On this tenth anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepherd, an interview of Jonas Slonacker by C.A. Conrad on PhillySound: new poetry really is a blunt and open discussion of many issues that surrounded the senseless murder of a young man and what has happened since.
In this excerpt, Slonacker responds to the power and misuse of language:
One of the things you and I know firsthand Jonas from growing up in an isolated rural culture is that people are HELL-BENT on judging and hating groups of people they don’t even know. There is so much FICTION created from unnecessary and unprovoked fears surrounding the distant Other. Building on Father Schmit’s call for learning what drives us, how marvelous would it be to have young elementary school children learning compassion by having classes which explore and explain homosexuality, as well as different racial and religious groups. Where we grew up and went to school THE MOST homophobic teacher taught sex-ed. He was so blatantly homophobic, and encouraged laughter when talking about how sick he thought a man would have to be to want something shoved up his ass. He empowered the ridicule and physical abuse my boyfriend and I endured in school, and made us feel like complete ZEROES! The sex-ed class literally taught hatred.
Language can easily set the mechanisms of fear or compassion of young minds in motion when coming from teachers and other authority figures. But wanting compassion taught to children ultimately flies in the face of our very nation’s governmental treatment of its citizens and military solutions in dealing with other nations. But we have to start somewhere.
In teaching compassion we would also need to teach the history of racism, homophobia, genocide. For instance, in battling the use of dehumanizing language of homophobia, let’s LOOK to the origin of “faggot.” Kids need to know and DESERVE to know that when they use that word they’re using a word whose origins are from the Inquisition. Homosexuals were burned alive, their flesh synonymous with and no better than the very sticks — or faggots, as faggots means sticks or kindling — that burned them to death. We’re so used to the word faggot meaning a homosexual, but have no idea of the countless tortuous deaths that created it. It’s important to define the origins of common hateful slang. Learning such things helps us in many ways to grow toward tolerance and compassion.