Vicki, a White woman in her fifties, tells the story of the fear she felt growing up gay in a small, conservative town in the Texas panhandle, where preachers regularly declared from the pulpit that homosexuals were going to hell. When she saw another gay teenager institutionalized for “mental illness” she knew her sexuality was something that had to be hidden. Vicki continued to hide that part of herself through the decades of her career as a public school teacher and is haunted by the memories of students struggling with their sexuality whom she was afraid to help. “All the time you fear of losing your job,” she says. “You know, so it’s like that, that chopping block hanging over your head. And you don’t stand up against it because, yeah, you can, but then you’re going to have to change careers.” Vicki goes on to recount how in the past few years she has begun to live more fearlessly, coming out to potential allies and attending her first gay pride parade, experiences she compares to “waking up from a deep, dark sleep.”
Reflections from Vicki and what she’s up to now:
Being a part of making this film, now called Parrhesia, was unlike anything that I had ever done before. When my professors spoke about the film in terms of thinking that it would be a cool thing to make, I never dreamed that I would be involved. Then, when I was asked to come for the initial interview, I was pretty nervous and somewhat hesitant to talk with a camera across from me. In the initial interview for the pilot film, I was not happy with the way that I came across after I watched it. I was almost sure that they would not call me back for the complete film production, but when they did, I determined that I wanted to tell my story on a platform and in a way that I had never been able to tell it before. I do think that I felt more comfortable knowing that I was about to retire from teaching and my new career would not be threatened by my being honest and open about my sexuality.
I really can’t describe the feeling of being able to “speak my truth” in public and openly for the first time in my life. It was frightening, yet liberating; I felt vulnerable, but actually heard, so that eliminated much of the fear and trepidation that threatened to hold me back from being truthful with everything. After the trauma that I experienced at Abilene Christian University, then being pressured to resign my first job, along with the many years I spent worrying about losing my job simply because of who I loved, for someone to actually WANT to hear what I had to say was empowering.
When I sat down with Dr. Patrick in a darkened room with video equipment and the videographer focusing her camera on me, something moved inside me. I felt like I had to tell my story so that maybe SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE could connect to what I had to say. I also had to tell it in order to soothe that hurt little girl inside me who has always longed to be accepted for WHO she is, entirely. The two hours that we spent talking about some of the darkest, most painful parts of my life were so healing to me…it was one more step toward being able to love myself without judging myself by society’s homophobic beliefs. As I left the building that day, I was exhausted, spent, and felt that I had the most wonderful counseling session of my life.
Watching the film with others in the room who had been part of the project was somewhat exhilarating! It was exciting to see ourselves up on the screen with all of our stories. I spent much of the time internally criticizing my looks, my weight, the physical part….but felt okay about what I had said. However, when I watched the film for the first time in a room with strangers, I felt totally exposed. It was like “standing naked in the middle of the room”! My mouth went dry, I tried to imagine what the other people watching were thinking, and that old fear crept back in…the fear that had lived on my back for so many years…the fear of being discovered, being “outed”, being ostracized, being criticized, being humiliated, being feared by others, being disowned, and being rejected. What if someone stood up and told me that I was an abomination, a lost soul, a terrible person?? Could I take that? Could I stand up against that and speak out FOR MYSELF?? Well, so far, that hasn’t happened. People’s reactions have been so positive that it has been another step toward healing myself. It has made me understand even more that people just need to be able to tell their story….to be heard with open heart….to be able to expose all those parts that someone had told them were terrible and disgusting. I feel so very proud and honored to have been able to know the people in this film and the wonderful people who decided to dive in and undertake something that they had never done before. I know that it has changed my life for the better, and it has done something for me that nothing else could have ever done. I still hope that people will continue to watch and listen with open hearts…to try to learn more about people like themselves, or those who are so very different. The reason that I hope this is because we are all in this together, and the more that we can help each other get through, the better we are!