Since I am the hyper-volunteer that I am, I’ve been helping out with the PRIDE employee resource group where I work, as part of our diversity and inclusion initiative. Not surprisingly, you meet gay people in such groups. I’ve made a new friend there, who lives in Seattle and works at a company we recently acquired. C is a bit younger than me, but we share a lot of memories of the past.
When no one else is at our meetings, we chat about stuff, and yesterday we got to talking about the differences between being young and gay when we were young and how it is now. Looking that far back, it becomes very clear how much things have changed for the better in North America. It also confirms how much I admire my gay and lesbian friends from the 1970s through 1990s, who really lived on the cusp of a more accepting world. This led me to some thoughts as Pride Month in the US starts.
Both of us remembered that when we were in high school NO ONE admitted being gay, and there were just whispers about certain theater types and flashy dressers. Whew, I feel bad for some of the guys, especially, who were pressured into dating women and must have felt really uncomfortable. Not to say that it was easier for women…and none of us even really grasped the possibility of being trans back then. I know lots of people who have children from the inevitable marriages that happened back then who treasure those kids and are grateful to understanding former partners.
When I went to college, so many young men were coming out. My friend had similar memories of college being the first place where people felt safe to be themselves. Today, young people are so much freer (as a whole, not saying there still aren’t issues) to be open about figuring out their sexuality, loving whoever they want to, and not feeling forced to make a permanent choice. The fluidity nowadays is something I wish we had when I was young.
And while there is still a lot to fear for minorities today, fewer people feel like they must hide to stay alive. There are still workplaces and other spots where people my age are careful, though. Why, even ten years ago a friend of mine called his husband “Joan” at work to deflect an intolerant supervisor. And I hesitate to wear my Pride outfits in Cameron, even.
One reason that I have chosen to be an LGBTQIA+ ally for all these years is that I saw how dangerous it could be in the Gay 1990s for people to speak up for themselves when faced with homophobic behavior. My gay buddies used to stand up for me when people said sexist things in my presence, so it was only fair for me to point out homophobic speech and action when I saw it. That’s the job of the ally, to show that we do notice these things and won’t accept them.
I’m here, noting when I feel uncomfortable, use an improper pronoun, or say something inappropriate, and I make sure to acknowledge it, then move on without making it into a “woe is me, poor cisgender ally person.” Being an ally may sometimes be hard, but it’s merely a choice for me. Being gay is NOT a choice and not something you can take a break from if it’s hard.
What makes me, my friend in Seattle, and so many others of us who are getting older right now very happy is seeing progress, seeing happy and productive people out there living authentically, and watching as society inches toward equality and inclusion, at least here. We are not forgetting those who live in parts of the world where people who are not cisgender males by birth are not at all safe. I guess our work just has to keep going!
Like the rest of the world, I have been watching events unfold after the US election. One thing I have seen over and over is people lamenting, “How could so many people have voted for the other side?” And ooh, are they serious, as I found out when I tried to post something funny that I didn’t realize was such a hot potato for the side I’m not a member of. Oops. No opinionating on Facebook, even just to be funny, it appears. On the other hand, I guess I actually agree with the humor, and it has to do with why I’m not so surprised so many people voted on each side.
A Digression on Divisiveness
There are two different world views, and each one is “right” from their point of view.
Depending on how you were raised, your life experiences, and yes, even some genetic influence, you are just going to have different priorities. Actual scientific research concluded “the development of political attitudes depends, on average, about 60 percent on the environment in which we grow up and live and 40 percent on our genes.” Scientific American
I know there’s stuff written on this, but I’m just going to say it as my opinion: I believe that about half of us primarily act out of self preservation and keeping their group on top (safe, in power, well fed). The other half of us have a larger view of preservation and focus on preserving all of humanity and the rest of the earth, too. That’s an over-generalization, of course.
Having read the Caste book recently (sorry if I keep referring to it, but it’s just chock full of helpful information), I am very aware that the country where I live was designed to preserve the wealth and power of one group (that would be the white dudes). And yes, the Electoral College was set up to preserve the power of the right white dudes. The idea of one person’s vote counting the same as another’s really scares some of us, because it might disrupt the balance of power. A person I know said that if we didn’t use the Electoral College, people in New York and Las Angeles would count the SAME as him! Oh no! Their vote would be equal to his! All that work keeping progressives, blacks, and others from influencing things would be down the drain. I guess? I honestly don’t get it.
What Was I Writing About?
What I wanted to actually talk about today is why I care about people who are not a part of my “group.” I am lucky enough to be descended from the English and Scots people who fled the UK because the were religious outsiders, criminals, or sons who couldn’t inherit land. A fine bunch. But because of that, I am the recipient of a lot of advantages. This has never set well with me.
Part of it comes from being raised in the Deep South and experiencing a lot of discomfort about how Black people were treated. I have s strong memory of being yelled at for peeing in Versie’s toilet in the garage at my grandmother’s house. This woman could cook our food, but her toilet was forbidden? And why did she have her own toilet?
And as things went on, I ended up having more Black friends than a lot of people like me did. When my parents moved to (ugh) Plantation, Florida, I was in eighth grade. For some reason, my classmates took an initial dislike to me. I went straight from being a popular kid in a gifted class to the person no one talked to, who had to sit with the black kids. Well, it turned out the black kids felt like me. They’d been bussed into this extra white neighborhood and did not feel welcome. So, what the heck, I talked to them (as much as I could; back then there actually was quite a difference in how the two groups talked).
I ended up spending most of the year with a Black girl, Earnestine, who was smart, like me, but who also didn’t understand Algebra 1 (we were in a horrible experimental school that was one giant room and where you were supposed to teach yourself from textbooks and just ask teachers if you needed help). Earnie ended up being the first person I ever taught to crochet, and we made money from it! The moral to that whole experience was that I got to actually know a lot of these kids, learned all about their families and lives, and found we had a lot in common. (Earnie was top in her class when she graduated from the historically black high school in Ft. Lauderdale, though I didn’t see her again until senior year of high school; things might have been different if we’d had email and social media!).
I was glad to have my eyes opened to see that the people my peers said bad things about were actually just fine. Thank goodness I also made really good Jewish friends and Cuban-American friends (we didn’t have Mexicans) in high school, plus being really close to one of my Black friends. Poor Mom, dealing with me bringing ALL these kids home. But wow, I’m glad I made all these good friends while I was young. I simply can’t view people who aren’t like me in looks, religious tradition, or ethnicity as non-people.
In college, I just happened to fall into a group of young gay men, which was really important. This was pre-AIDS. It was also long before people were coming out in high school or earlier. Many of these guys were trying to figure out who they were, and feeling very vulnerable. Most important, though, was that they were kind to me and my straight friends, and taught us so much about what it’s like to be afraid to be yourself, but go out in the world as you really are. My deep care for these people is probably why I care SO MUCH for young people today who are exploring their gender and sexuality. I remember how hard it was for my friends.
So, no, I wasn’t born such a tree-hugging, peace-mongering, equality-promoting human. Both my genetics (from my dad) AND my experiences led me to be how I am. I totally get how someone with different genes and different experiences might feel threatened by people like me, my friends who are people of color, and all those LGBTQ folks. They are different.
I know so many people I care about feel very threatened by the idea of people who aren’t white dudes being in charge. I’ve heard people say they voted against Biden because if he died in office, TWO WOMEN would be in charge! Yeah, that’s way too many vaginas in power. The thing is, those of us who care about everyone also care about people who feel threatened by change in the status quo. So, don’t worry folks. Those of us who love everybody will keep on loving them, regardless of power struggles. And we don’t expect people who are wired differently to change.
Who knows, maybe the fact that we are about 50/50 is a good thing for humanity and contributes to our continued ability to thrive in the world. Maybe it’s okay that some of us are for unity and some for division. I just want the best and the brightest to get a chance to lead, regardless of superficial differences. That makes me radical, but it’s just how I am.
In any case, things I was reading today about other people’s biases gave me pause to think about my own. As hard as I’ve worked to overcome different kinds of prejudice, some seem almost hard wired. I have no scientific basis to go on, but my gut feeling is that these are the ones I learned when I was very young, before my ability to make judgments like that on my own kicked in.
Yep, I’m a white person. I was raised in a Southern US white culture. Some of the prejudices of that group rub off. I’ve spent many years dwelling on this, and it doesn’t make me happy. I know that having slave ancestors as well as slave owning ancestors is something to think about. I know I have biases in other areas that skew my opinions. I know I can’t fix past things. But I know I can work hard to treat people fairly today.
Where Prejudice Comes From (for me)
I sure know where a lot of my prejudices come from, and that’s my mom, whom I loved dearly, but I could tell from an early age had some extra doozies of flaws. One was her wide range of racial and ethnic stereotypes. She had a bad World War II experience (lost a fiance) and was pissed off at Japanese people and Germans (they spit when they talk) her whole life. She was also quite opposed to “white trash,” and kept telling us not to be like them. And she both loved black people personally and said awful things about them them as a group (probably from her own upbringing). All this stuff confused the heck out of me, and even though I was uncomfortable with the things she said and did, I know some of it sunk in.
Thanks to my upbringing, I was scared of black people and looked down from my barely middle-class perch at poor white people. I have a feeling many of my black and poor white future friends came about from me wanting to distance myself from my mom and not wanting to be like that. At least I stuck around to like my friends as people. But to this day, I get this tiny bit of negativity that my higher thought processes immediately slap down. Whew, no wonder racial stereotypes and prejudices are so hard to eradicate, when even someone who knows better and wants to judge people on who they are, not how they look, still deals with childhood crap.