This is a tough one to write. But I feel it’s necessary.
Today, somebody I considered one of my best friends is getting married. And I’m not invited.
The reason still feels so unreal to me, I don’t know how to deal with it.
You see, this friend – let’s call her Mary – is quite different to me. While I want to travel the world and create to move it, Mary’s biggest wish has always been to get married and have a child. Nothing wrong with that. She’s also a quite crafty person, so it’s not like everything revolves only around reproduction.
I’ve known Mary since we went to school together and we became good friends back then. I even called her my best friend for some time. After school our paths parted for a few years, only to randomly run into each other after I came back from living in London. Since then we’ve had loose but frequent contact and worked on little projects together. The nice thing about this friendship is, that no matter how long I am travelling, when I come back, the two of us always got together as if we had seen each other the day before. Just with more to talk about.
That’s actually how I can differentiate my closest friends from the rest, most of the time.
Well, guess what. After Mary moved together with her boyfriend in his place on the countryside a couple of years ago, now she actually got pregnant. I remember her calling me and telling me, and how happy I was for her. Not long after that he proposed to her and all of a sudden she had everything she ever hoped for. It was a great time.
She already had told me, what I should wear at the wedding, that her fiancé insisted on suits (which is a little complicated for a minimalist nomad like me, at the very moment, but shouldn’t be a deal breaker. We’d just borrow it), and where my boyfriend and I could stay over night, that driving home the same night might not be a good idea if it snowed.
I was a little worried about the suit situation, but I was looking forward to it.
And here I am. Writing this text. We are not at the wedding.
About three weeks ago, I called Mary. I wanted to ask her, if she would be up for a new project, I had in mind. The conversation shifted quickly. Somehow she managed to swindle the topic into the conversation without me even noticing it properly. In the beginning I wasn’t offended at all. I don’t know how she did it.
But after a few minutes I realised what had happened. My boyfriend and I had been uninvited. Because of some of the other guests.
“You see, people here are still very conservative. And you can find a lot of homophobia here. Some families have even banned their children from the family. They are acting extremely racist too. My fiancé works at the voluntary fire brigade of the area. The place the government had prepared for some refugees was set on fire before anybody could have moved in. And when they were accommodated at the fire fighter station, the fire fighters turned the siren on every 15 minutes until the refugees left by themselves…”
It was a long explanation. Ending with: “I had a couple of fights with my fiancé – he’s open minded, by the way – but we are worried about the reputation of our family and how our child will be treated, when they grow up…”
“What will you do if your child turns out to be gay?”, I asked with a smirk. All of this has hurt me quite a bit, but on the other hand I understood her fear. She didn’t really have a answer for that.
“People here are already talking. They’ve heard that there will be gays at the wedding…”
“You are aware, Mary, that these are the same dynamics, that have led to the holocaust, right? I understand your fear, but at the same time, you are letting your fear guide you. You let them win. You are helping it to spread…”
This group dynamic is scaring me. Mary is very open minded. And I know that her fiancé is alright too. They are just scared. And its hard to blame them. They never had to go through a phase where they had to stand up for who they are, like gay people usually do with their coming out.
Talking to a friend who’s doing a lot in politics about it, he answered: “I am the wrong person to talk to about this topic. If there’s something I’ve never accepted in my circle of friends, it’s cowardice…”
Another friend was very touched by that story: “Isn’t it incredible how things like this can still happen today?”
And he’s right. It’s shocking. I have to say, that a lot has happened since I had my coming out in 2007. That’s more than ten years. People have become more educated and open minded towards gays. The country feels safer.
And yet, a friend of mine – who is the owner of a gay bar – frequently tells me about guests who got beaten up by homophobic people. It happens every six months. Comparably seldom, but these occasions are a reminder, that we are still far from a country of people who care about human rights. Especially in a time where Europe is going more and more right wing again.
I am worried about Mary. I’m worried she might drown in this swamp of hatred and fear. And that she’s doing a big step into the swamp in this very moment. Because she’d rather uninvite a childhood friend than a few people who simply live in the area and who are the source of the trouble.
I am sad, because I will never be able to tell her children, how amazing she looked in her dress. I won’t be able to laugh about the traditional kidnapping (by friends) of the bride when we are old.
It’s an ugly example of how social pressure can make us do things we wouldn’t do otherwise. It’s exactly the same dynamics, that have led to historic extremes like the Nazis, the witch burnings and slavery.
At the same time we have to understand, that it’s a human thing to react like Mary. In the right situation, everybody could act like this without even noticing. Even me. Even you, reading this. Fear and the need to belong are big psychological forces. Mary acts like this even though she wouldn’t normally. This could apply to everybody else in this village. The fear of not being part of the community anymore, turns potentially open minded people into a narrow-minded lot.
We have to be aware, that these things still happen. They happen every single day. Sometimes only on small ground. But this small ground is the foundation for big trouble.
And I refuse to be quiet about it. How about you?