My personal journey from bigotry to equality

By the luck of the draw, in 1943, I was born white, male, heterosexual and middle class. I was instantly granted cultural privileges and advantages that gave me a distinct leg up as I made my way in the world.5389_10152704673970374_1528401644_a

I grew up in a small town in Tennessee during the so-called “good old days,” when men were men, women knew their place, blacks were second-class citizens, the poor were “lazy white trash” and the existence of homosexuals was not even acknowledged. The cultural paradigm of the time was powerful, so I internalized those beliefs and looked down on those whom I considered “less” than me.

During my college years, I mixed with students and professors with broader worldviews. I began to question the way women, people of color and folks who had less material wealth than me were treated. After all, weren’t we all cut from the same cloth? Consequently, during the 1960s and ’70s, I was heartened when our nation passed legislation moving us toward greater equality for African-Americans and women as well as toward the alleviation of poverty.

As our culture evolved, I made changes in my own life, including questioning my culturally granted superior status as a white male, working to amend my previously unexamined beliefs about folks who weren’t like me and raising my first daughter in a manner that empowered her to become a powerful, independent woman.

One prejudice that I had not yet confronted, however, was my attitude toward gays and lesbians. The prevailing culture of my youth had led me to believe that being a sissy, effeminate or, heaven forbid, gay was the absolute worst fate imaginable for a male of my era. Consequently, I never (knowingly) spent time in the presence of gays but spent a great deal of time intent on proving my masculinity — tough, uncaring, independent (some might say aloof), physically strong — a simulated manliness that kept me on the lookout for anyone who might poke a hole in my fragile facade. Predictably, I was scared out of my wits by even the thought of homosexuality.

Well, life has a way of presenting you with what frightens you the most, and during the late 1980s and ’90s I became involved in a community in Dallas that included gay members. After a while, I learned that, with the exception of the gender with whom we chose to enter into committed relationships, we were pretty much the same, with similar yearnings, hopes and dreams. During this time, I began to get in touch with who I really am — not the macho man … nor the sensitive New Age guy for that matter. Just me being me. And my anxiety toward gays and lesbians naturally subsided. And though I’m aware this sounds like a cliché, today a number of my closest friends are gay.

Those of you who were around in the 1950s probably remember the furor about the intermarriage of blacks and whites. In fact, in 1955, the Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals declared that if whites and blacks were allowed to marry, it would create “a mongrel breed of citizens,” that such marriages must be blocked to prevent “the corruption of blood” of white people. Sounds laughable in 2013, doesn’t it? So do today’s ridiculous and groundless arguments against LGBT rights and gay marriage.

Recently my wife, Shonnie, and I were looking at baby photos of our young daughter Gracelyn, including some showing her in the buff. I lightheartedly said, “These will be fun to show her boyfriend when she’s a teenager.” Shonnie looked at me knowingly and said, “Or, perhaps, her girlfriend.” “Oh … yeah,” I muttered. Another growth opportunity.

Read this commentary on the Asheville Citizen-Times website by clicking here.

Read it on Buzzflash at Truthout by clicking here.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Deborah

    Well written and thought out. Sounds like you’ve been on the right path for a long time. Good for you. May your words open some others minds.

  • Jim Simmons

    Hello Bruce…
    Yesterday I didn’t see this posted, so I replied to your email. Enjoyed your article; thanks for sharing.
    Regards,
    Jim

  • Carol

    Like the article. We keep moving on as a mass of humanity, the dark corners being lit and light shining bright throughout the world.

  • Sandy Hardwick

    Dear Bruce – thank you for such a touching accounting of how life and culture has evolved (and not) in your lifetime and much of mine!!!
    I know although my parents raised me to know I was and equal to people of color and that gays were people too! There was not any exposure to lesbians so I did my best to fit in and got with a group in high school in the early 1970’s where the guys and girls did things as a group and from my prom I asked a dear junior friend to go with me and had fun.
    After dating men and graduating from college I finally entered a relationship with a woman – that I kept from my family until after it was over 8 years later. That is when my exposure to many gays and lesbians began and to my amazement they varied in backgrounds and livelihoods as “regular” people. Three years later I too was involved in that same community – in Houston – where our journeys mingled. This is where I was able to get that we are all people from the sames cloth and I matter no matter who I choose as my life mate. As you know I am in a wonderful 22 year relationship with Shirley, a woman from that group who also is African American. Thank you for the work you had done and for being a path mate and my friend!

  • Jim Kellogg

    Beautifully said! Thank you…

  • Jenny Meadows

    Beautifully said, Bruce … and that stuff was laughable back in the ’50s and earlier.

    Jen

  • brucemulkey

    Thanks a lot to all of y’all for your supportive comments. I really appreciate your kind words. This story had been percolating for a while, and I’m really glad that the Citizen-Times ran it right after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about Prop 8 and DOMA. The times they are a’ changing!

    My apologies for the tardiness of my response. Between being out of town and Easter, I haven’t had much time on the computer the past several days.

  • Tom Traywick

    As I said in my email, I appreciated your March 28th Guest Commentary.

    It was almost like reading the story of my life – one or two years and states removed. The “luck of the draw” is an important concept and I think of it every day.

    Best,

    Tom Traywick

    Tom “blogs” about Community, Family and Food at http://www.oldonesdream.com