We are like gorillas fresh from the jungle, attending a conference on how to be human. We’ve dressed ourselves in tuxedoes and gowns, bejeweled necklaces and polished shoes. We’ve powdered our noses, and pulled top hats down over our bulging foreheads. We think we’ve fooled each other despite our black fingernails and the tufts of black hair matted beneath our nylons.
Here we are standing on our hind legs and acting like this is a cocktail party. We’ve stemware gripped with our opposable thumbs, and we drift slowly across the room to hide our bow-legged gait. While we wait for the conference to begin, we are discussing what it means to be human and we are discussing it intensely because we feverishly wish to be human. And more than that, we want others to think we are human.
Then in through the double doors bursts one of our kind with the jungle rain on his brow, but he’s not dressed, and he’s bawling and hooting. We stare as he beats his chest and cries, “I’m a gorilla! God help me! I’m a gorilla!” And he beats the floor in anguish.
We gasp and cringe and wish he’d go away. How unsightly! How embarrassing! Can’t he control himself? Can’t he act like a person? Like us?
One female in a polka-dotted dress pats that poor beast on the shoulder and drapes a sports coat over his heaving shoulders. “Come now. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not so bad. You've got opposable thumbs after all. None of us is perfect.”
But his outburst causes another to yank off his wig and rip open his collared shirt. “I’m a gorilla too!” he says and weeps with his brother.
The rest look down their noses. They pinch their collars together finding comfort in the feel of fabric at their necks. The females pull out their compacts. The males check their cuff links.
And I sink into a chaise lounge and ensure the gloves on my hands are pulled down. The incident is a relief because so long as everyone is looking at those fools, they won't look at me. They won't discover what I am. Perhaps they’ll forget the time I went knuckle-running across the room or had to be told that my lipstick was askew. Maybe they’ll forget when I laughed so loudly that my canine’s protruded or when I slapped the ground in anger. I cringe to think of those times. Surely I am better now. Surely I look like a human now. Surely they are fooled.
But I see the tears of these poor beasts here, and I feel the black hair beneath my clothes itch as it drips with sweat. I cannot do this any longer.
I stand up and undress.
I don’t love my sisters as much as I love myself.
I don’t care if others are sick so long as I'm okay.
I'm not interested in my friends' children . . . unless my friends have shown interest in mine.
I think my life is harder than everyone else’s.
I blame my parents for my shortcomings.
And when I’m with other gorillas, I thank God that I’m not like them.
But I am. And nothing I do alone can change that.
What a world we would live in if in the aftermath of another’s humiliation, we stopped pretending we were already human, ripped off our wigs and declared, “I am a gorilla too!”