Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I tolerate homophobes

Nick, the Narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, opened the book with this unforgettable remark:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."
Just as Nick couldn't let go of that advice, I too have kept it in mind over the years, especially when I encounter people who are intolerant of gays.

I grew up in the 1990's when it was still acceptable to say "fag" in casual conversation. It wasn't out of malice; it's something we said without a second though. There wasn't something evil or sinister about my generation, or those that came before us. It's just how things were when we grew up.

Until middle school I was opposed to gays in purely hypothetical terms, since I hadn't met anyone who was openly gay. It was a combination of watching The Kids in the Hall episodes over and over and realizing I was on the same side of an issue as the Ku Klux Klan that caused me to abandon my position and accept gays.

Opposing gays was the default position when I was growing up. That's not the case any more and the younger generations have done a great job of being open and accepting. However, if they had been born in the 1970's or 1980's, a lot of those individuals would have been on the other side.

Some young people today still grow up in communities that treat gays cruelly. However, I feel the proper way to deal with these unfortunate people is with understanding, not hate. The way some social conservatives talks about gays is truly awful and I would never defend their statements.

But at the same time, I am not as willing to condemn the person along with the statements. A lot of those people didn't have the same advantages when they grew up, and their contempt for gays is a product of their upbringing and lack of exposure to critical thinking.

For example, the working title for the Beastie Boy's amazing album License to Ill was "Don't Be A Faggot." That was 1986, and the group has rewritten a lot of their own lyrics since then as they started to "get it."

Just like the Beastie Boys, I was born at a time where I got to be on both sides of the gay rights cause. I had an unthinking aversion to gays as a child and was the token straight guy at my first college's gay-straight alliance. We are all products of our environments.

Earlier tonight I was listening to a pop-rock YouTube play list and came across this song high school student Jarrod Matthew sang to what appears to be a far-away romance. He changed some of the lyrics to be about Sunny, his beloved. It is absolutely sweet, endearing and heartwarming.

When I realized that Sunny was a boy, it didn't change a thing about how this video made me feel. It was no less tender or romantic.

Yet, I know there are people* out there who would have shut it off the second they realized what was happening. I don't want to sound condescending, but how can you feel anything but pity for people who can't take joy in witnessing beautiful acts like this because they were brought up intolerant?

As Nick's father said, whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

*Granted, few of them would want to listen to a Hellogoodbye cover song.


  1. "same side of an issue as the Ku Klux Klan"

    You're on the same side of a lot of issues as they are, that's a terrible way to decide what side of an issue you should be on. They've adopted a highway and pick up the trash on it, are you therefore pro-littering?

  2. Nate, I was about 13 years old. Correct or not, that was my logic at the time.