In his talk at Stanford, Judge Alex Kozinski decried the extent to which so many of us live our lives in public these days. We have lost a sense of what it means to be private, he mourned.
As examples, he talked about cell phones, and the intimate conversations we are often forced to overhear, and people who blog the most intimate and embarassing facts about themselves and those they know. There is no sense of propriety anymore, in Kozinski’s view.
To some extent he has a point. With the exception of a my circle of friends, there is no one whose sex life is of any interest to me whatsoever. Even with those friends, I usually don’t want to hear details. The only sex that has ever mattered to me is that I am involved in, and I am not talking about that in any great detail except to the other party involved.
But there is another side here. So much of what we have deemed private we have deemed shameful. We did not talk about homosexuality, or mental illness, or rape not because there is inherently something private about it, but because to be homosexual was to be an abomination, to be mentally ill was to be a threat or at the very least an embarrassment, and to have been raped meant that to some people you were ruined forever and that it would have been better if you had died. We forced gay Uncle Bob to stay in the closet and crazy Aunt Agatha into a metaphorical attic not because we were protecting their privacy but because we were protecting our standing in the eyes of our neighbors.
Keeping people in closets and attics means to keep them alone. Being isolated means that you develop a very real sense of just how broken you are, how much you are a lesser human being than those around you. It is soul destroying.
Breaking that “privacy” means reclaiming your humanity. Breaking that silence is reaching out to others. You are not alone — you are never alone. You are one of God’s children, too. You matter.
In this blog, I have written three posts about what many would consider “private” (i.e., shameful) issues. There is another that I have written that I took down. Aside from the two posts accessed by students looking to finish their term papers, these posts got more traffic than any others. In the case of the three still up, I have gotten email and other feedback from people saying “Thank you for writing this.” One in particular, dealing with my experiences after the birth of my first son, resulted in women telling me that reading my story gave them the courage to face their own, and to begin to heal. In the case of the post I took down, before I did so it was picked up by a website specializing in the disorder about which I wrote.
I was talked into taking down the one post. I regret now having done so. I do not regret the others one bit. They were important: if they helped at least one person say “thank God, there’s someone else out there who knows what this is like,” then they were well worth whatever potential embarrassment may result.
So yes, many people — myself included — are airing private matters in public. We have let the world know that being gay does not make you a bad person, that being mentally ill does not mean you are not worth loving, that having survived being raped means that you are stronger than you understand. We forgo that privacy, we shatter that silence, we open those closet and attic doors, in order to be recognized and accepted as full human beings.
We speak of these things, as hard as it as, so that we are no longer alone and invisible. We speak of these things so that others will know that they are not alone, and that they need not be invisible.
We speak, so that we and others may live in the sunlight rather than the dark closets and shadowed attics.
We speak, so that we may live.