I’ve been trying to think about how to write this. I actually started a post earlier and got to about 1000 words before realizing it really wasn’t working the way I wanted it to.
I had an experience this week-end I feel the need to write about, and yet I’m not sure of the best way to do it….
I was faced with an opportunity, of sorts, this weekend. An opportunity to confront ignorance and, I would even argue, homophobia, head on and I didn’t back down.
I went to a barbecue at Michelle’s sister, Monique’s house. Based on my decision-making avoidance strategy, or D-MAS, of wearing whatever’s next in line (as long as it coordinates), I ended up wearing this t-shirt:
Among other people, one person in attendance was someone who has been a friend of Monique’s for years, but whom I have only met a handful of times. His name is Damien, which for anyone who cares, is in some circles thought to be a name for the Devil. Just thought I’d share that.
Anyway, through the course of the afternoon and evening Damien made a number of comments that were very insensitive and ignorant and instead of sitting by silently and letting it pass, I spoke up.
Michelle told a story about the guy she had been “training” for the last two weeks while in Tulsa. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how “lame” this guy’s personality is. She was asked to go there for two weeks to act as a Subject Matter Expert, or in Project Management parlance, a SME (pronounced smee). On one particular occasion, the gentlemen she was working with (who is really kind of a dud as far as the job goes, but that’s none of my concern) had need of input from Michelle and another “SME” and upon completing the conversation, said, “We just had a smeeting!”
Now understand, I think that’s hysterical! Michelle on the other hand thinks it’s a terrible joke. Michelle’s friend Suzanne who was also at the barbecue and sitting next to me during this conversation and I both burst out laughing. Damien on the other hand, rolled his eyes and said, “That’s gay!”. I turned and looked directly at him, and while never removing the smile from my face and without taking on an angry tone, I told him, “Excuse me, but, that is not OK.” It took Damien a second to register what I meant. I continued, “What makes it ‘gay’?”
He acknowledged what I had said, and apologized. While I’m not convinced of the depth of his sincerity, I accepted his apology.
At another point the subject of Gay Pride came up. Suzanne asked Damien if he’d ever been to pride. His vehement response was “Fuck no!” I pointed out that his reaction was disproportionate to the question. If Suzanne had asked me that question, I would have said, “No. I never have been” and that really that would have been a sufficient answer from Damien. He went on to say that his ex-wife had wanted him to come to Pride (her company was a sponsor and she had to work) and he said the only way he would ever go was if she bought a pair of handcuffs and he could handcuff himself to her for the duration of the event so that all the gay guys would know he was straight and taken.
Later, he brought up the subject of same-sex marriage and prejudice against homosexuals. Damien is half black and half Puerto Rican. I only know this because he told us so. I had no idea before he said so. He doesn’t look black in the least and I’m not the least bit surprised that he hasn’t experienced much discrimination in his lifetime (something he also told us.) He told those of us involved in the conversation, “I don’t think there’s any difference between being discriminated against because you’re gay or because you’re black.”
I spoke up. “Woah! Hold on just a minute now. I don’t, for one second dispute the fact that prejudice still exists in this country and I’m sure that just about every black person alive has experienced some extent of discrimination. But you can’t tell me that it’s the same thing. First of all, in this nation today, we have institutionalized discrimination against homosexuals who want to get married, or visit their partners in the hospital and more than 1000 other ways. And while it’s true that there are still bigots in this world who will treat black people badly just because they’re black, I don’t think too many of those people are going to be any nicer to a homosexual. Meanwhile there are laws on the books outlawing discrimination against black people. There are specific laws on the books that make it legal for a mixed race couples to marry while there are also laws that prevent two people of the same gender who love each other from marrying.
“Plus! You’re born black, and from the day you’re born there’s no question to anyone who sees you that you are black. On the other hand, most gay people don’t realize they’re gay until well into their teen years if not longer. You can’t always tell a person is gay just by looking at them. So while it sucks that black people still get discriminated against, you’re not exactly unprepared for it.
“Now imagine for just a minute, that you’re the most average man in the world. White skin, blond hair, blue eyes, couldn’t be more average. For the first 30 years of your life you experience absolutely no prejudice or discrimination whatsoever and then you wake up one day and you finally realize you’re gay and for the first time in your life you have to face the reality that people will hate you. Your own mother will hate you. That you can be fired from your job in many places because you prefer men over women. That the nation as a whole says you are not worthy, that you don’t deserve to live and have the same happiness that they have.
“Imagine that for one minute. There is no way you can tell me there’s no difference in the kind of prejudice that gay people and black people experience.”
Damien started to argue the point, but can I just tell you… Everyone else in the conversation actually, literally cheered.
Let it be said that as a whole, the barbecue was a lot of fun. I enjoyed myself quite a bit and I didn’t allow Damien’s ignorance or commentary to negatively impact me or ruin my experience.
Let it also be said that it seemed incredibly clear to me that Damien is struggling with some issues. I think it likely that he himself is in fact gay and he’s struggling with accepting it. And after he left and I expressed as much to Monique and Michelle, Monique said, “Oh yeah! I’ve thought that for years.” So on that front, I hope he figures things out for himself. I hope he does it soon and I hope he doesn’t ever have to encounter the kind of ignorance that he was spouting on Sunday.
So, uh… How was your holiday week-end?