A familiar feeling of anger welled up as I perused tweets a few days ago. There were a few deprecatory mentions of anal sex and ghastly biases masquerading as jokes. As I’m often inclined to do these days, I fell back on the first explanation for anything I resent – I’m getting old. I gave it some more thought and decided the correct answer was – I’m getting wiser. The cesspool of online interaction is an excellent laboratory because of its uninhibited nature. Tweets, despite their character limit are insightful windows into motives and biases.
I asked if anyone was openly homophobic. Many must’ve dismissed it as a bait (which it was) but some responded with honesty and a sense of cautiousness. Here are some of the replies (and please note, this is in no way meant to shame them. It’s courageous of them to have thought through their answers, confessed and invited discussion)
It appears to be conditioning, a reaction hammered into our subconscious until it achieves reflex. I assume most of that conditioning is because of family. That was the case for me. I remember many gatherings where discussions about homosexuality were preceded by a mass wrinkling of noses and embarrassed stares. Occasionally there’d be mirthful jabs at “those people” and much pursing of lips. I played along like an idiot because I didn’t know better. I also put my ignorance on full display for my girlfriend, who was polite enough to respond with pitiful glances or the occasional attempt at reason.
I don’t know when things changed. I stepped out of the fold, met people. I think the biggest favor I did myself was to keep an open mind. If your default response is “why not?”, it’s easier to find the right answer. This is one of the reasons I have a bad relationship with tradition. Tradition is a set of memes and best practices passed on through the years, meant to improve our chances of survival. It’s easy to forget that its tenets were formulated in an age that probably needed them. Tradition is also groupthink which rides roughshod over individual rights. Tradition precludes why nots, it demands obedience and I think that’s a great way to appease your past but a terrible way to plan your future.
A friend of mine mentioned that a huge barrier to acceptance is the fact that gay people are tormented at the thought of coming out. Social stigma and neanderthal reactions from society prevent it from being a dignified event. Some of the replies I received were about harboring misconceptions which were laid to rest after they met gay people. While encouraging, I don’t think the solution is to “go out and make more gay friends”. I shouldn’t need to meet gay people to see they have as much of a right to live a free, unfettered life as I do. It’s a vicious cycle. They don’t speak up for fear of us. We stay close-minded because we don’t know them. That’s bullshit. Gay people don’t need to change, our attitudes do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I count an episode of Family Guy as one of my biggest eye openers. A slap in the face, really. It’s an episode dedicated to gay marriage and of course, it’s irreverent, insane and one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen. It’s also one of the most poignant. In it, Brian (the family dog) has a gay brother who wants to get married to his boyfriend. Lois (the family matriarch) disagrees because it’s “unnatural”. She visits her parents for counsel, who happen to be a crotchety, foul-mouthed, unhappy couple locked in a loveless marriage. They regularly snipe, play mean pranks and generally berate each other. It suddenly dawns on Lois, (I paraphrase, but the essence of her revelation is) – “two people who hate so much and can’t stand to be around each other have more of a right to be together than two people who genuinely love and care for each other?”.
Boom. Logic – Ten Gazillion, Tradition – 0.
So how can we help? More thoughtful communication? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t recommend policing anyone. Also, being politically correct is just an eyewash. It’s a facade you hide behind because you believe something else and don’t want to look like an asshole. How about abstaining from hate speech or derogatory remarks? Even then, I don’t know where to draw the line. I recall a hilarious Louis CK segment in which he justifies the use of the word ‘faggot’.
“Faggot doesn’t mean gay….a faggot’s just….well….being a faggot! Just suck that man’s cock will ya? Quit being a fucking faggot”.
That’s the raw, abrasive, mostly unpalatable genius of Louis CK but it does
beg raise the question, when do words stop being words and represent hate, discrimination and prejudice? That’s a battle we must fight with ourselves. “Why am I writing this?” Fuck people if it offends them, but did I MEAN to? That’s a good start. (Perhaps the folks who are into professional comedy can cast a better light on walking the line between genuine message and prejudice.)
And yet, I feel there’s hope. On election night we were at a friend’s house for a party. It was a cold night and we huddled outside by a fire, sipping coffee watching a big screen roll off the polling numbers. My son ran around between us. Three Indians,two Americans, two gay couples, a Pole and a Turk watched as America chose a black man as its president and an openly gay person as a senator.
I thought of the sense of incredulous amazement I felt when I read about computers with vacuum tubes that occupied whole rooms just to add two numbers. I couldn’t believe things used to be like that.
I felt reassured my son will read this post one day with that same sense of incredulous amazement.
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