Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Hop Against Homophobia: Why I'm Liberal
Over the next four days I will be part of the Hop Against Homophobia. If you follow that link, you will get to a page that links to other authors who are also participating. The participants are offering prizes, including me, and if you're up for bouncing around and doing some reading on this subject, you very much should. So really quick, before the post starts, let's talk about the giveaway.
The giveaway extends from Thursday, May 17th, to Sunday, May 20th.
* I'm giving two prizes: a Signed Paperback Copy of Gambling Men and one copy of any Dreamspinner Press e-book from my backlist of the winner's choice.
*Anyone who comments on THIS POST of my blog is eligible to win.
* Winner will be chosen by the randomizer at nine o'clock, PST, Sunday the 20th.
* I'll announce the winner in a separate post.
* Even though I will post again OVER this post, only people who comment on THIS post will be counted. (I'll remind you of that later, too:-)
Now, all that being said, let's get on to my boring story! (And before the boring story commences, I need to thank Mary Calmes, because before you--in her words--"gut yourself like a frog in biology 101" you need someone who will read your frog guts and tell you if they're too gross. Thank you, my darling-- I couldn't have written this without you.)
Okay, so one of the things that was happening with my blogging even before my brush with the law is that I learned how to keep some of my dumb-assed opinions to myself, because I never knew who was listening. Venting was all very well and good, but I was frequently surprised (did I mention the dumbass?) that I hurt people's feelings.
Well, that's sort of how I became such a staunch advocate for gay rights. Because I used to be just a big-eyed country girl with only ignorance in this matter, and when I think back to those days, I cringe. How many people did I hurt with my ignorance?
So... my stand on homosexuality... shall we trace back?
I remember when a friend of a friend came out in high school. My friend said to somebody nearby, "Yeah, I know he's gay. Why does that matter?" It was the first time I actually knew there was a word for boys liking boys.
The field conductor of our band was filling out a dating questionnaire for a fundraiser. He "accidentally" put "female" under his gender, and got a list of boys. My parents asked me if it was a Freudian slip-- that time, I knew what they meant, and I said, "No!" because like most of the senior class, I had a major crush on him. *sigh* Why yes, he came out in college, why do you ask? It was the first of many drama crushes I had. My learning curve, it ain't ever steep.
In junior college, drama, many of my friends were gay--but they didn't talk frankly about it to me, because I was too "innocent". Looking back now, I wish I'd been less "innocent" and more brave and willing to talk about it, because I still wasn't getting it--I wasn't getting what it really was, I wasn't getting why it mattered, all I got was what my gay and lesbian friends were willing to show me, and that was often the stuff that made me laugh. I do have one very clear memory from this time, though (and it was over twenty years ago.) One of the boys I'd had a crush on in high school had just come out--and he was one of those sharp dressing boys, who always smelled so good. I wasn't in his inner circle, although I knew about the gay because my friend Sally had told me (and she was newly lesbian-- she knew these things) and I remembered being really disappointed. He was really cute. Anyway, we were both working tech on a show, and I was sick--103 temp sick, shivering in my own sweat as I worked the light board sick, and there we were in the tech booth when he took his brand new leather jacket off and put it around my shoulders. It smelled so good--leather and man and Polo (*swoon*) and I remember having this thought: this guy was so out of my league anyway, and if he was this nice of a person as a whole, that maybe that whole whispered disapproval around the whole idea of "gay" was off base. This guy saved my life (it felt like) and even at an "innocent" nineteen, I could figure out that just all around niceness like that couldn't come from a bad place at all.
After junior college there was San Francisco State and then Sac state. I remember one of my bosses was flamboyantly gay enough to playfully ogle Mate's backside when he was working the line one night, after Mate and I started working in the same restaurant. I remember another friend--this one read some of the first of my writing--who filled me in on the fact that his "roommate" was really his lover, and that's why he didn't move out when they beat the holy hell out of each other during one of their more physical fights. (This idea blew me away. "You didn't realize that's how gay men fight?" "I didn't realize that's how anyone fights--are you sure this is a healthy relationship?" "Well, we're still men!" Yeah, yeah, feel free to discuss--but when Jeff and Collin beat the fuck out of each other in Living Promises, I was coming from that place right there.)
I remember another friend who was as out an proud a lesbian as I have ever met. I was standing next to a male manager at the cashier's stand when the night's receipts printed out between his legs. She reached in and grabbed it, and he said (playfully) "Sexual harassment!" She winked at me, grabbed my knee, and said, "Nope-- that was sexual harassment!" I giggled all night. She was the worst driver I'd ever had the misfortune of getting into a car with. To this day, Mate agrees.
So, on the whole, I'd had enough interaction with the gay and lesbian community, you'd think I'd know better--you'd think I'd be hip and not stupid, but I wasn't. When working at another restaurant, one apparently known for it's gay and lesbian clientele, I remember trying really hard not to be upset at the sight of two women necking. I confided my discomfort to the cashier I was working with, and the female manager she standing next to. I said that logically, I knew it was fine, but on an instinctive level, it was just something I wasn't used to seeing--none of the gay or lesbian couples I'd ever known had actually necked in front of me. I guess until you see someone doing it, it's just a word, and you don't get that this world spins on a different gender axis, and for a moment, you're dizzy. Nevertheless, I probably shouldn't have confided my ignorance to two women who were sleeping together. No, I didn't know that at the time--but, well, that job didn't last long. People were unexpectedly cold to me, why do you ask?
And putting my foot in it didn't end there. Part of it was my own fault, and part of it was the world around me--it sure would have helped in the 90's and early '00's if there was a handkerchief code for "Gay friendly but still stupid." Would you like examples?
* I thought that line in Steel Magnolias about all gay men liking track lighting was hilarious. Not because I think it's TRUE, but because it reveals the same innocent ignorance I myself was victim to--and it also revealed (given that it was from a grandmother who was talking openly to her gay grandson) a willingness to change and enlarge her world, and I'm all about that. That being said, laughing about it in front of a recently out colleague was probably not the best thing for me to do. I don't think he understood where I was coming from at all, and that was my fault.
* I related the restaurant story to another colleague--who, unbeknownst to me, was gay. I was using it to explain that I was continuing to expand my perception of the world so I don't make those mistakes anymore, but I don't think she ever felt safe to confide in me after that, and I feel bad about that.
* I was discussing a far away branch of my family once, including, "Yeah, unfortunately the patronymic (Junior) is going to end with my cousin."
"Why is that?" asked a colleague.
I shrugged. "Sadly enough, he's gay."
The colleague's eyes cut to another colleague, who was gay, like he was trying to tell me something I didn't know. (By now, I knew. Duh!) "Why sadly?" he asked, his eyes still darting nervously, like he needed me to clear this up.
I rolled my eyes. "Because nobody in the other family trusts us enough to just tell us he's gay. It's all about guessing. And it's not that we give a shit, it's just that it would be nice to know--that way, we don't have to ask if he's found a nice girl or not, right?"
I think both colleagues were surprised. I think they were sure I was going to spout something about how awful the g word was--but that's the thing. If I didn't have the handkerchief that said "gay friendly but stupid" how was he supposed to know?
* Like all of the good things about me, it was my students who brought out the best of me in this matter. I remember the very defensive AP student who managed to alienate his entire class not because he was gay, but because he was SO defensive about being gay. He was perhaps the first openly gay person who was willing to define himself in the face of the entire world that I had ever met. I remember asking him if maybe he could give the class a chance (they were a sweet bunch and eventually he did have friends) and in turn, I was willing to expand my awareness to a non-heteronormative world. (Yes, he used that term-- he liked to flaunt his intellect. I think he was impressed that I wasn't stupid either.) I think that kid did a whole lot for my understanding of why it would suck for the world to assume he was straight--because this kid? There's not enough pray-the-gay-away in the world, and he was dead on. The world needed to love him for who he was. I think once he understood that I (and his classmates) could do that, he became a whole lot more lovable as a whole.
* And finally, I remember the girl who had been my TA and who came back to visit. I adored her, and I didn't adore her one teeny bit less when she said, (showing off her rainbow bracelet) "Guess what, Ms. Lane! I went off to college and got all gay!" I hugged her tighter. "Good for you," I said, and by now, I knew what it was, and why it was a big deal
At the end, when I was taken out of my teaching job, it was because I assumed that the rest of the world was less ignorant than I was, and not more so. I assumed that the books wherein I wrote about gay couples growing up and having a happy ending and an (eventually) happy life had always been acceptable, and it had only been my wide-eyed ignorance that hadn't seen that in the first place. It's funny, that of all the blithe assumptions I've ever made in my life, that last one is something I'm almost proud of.
So when I think about it now, I think that besides myself for being a dumbass, the thing I am the most irritated with is the world, for encouraging me to be a dumbass. I was too embarrassed to ask questions, and I kept making the same dumbassed mistakes. And you know what? The world being what it was and still is, nobody called me on my dumbassery. Many of the poor GLBT people exposed to my ignorance didn't feel confident enough to challenge me about my assumptions--when they would have been in the right. The heterosexual people I knew were all about the "whisper it 'cause it's bad"--and they weren't helping me just step up and investigate the idea that we're all created equal--we're just not interested in the same plumbing! I know that even as I progressed and wrote about this subject, it was still hard for me to recognize bullying--people who were gay-friendly didn't talk about being gay-friendly. People who weren't gay-friendly were conducting a subtle and then not-so subtle campaign about how being gay was bad. All of the sotto-voiced secrecy? Wasn't helping. When I confessed my discomfort at seeing the women making out, if someone had said, "I'm gay--do you realize how offensive that is?" I would have gotten over my hangups a helluvalot sooner. If my gay colleague had said, "Do you realize how offensive it is that you think that's funny?" I could have explained, "It's only funny to me because it makes ignorance look ignorant," and he might have felt more comfortable around me. The thing is, in a way, our world has gotten to this terrible impasse of screaming bigotry and bullying because for twenty years, the homosexual community didn't feel free enough to simply stand up to big-eyed country girls and educate the holy fucking shit out of us, like we deserved.
And now, all of those people who've been secretly afraid of this community are thinking, "Well, nobody's said anything for years-- we all must be right."
Homophobia is in the small fears and the big ones. I overcame mine by looking at human being after human being, and trying my hardest not to offend human beings for simply being who they are. I am aware--painfully aware--that I hurt people during this process. I am even more aware that not everybody has that sort of introspection. If the people in my world had been comfortable enough to come out, speak freely, talk to me without fear of watching me turn into a screaming lunatic, then I would have been an educated, well rounded human being much sooner. And, quite frankly, I don't trust the rest of the world to come to the same sorts of realizations on their own.
We need to educate our world that people are people. It took me twenty years. It could have all happened when I was sixteen, if the health teacher had said, "Not all people are heterosexual. Some people enjoy same sex relationships, and those work differently." Homophobia isn't just those wingnuts from WBC screaming stupid, scary, blasphemous things-- homophobia is being afraid to just ask questions, to confront a community that you know nothing about and admit it's important. Homophobia would have been being unwilling to talk to a student about the one thing that's making his school life a sheer misery, or explain to him that it doesn't have to suck, and he can still be completely himself.
Homophobia is being unable to say, "Oh, are you/is he/is she/are they gay?" without a fear that you will somehow insult someone by simply asking what their life situation is.
In order for homophobia to finally be abolished, we need to move to a world where people speak about human rights like they are a given, and it's the bigots who whisper among themselves, because they're the ones who are doing or saying something bad. The sooner we do, the sooner we can get to a place where a big-eyed country girl can say, "Oh, you're gay? Sucks for me!" and the conversation doesn't screech to a halt. When this finally happens, with any luck, the screeching scary wingnuts won't feel comfortable trying to rip away other people's human rights, and every country in the world can jump on a government that would hang four men in public for doing private consensual thing with their bodies in the safety of their hearths. The sooner we can speak up and expect that the world will accept gay rights as naturally as they accept blonde rights and brunette rights and short people rights and the rights of people who drive Volkswagens, the sooner nobody will feel comfortable giving voice to atrocities and saying it's "God's law."
My shame in my previous ignorance is profound. I cringe when I think of the shame the entire human race is going to have to face when they come to their own realization. The sooner we can educate the world, the sooner we can look humanity in the mirror and say, "Yes. We have done right by you."