furthermore, this warranted impoliteness created an impasse when people asked me for help: I’m usually inclined to be helpful, but how could I respond?
My only option, at least the only one I could justify over the course of the day, was to communicate nontraditionally. When a classmate asked me if we had class that day, I passed him a Day of Silence card I’d printed, explaining why I wasn’t talking, then typed on the computer screen that we had an out-of-class assignment for the day. When the woman sitting next to me (I was in the library working on research) asked me how to find her student ID, I passed her the card and then showed her how to do it without talking.
The oddest part, and perhaps the funniest as well, was responding to others who were also participating in the Day of Silence. The GSA’s Vice-President and a few other members had created shirts saying “Day of Silence 4-16-2010” on them, but due to the amount we had to make and the time we had to make them, some of them had to picked up on Friday morning. Mine was one of those (by request, of course; as the GSA’s president, I felt the other members should receive their shirts before I received mine). In any case, when I went into her classroom to get it, the moment was completely surreal. I could not talk, she could not talk, and we both knew the other certainly couldn’t talk. So she handed me my shirt, I used heart-shaped hand gestures to say I loved it, and then we hugged and were on our way. Later in the day, I ran into another member with her shirt on: I was behind her, and I knew I couldn’t call her, so I walked a little bit faster and waved to her. She smiled, we gave each other a thumbs-up, and a few minutes later when we parted ways, we waved once more. It was like a scene out of movie or something, so natural, yet completely unreal.
Not many people tried to talk to me over the course of the day, but I passed around the card nonetheless. Mostly I received good responses, an approving nod, or even an admission of having participated in the past. Only once did I seem to garner anything negative, but even then, it wasn’t as blatantly hateful as it could have been, so perhaps, beneath that seeming disapproval, some change could be seeded, yet to grow into something greater…tolerance at least, acceptance if we’re lucky.
That’s the theme of the day, in the end. To raise awareness, to spread the word. People can’t change what they can’t see, and they don’t see what they don’t want to see. So they have to be shown. Or in this case, silently told. It’s a small process, change for the better, but like anything worthwhile, it is, indeed, a process. Perhaps it’ll take years (and trust me, it already has) to make much change, but change it will, if only we keep at it and keep going. Soon enough then, change won’t be necessary, but will have already come.