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.
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.