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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If You Don't Like Queer You Don't Like Someone You Love

Why are we fighting it... and by It I mean equality.

I know a gay? Who knew?

I grew up in the middle of Oklahoma, during the 1970's, 80's and 90's. Over that time I have known several gay men and women, during times when being gay was, in all ways, unacceptable. Some I knew were gay, and many others I never suspected. Based on what I know of the statistics of closeted homosexuals in the U.S., there are still others that I don't know are gay. I've know many LGBT people that have been discriminated against, persecuted, and beaten. I used to be one of the people that discriminated and persecuted, in language, action and social contexts.
I actually remember when being queer was a social stigma, rather than an empowering identity. I know the reasons to stay closeted about your sexuality, even today, when it is more socially acceptable to be out. The fact that one of the most overused derogatory comments in the common vernacular is, "That's gay," to denote the odd or unacceptable. According to the Westboro Baptist Church, an invisible, imaginary, self-delusion doesn't like it when people are okay with equality. Either that or their imaginary friend really doesn't like bonfires, cigarettes or any other thing that fag has meant.
I've recently had a really good conversation where it was revealed that one of my friends, that I haven't seen in a couple of years, had come out and moved in with his new partner. There was surprise that this person had come out, but it wasn't upsetting and no one made a derogatory statement, as we all would have in the past. There was a question about why this friend hadn't come out to us, and I made the remark that is was probably because, while we had progressed in our thinking over the years, the general rule was still to deride the choice to be open and honest about one's sexuality.
Since then I have thought about the conversation and have come to the conclusion that what I really should have said was, he doesn't have to come out to us, because it's his life. There is no need for your gay friend to come out, to you, if they have come out. I've realized I was a really shitty person for a lot of my life, by expecting others to express themselves to me, when they don't fall under the Straight, White, Cis dominance of our society. Why should gay men and women ask for acceptance, to live openly? It's not like everyone else introduces themselves as "Bob Parker, straight guy." It also isn't as if straight people have an epiphany, and have to come out to their friends and family.

Are You Now, or Have you Ever Been Gay?

There are no hard numbers on the LGBT population in the United States, however since I was a kid, I always heard it was about 10%. It was a joke, "Check with 9 of your friends, if they're straight, you're gay." However, now there is a study from The National Bureau of Economic Research that purports to have a better grasp on this particular demographic, citing a study of over 2000 participants, using anonymity and undirected questions, to conceal identity and mask the intent of the survey. According to the survey, the number of gay men and women stands at around 20%. 1 in 5 people. 62M people regularly engage in homosexual relationships. This is not the number that engage in one-night stands and go back to their "normal" life the next day.
Growing up in Oklahoma I didn't know any gay people. If you asked anyone in my peer group, they would more than likely punch you in the nose. Now that I am grown in Oklahoma, I know a few gay men and women, and count most of them as friends. I know that there are more of my former peers in small town Oklahoma that were gay, but for some reason they didn't walk up to me and announce it. However, statistically speaking, there are approximately 63,000 homosexuals in Oklahoma, which means that I probably know about 1,000 gay people. Of that 1,000 I know less than 100 are openly gay. Why is this important? Why do I need to know who in my social contact book is gay? I don't. I want to know, because I want to be any ally. I want to be someone that understands the experiences that my friends and acquaintances have gone through. I want these people to know that in every way I consider them to be my equal, and in some cases my superior.
I wasn't always an accepting person. I used to be, as I've mentioned before, someone who was extremely homophobic and transphobic. Then I had three very personal experiences that really made me think about these issues in a new light. I had one friend that came out several years after I had seen him, last, and then saw him again after I found out. I tried to strike up a conversation with him, let him know I knew and it was cool. He acted like he was afraid of me. It took a bit to figure it out, but I finally remembered he was my best friend at one time and knew my thoughts on homosexuality, from that time. The second thing that changed my world view was myself developing a crush on another man. I don't mean I could look at him objectively and think, he's good looking... for a dude. I mean I wanted to ask him out and have him say yes. This really opened my eyes and made me start re-examining my entire life. I started putting men and women in the same categories of interest. The final thing was having real conversations with my friends who were going through the same things I was, or who were coming out of the closet, and having it explicitly stated that I was an asshole because of the language I used, and the way I expressed myself. To this end I recently asked a very good friend of mine from when we were kids about their coming out. I promised not to use their name or the place we were when we met and became friends. This is a person that I knew for about 3 1/2 years, and never knew they were gay, or that they were struggling with their identity.

This conversation took place online, and while it is completely anecdotal and only one conversation, I have had conversations similar to this, in the past. I believe it represents a larger group of people than just this one person or only my circle of friends and acquaintances. I've removed my friend's name and pertinent information, that I believe could be used to identify them, at their request.

Q: Did you have a coming out moment?
A: I would not really say that I had a specific coming out moment. I always knew that I was gay from at least elementary school. Of course that was not acceptable in [REDACTED], so I hid it until I was 24. I built up the courage to go to a gay bar in Tulsa because I was scared to go out in OKC. So I went and had a few courage beers at Cover Girls and then went to the gay bar and discovered exactly what I had been missing. I continued going to Tulsa on the weekends until I got comfortable enough to go out in OKC. Soon after, I told my best friend and his wife, and then my Mom and everyone else. It was a gradual process, not really a coming out moment.

Q: Was coming out actually important, or was it just something that happened?
A: Coming out was very important. I know people that have stayed closeted and for the most part they are miserable individuals. I was lucky to have supportive friends and family (for the most part). Many people try to lead the double life and it just does not work in my opinion.

Q: Do you find coming out, to the younger generation of gay men and women, to be an important step, or is that just an individual thing?
A: Yes I think coming out for the younger generation is very important. They are lucky that it has become so much easier because of the internet. Today, movie stars, sports figures, and other notable are coming out every day and as a result, America seems to be slowly changing. Kids are coming out at 13 or 14 now instead of at 24 like I did because it’s socially more acceptable now. I wish every day that the internet would have been around for me when I was young.

Q: Does sexuality become a topic with those who don't know you, when the subject does come up?
A: It's not really that big of a deal I guess. At work, everyone knows and it's not discussed. I don't talk about my personal life at work. In social settings when I tell someone, it's usually not an issue. I usually get the standard, "I have so many gay friends" comment and then that's the end of it. There is so much more to me than my sexuality. I'm sure it’s an issue to some, but no one has ever told me to my face that it's an issue. The internet is a different story. Just last night, a guy on KFOR's website told me that I should leave the country and go somewhere else with my lifestyle.

Q: When we were kids we used a lot of homophobic language, and I'm wondering if that ever upset you?
A: No, and I used homophobic language too. It was kind of a coping mechanism. Deflection, I guess you could say. I even called a guy that I knew was gay a faggot in 9th grade. I later apologized after he and I both came out and we are still [REDACTED] friends today. I have found most people who are the most outspoken against homosexuality are the ones who have a secret of their own to hide.

Q: Do you know others in our former social group that came out of the closet after we all grew up, and if so did they have similar experiences?
A: I don't really know of any others in our particular social circles who came out later, or their story. I know of several people who we went to school with us, who came out later and have met tons of gay people who graduated from [REDACTED] before us or after us. Must be something in the water out there.

This is someone that I knew and hung out with, and spoke with, on a daily basis. We were friends, and I had no clue that they were going through this. This was a time when, as stated in the Q&A, being gay was a social stigma and could get you beaten or worse. This was before Matthew Shepard, but there were many Matthew Shepards out there.

This is Not About Marriage

This issue is more than marriage. This is about acceptance, tolerance and equality. This is about the fact that in 29 states you can be fired for being gay. In the United States we are supposed to have a guaranteed right to Life, Liberty and Happiness. How many people in your life are being denied these basic rights? 1 in 5. You have a right to be an asshole. What we don't have a right to, is denying people basic human rights. If one class of people are entitled to a right, then everyone has to be allowed those same rights. We do not have privilege codified, but it is embodied in our society. We have a entire 1/5 th of our population that can be, and has been legally discriminated against. We have children, who according to a study by the Williams Group (via: Think Progress)  are running away from home or are being ejected from their homes, because of their sexual orientation. We as a society are condoning and encouraging the rejection of children.

Society cannot exist without successive generations. If we continue to reject a full 40% of our youth and ensure they never make it in life, then how can we continue to stand on the moral high ground in the world? How can we tell ourselves and the world that we are a moral society, until every citizen has full equality, regardless of who they love?.

We can't.


(Note:  I didn't include Trans-issues here, because I plan on another post focusing exclusively on that population)

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