Once upon a World War II time, there was a man, who like many during that time, lived in the closet.
Most of us (myself included) have never heard his name uttered before. For the majority of his life, his identity was kept a secret by the British authorities he worked for. Years later, this man did a great act for his country and the world; he used his unique way of seeing life as a brilliant mathematician, closeted homosexual and social outcast, to crack the most top-secret code in modern history.
But even still, after this amazing feat, this man ended up being prosecuted for his homosexuality, suffered chemical castration as punishment, and was found dead in his home in 1954 after committing suicide.
This man lived and died, alone. And for over half a century, no more than a handful of people knew who he was, and those in power that did, were ashamed of him, despite his acts of heroism, loyalty and bravery for his country.
In December 2013, just one year ago, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned this man for his “transgressions,” and now a film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, brings his story – and how he became one of the great, secret, war heroes of the 20th century – to life.
The only problem is this: how can you be a hero when no one knows your name?
Of course, this man isn’t the first to gain dignity and respect only after his death. After all, there are thousands, millions even over the centuries (e.g., artists, slaves, and saints) who have been forced to live in a closet of shame instead of outside in the light, protected and proud.
But what happens when a country is so ashamed of an individual’s sexuality, they’d rather prosecute you and hide you away until you die rather than force their citizens to deal with the complex reality of who you truly are? What does this say about us, as a nation, a people? Or more precisely, what will our actions today say about us to the future citizens of the world, a hundred years from now?
No matter how noble it may be, there is something unsettling to me about pardoning a man today that nobody knew or cared for half a century ago. Is this simply justice, delayed? Is this all we’re called to do now, after hiding so many names away, and allowing history to simply become history?
Or simply put, is Queen Elizabeth II’s act enough because it gives this man a name to the masses, and the world, who might not ever have known him otherwise?
In reading over today’s news, it doesn’t take long to find hundreds of acts motivated by fear and shame that will likely be acts our grandchildren and great-grandchildren have to make restitution for. But how do we live so this doesn’t happen? What can we do now? How do we stop the cycle of letting so many nameless men and women slip away, unmentioned in the history of the future?
I don’t have answers to these questions. Maybe because there are no easy answers. The issues raised here are more complex than being mere ‘issues’. In fact, the issues aren’t just issues at all, they’re people. Real, nuanced, sexually complex, hard-to-define, people.
Albert Einstein once said, “It is harder to crack prejudice than an atom.” But even still, the conversation must continue. In order to crack these prejudices, and be rid of them altogether, for me, it all begins with a name. And in my opinion, there’s no better place to end and begin this conversation than with this man’s name.