‘What I Think About When I Think About Courage‘
By Steven Thrasher
Delivered to the New York Anti-Violence Project, October 18, 2010
Thank you. I am so honored to be recognized with the Paul Rapoport Foundation, and I¹m especially humbled to be here alongside my colleague Duncan Osborne, whose integrity and vision demonstrate how necessary deep, original reporting still is, specifically within our community — and I thank you for it.
Saturday night, I experienced something for the first time that made me call AVP¹s hotline. And while I was tempted to rewrite my remarks about that incident, let me simply say I am more impressed with AVP than ever. Instead, please let me share what I¹d originally intended, which are some thoughts on what I think about when I think about courage.
I think about people like Robert Pinter. Robert, after your arrest, you could have simply paid the fine and gotten on with your life. You may have saved yourself some embarrassment, and certainly saved a lot of time and maybe some money. But you thought what happened was wrong. You did not want it to happen to others. And you spoke up.
Your being falsely labeled a prostitute makes me think of my mother.
Now, if you¹d had the pleasure of meeting my mother, and I¹m very sorry that you didn¹t get to, you¹d have taken one look at her at thought she was the kind of mid-western bred mom, more known for her famous seven layer cookies, than known for turning tricks.
But when I think about courage, I think about her as, a young, 19-year-old white woman in Lincoln, Nebraska, sitting in a jail cell, accused of prostitution. Her crime? She had been on a date with my father, a black man, when the police saw them and thought, ³Why else could could they be together?² It was their first date, actually, and it ended about as poorly as any first date could.
When I think about courage, I think of her going on a second date with my father, a decision that would eventually lead to her being expelled from college. A National Merit Scholar of high intelligence, she would never finish her degree.
I think of her decision to marry my father, though interracial marriage was illegal in Nebraska, and she did this despite her own brother trying to have a cop friend arrest her before she could leave the state to legally wed in Iowa.
When I think about courage, I think about both of my parents, raising three kids on military bases around the country. I think of my dad, Air Force Sergeant William Thrasher, driving night after night to college, so that he could eventually become a U. S. history teacher. And he did this in spite of being pulled over and harassed almost every night — by police officers who worked with him on his base and knew him — but who wanted to humiliate this black man out of trying to get an education. (And it didn¹t work.)
Now, it is somewhat easy to see the bravery in the highlights of the 45 years of marriage my parents shared. But when I think about courage, I think of the low points in their relationship, too.
I think of my dad telling his wife that he¹d had an affair an affair that had resulted in the birth of me. I think of what it must have taken for that woman to forgive my father. And I think of her courage as she welcomed me into their home when I was six years old, and decided that she would love me as one of her own.
I think of this unassuming woman¹s never ending concern for others. How she¹d pack two lunches for me everyday, so that I could give one to a friend who never had enough to eat. How she helped a friend trapped in an abusive relationship get into a safe house. How she stood by a family of friends when the husband had a sex-change operation, while other friends turned their backs.
When I think about courage, I think of my mom watching first her husband, and then her youngest daughter, battle cancer. I think of the braveness all three of them, particularly my sister Dr. Sharron Thrasher, who is here tonight, and how they displayed such courage not just in facing the disease and battling insurance companies, but how they really faced the existential dimensions of what they were going through – which profoundly touched the spiritual lives of their family and friends.
When I think about courage, I think about my mother learning that her husband had passed away, with his boots on, in front of a U.S. history class he was teaching.
I think of the quiet strength with which she faced life without her husband, one day at a time in her final years, as she also contemplated her own mortality. I think of how accepting she always was, so that when I understood I was gay, the first person I wanted to come out to was to her.
And when I think about courage, I think of my mother squeezing my hand the last day of her life, when she could no longer speak, but still wanted to express her love.
To Sharon Stapel and everyone at AVP especially my friend Kevin Krueger, who first introduced us (at Porno Bingo in Pieces) — thank you for the amazing work that you do. Your staff supported me just yesterday in exactly the way I needed. I cannot thank you, and everyone at the Village Voice, enough for the confidence you have placed in my writing. I will carry this night in my heart eery day of my career, alongside the love of all six of my siblings, and all three of my parents.
But I must admit in receiving this award, if I have any courage at all, it comes from the people who have shared their stories with me — particularly Margaret Thrasher, who taught me about unconditional love.
But for her courage a courage each one of us can tap – I never would have published a word.