History should be honest.
– California Governor Jerry Brown
This starts someplace tangential.
I was in my room in the early evening of April 5, 1994 when the phone rang. It was my friend Adam. He was distressed.
“Can you believe it?”
“Can you believe it?”
“No, I heard you. I mean, can I believe what?”
“Kurt Cobain is dead, man. He killed himself. Can you believe it?”
“Are you serious?”
Adam spent the next 20 minutes explaining who Kurt Cobain had been, who he was to our generation and what his death immediately meant.
I responded by attempting to feel as though I was taking on the gravity of the situation.
This is perhaps why I was so excited to go see a screening of the documentary Hit So Hard as part of L.A.’s Outfest a few weeks ago.
Every blurb I read touted the film, which tells the story of former Hole drummer Patty Schemel, as including rare home movies of Kurt.
It was a chance for me to find out what Adam was talking about all those years ago.
Something interesting happened.
By the time the film got to Cobain’s death and the home movies were long over, I didn’t care. I was invested in Schemel and her story.
It had the elements key to the cliché telling of the rise and fall of a rockstar – drugs, alcohol and partying.
What it also included – what I didn’t expect or know – was Schemel’s story of coming out as a lesbian in a small town and struggling to understand what that meant.
It included voices key to the punk and early 90s rock scene who were also gay and documented the role they played in serving as, if not role models, touchstones of hope for fans struggling to find acceptance and a sense of self apart from the shame they were carrying with them.
I wish I’d known about them when I was growing up.
While adolescence in a small town can be lonely and difficult, queer adolescence in a small town is terrifying and seemingly singular.
While I don’t think it was Schemel’s story California Governor Jerry Brown had in mind when he signed a bill that would require schools to teach students about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, I’m still glad he signed it.
I could have used a source of hope that was more significant than episodes of Will & Grace.
I understand the resistance of those opposed to the law. I get that they feel it imposes on their beliefs. While I understand all of this and respect their right to their beliefs, I’m okay with them being uncomfortable for a little while.
If it means a kid unnecessarily living in shame and fear of who they are with only caricatures and epithets to provide meaning and history has access to hope and a healthy sense of self, then I’m ok.
I’m ok with the discomfort of those whose beliefs have oppressed and degraded others so long and in such a culturally acceptable way that a person running for the highest elected office in the country can gain support after publicly likening homosexuality to part of Satan.
Children are hating and killing themselves because the ignorant have been given a stage.
Those who are troubled by the teaching of history in place of state-sanctioned silence can learn to deal.
Better yet, they can simply learn.