Typically, historical ruminations of discrimination and prejudice
, and especially the often resulting violence, elicits disbelief as a standard response. There’s a detached sense of dismay and confusion that so many, in their day, had ever had the capacity to pass indifferently by, let alone
participate. The past is often judged through the lens of the present, though the present still has room to grow.
Here is a PSA of comedian Todd Glass who, after coming out as a gay man, filmed this for the GLSEN support network. It’s turned up in a number of places, and while much of the commentary is encouraging and even inspiring, there is still a tangent of misunderstanding wherein a message of awareness is being taken to a very unintended and, frankly, a dangerous place.
The PSA brought on a lot of discussion online, and I think it goes without saying that internet commentary is heavily packed with trolling, confrontation, and bludgeoning ideology. Usually, it’s best left alone. Most of these people probably behave completely different offline, right? The “power of anonymity” kind of thing?
This PSA took sat stubbornly in the back of my mind for days. Truthfully, I had to wonder to what extent my own experiences, nestled comfortably in the sphere of “white, straight, female” had clouded my ability to recognize discrimination along the spectrum from “good intentions gone astray” to the full-fledged vitriol faced by those who were perhaps a lot less comfortable.
If I’ve ever failed to notice when it might have mattered to someone: I’m sorry.
Here’s the thing: this message is really only about understanding and respect. These biases exist in our own neighborhoods , and maybe our own homes. In the more abstract, ever-growing and diverse populations, it’s especially easy to distort or demonize individuals and entire groups when we don’t fully understand them. The digital world where I’d stumbled across Glass’s video revealed a lot about how out of sync some of us really are with one another.
The video may have been fiction, but clearly, the reality is not. As conversations grew more intensely polarized, as they do both on and offline, I felt like message was being lost. It was being buried in rhetoric, hyperbole, and finger-pointing; this is my attempt to try to dig it out.
“I’m not responsible for their happiness- suicide was their choice”
I don’t think i can stress enough how important it is to understand, in such a situation as this, what its like to want to take your life. It’s a perpetuation of short-sight to throw hands in the air and say “not my fault”. This is about responsibility, not blame. While there obviously is a choice in the end; it’s a decision that, in part, rests atop many moments, where feeling fundamentally flawed is in some -and often, unintentional- way transfixed into someones fabric of identity.
Survival is a basic instinct, and overriding it is counter to the vast majority of our evolutionary hard-wiring. The reasoning behind the choice is secondary to the fact that it’s perceived as the only one remaining. We don’t get to decide how much, or how efficiently others can cope with stress. We do, however, have the ability to extend guilt-free, unconditional compassion when others suffer, especially loved ones. You can’t solve a problem like this unless you understand where it came from. Where choices and responsibility weigh into this issue, they certainly do so for everyone involved. To argue about who’s rightly to blame, is never a good dragnet for catching positive change and ignores the conversation we should be having about our responsibility in creating solutions. This is subjective territory, and as much as we might worry about the perception of someone at risk, it’s important to consider how our own might be standing in their way. Good people, and good families have lost loved ones over the difference.
Here’s the story of one… This is no PSA.
“We love you.. but”
I think If Todd Glass had wanted us to understand anything, it’s how true, genuine love can be unwittingly framed as doomed to be a buck short. Anderson Cooper of CNN covered a series entitled “the sissy boy experiment” where this idea of, “you’re broken”, has grown into businesses and institutions who sell the “we can fix you” solution. George Rekers, the researcher involved in the sissy boy experiment, when made aware of his patients suicide, offered the all too familiar- “we only wanted to help”. Manipulating a child, (as discussed in the video) whether by emotional or physical means, is irresponsible in its disregard of the psychological side effects.
Research and therapy are important, not everyone who thinks they are LGBT truly are. Although, when research comes off the rails and attempts to fit everyone into the same identity; many of those who inherently fit something else are being taught to be unaccepting of themselves.
“The Leftist-Propaganda Machine”
Politically, we have come a long way in establishing equal rights; though the fact that an historically oppressed demographic is accused of propaganda by sharing their own personal experiences is, in and of itself, a sad realization that despite all the progress, there still is a ways to go. A timeline showing a history of LGBT rights in Canada can attest to some of the progress we’ve made; not, of course, without tremendous struggle. The States-side of this continent is also seeing a shift in opinion, according to Gallup polls. The case is much more serious in other areas of the world, such as Iran where it’s commonplace for LGBT to face death sentences for their orientation, the infamous anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, or Russia’s controversial legislation. The more we permit discrimination to pass by unchallenged, the more we give it the opportunity to grow.
The religious argument is one that I found to be the most conflicting, even amongst themselves. I have no reservations about anyone’s religious beliefs, in fact, religious freedom is just as important. However, I don’t believe religious doctrine has a right to determine the quality of someone’s life. Many in the LGBT community are religious as well and are finding themselves in a strange position between accepting their faith and being accepted BY their faith.
Returning to Todd Glass for a final moment, his appearance on the WTF With Marc Maron Podcast packed some choice words:
“Time will tell you’re wrong. I always say, if you are homophobic and you’re out there, you better be positive you’re right. Because isn’t it gonna blow if all these kids are killing themselves and later, how convenient, in 20 years you get to write a book, and god bless you if you do it, to say how wrong you were. They’re dead. So why don’t you have a soul-searching moment now? Go into your house. Shut the door. And be fucking positive you’re making kids feel like crap for no good goddamned reason, because you can apologize in 20 years if you’re a politician.”
We can only hope that it doesn’t take 20 years for us to all finally understand and respect each other, for who we really are.