“With Rights come Responsibilities.” A phrase I had heard all my life from my parents became eternally paired for me with “Actions have Consequences” in 1994. Being told to "watch my mouth" finally sunk in.
As a teenager in the late 1960’s, I was very aware of people who were penalized for speaking their mind. My family was from the south and I though I am Caucasian, I knew firsthand what the penalties could be for speaking in support of the Civil Rights movement to the white majority. And I was aware of what China’s Cultural Revolution really was; though it was only later I learned the true scope of Mao Zedong’s rule.
But I was the quiet, studious, and polite student in those days. It was not learning about other people being deprived of their freedom of speech that held me in check. It was being raised with military protocol, British decorum, southern gentility, and a weighty case of shyness. Except in debate classes, I kept unsolicited opinions to myself.
My family knew the potential that lurked beneath the surface. They had seen the outbursts of temper and the smoldering determination once I decided on a course of action. The dates that brought me home after I opened up and they heard from the “real” me were another clue that I was not always one to “hold her tongue”.
In college, I learned to state my case and defend my ideas – politely, at first; more vigorously over time. But even in my 30’s, my discourse was usually calm and considered. The rare occasions that were the exception to the rule, miraculously resulted in my favor - the sort of consequences you hope for.
Around 1988 I became involved in AIDS Prevention education. My husband completely supported my volunteerism, despite an even more conservative background than mine. At first there was no problem. Then I switched from being a full time housewife to working directly under the auspices of the Dallas Gaya and Lesbian Alliance and other groups who booked me for speaking engagements across the country. Still the support of friends and family never faltered.
I was aware of those whose prejudices would not accept my new avocation, so I spoke and wrote my columns under an assumed named - the one I use here and all over the interenet. In later years I might not want these credits on some resumes, but I was not hiding from the public. By 1994, I would say more people could identify me on the street by the pseudonym than by my real name. I had no fear of facing whatever came at me as a result of my social and political views. I valued my freedom of speech and used it to defend many who had less freedom than me.
That was the year that the infamous Maplethorpe exhibition was closed in Cleveland in a blatant act of censorship. What was art to one community was pornography for another. In Dallas, the debate was still going on when the AIDS Resource Center held and art exhibition of its own in conjunction with its annual reception for the volunteers. It was well covered by both the gay and mainstream news. Not having balked when handed a microphone for over a decade, when a reporter asked my opinion on the event there was no hesitation. I was proud of the community I served.
A few days later my husband came home from work unexpectedly tense. We were discussing a divorce, but that was very amicable so I knew it was not the source. His supervisor at work had shown him the newspaper coverage from the night before. It included a photo of me answering the reporter, with an excerpt of my comments for a caption. They worked for an extremely conservative corporation that had been known to investigate employee’s activities outside of work a decade before, and even though the practice was supposed to have stopped, we both knew what was now at risk.
My actions now had consequences for an innocent bystander! My husband’s job was unofficially on the line though he had no part in my actions and the comments were only mine. I took responsibility, and though it was a lie, I leaked to his colleagues that it was my political activism that was causing our divorce.
He is now retired from that company, happily married, and I am single.
I still exercise my freedom of speech with fervor, but I am ever mindful of my words and how they will affect not only the parties involved, but those who will be affected by the fallout on either side of an issue.