Friday, March 7, 2014

Honor Them

I’ll segue back to blogging about writing over the next couple of days, still keeping in mind the Add The Four Words effort that continues. I’m not at the statehouse today, but may go later. Three members were arrested last night simply for standing in the center of the rotunda, not blocking anything. I understand there’s a hearing today on that.

Yesterday at the statehouse demonstrators told stories of discrimination and abuse. I don’t have one of my own, but I think it might be worthwhile to tell about the emotional impact societal disapproval of gays and transgenders can have by telling one story about my mentor.

If you follow my writing you’ll notice that I recently dedicated the 2014 version of Keeping Private Idaho to Tom Trusky. Tom was a celebrated English professor at Boise State University. I first met him in 1976. I took eight classes from him in poetry and fiction. He was the advisor of the award-winning literary magazine cold-drill (yes, lowercase is correct). I edited that magazine one year and had several poems and short stories published there.

Tom and I became friends and I continued to keep in touch with him after graduation. Being friends with Tom meant you were among the first to hear about his latest secret projects, of which he had many. He brought poetry to the community in several ways, including the poster series Poetry and Public Places at and the “Tranfers” series, that replaced advertising on city buses with student poetry. He took cold-drill to the highest awards, winning the Columbia University gold medal many times. He had a touring series of banned books and taught book making and toured student examples. He became the acknowledged expert on the films of Nell Shipman, who made many of her movies on the shores of Priest Lake in northern Idaho. Her films were nearly all considered lost, before he found them. He found them all over the world, in Russia, England, Canada. And he found them ALL. He became the acknowledged expert on primitive Idaho artist James Castle, and brought his art to the world. Castle is now highly collectible.
He did a thousand other things, any one of which would have been monumental achievements for an average man. He was known internationally and traveled far and wide to lecture.

And he was so troubled about his sexuality that he considered suicide.

When he came out to me in 1990, I was just the second person he told. I was not shocked by the revelation that he was gay, and I hope my support gave him some small measure of encouragement to live the life he wanted. I was shocked that this man I looked up to, my mentor, was so afraid of how society might view his sexual orientation that he had thought about ending his life. He was successful in every way he would consider important, yet he had a nearly fatal fear of what the consequences might be if he revealed his sexual orientation.

Happily, coming out affected his life in few negative ways. He found a wonderful partner in Enver and they enjoyed many years of travel and hijinks together, before Tom’s death in 2009. Please honor Tom by visiting the Wikipedia page.

Please honor him and the countless others who go through the stress society hands them for being who they are. Honor them by, at the very least, leaving them alone. Don’t ridicule them. Don’t bully them. Don’t make them feel like they are something less than perfect. Please, recognize their humanity and celebrate their contribution to our culture; the friendship and joys they bring to us not in spite of their difference, but because of it.

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