I used to be afraid.
Afraid to speak my mind in an unkind world
That shut my mouth for me before I even opened it.
I learned to sit down and shut up
And try not to become too curious.
I pledged allegiance, bound and gagged,
With one hand over my heart
And the other raised, waiting to be called on,
So I could ask where the liberty and justice was,
Because I sure as hell couldn’t see it.
I used to be afraid of standing out,
In a country where conforming is the norm and
Every word you say had better be buried in a backtrack --
A “no offense” or a “no homo” or a “no disrespect”.
I used to hate confrontation.
Any discussion was full of hesitation
And backtracks and careful calculation
And postmortem examination
To make sure my interrogation didn’t leave our friendship beyond reparation.
Not making people mad was more important
Than standing up for what I believed in.
I made my voice small, my presence small,
Myself small, small enough to fit in a closet.
One day, it was all too much.
The closet was too cramped, the world was too big and cruel
And I was too full of everything wrong
That I didn’t know how else to let it out --
So I bled.
I bled not from my veins, but from my soul,
And with every word, I felt a little less full
And with every breath, I felt more and more whole
And I was finally, finally in control.
I picked up a pen instead of picking up a bad habit
And in doing so, I picked myself up off the ground.
I found a place in the world -- my place --
Where I can stand up and speak out
And question the treatment of people like me,
People who aren’t tall and tan and skinny and straight.
Instead of raising my hand and waiting my turn,
And shutting my mouth for fear of offending,
And pretending not to notice this never-ending mistreatment,
I found a way to raise my voice, raise the stakes,
And raise the bar for how we treat the quiet minority.
In poetry, I found my voice.