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Democracy and Diversity (pt. 2)

May 4, 2012

Ok, time to go somewhere I have avoided addressing directly thus far.  I want to talk a bit about discrimination and all of those “-isms” and “-phobias”.

I read a couple of articles today that have once again driven me to the edge and made me question my belief that there is some hope for our race.

The first was a tremendously well-written and thoughtful response to a not so thoughtful and offensive article attacking ‘Black studies’ as an academic pursuit. (If you just clicked over to read them, please take 30 minutes to calm down before continuing with my piece.)

The second was an article about a student teacher that was let go for being transgendered. Not only was that story infuriating, but the responses were even worse.  People kept on justifying this teacher being removed from the school by saying that sexual preference has no place in the classroom and that this teacher’s appearance was a distraction and disruptive to the learning environment.  This was my response:

“I feel the need to respond to some of the comments I have read. First of all, gender identity and sexual preference are completely different issues. This has nothing to do with sex – only gender. I understand it is confusing for most people so allow me to make an analogy. If a white man is physically attracted to black women does that make the man black? Suppose that white man was a teacher and had a picture of his half black/half white daughter on his desk. Would it be inappropriate for him to tell his students that his wife was black when the students asked him who the black girl in the picture was?

Secondly, to comment on a teacher’s appearance as a distraction to their education is absurd. Would you have your school fire any teacher that happens to be extremely attractive? I assure you; a teacher that many students find ‘cute’ or ‘hot’ causes far more distraction than one that dresses differently. Perhaps we should require all teachers to wear an oversized burlap sack with eye holes cut out and a Stephen Hawking style voice box to avoid any determination of the teacher’s gender.

Final point – transgendered people exist and they aren’t going anywhere.  One of the most fundamental lessons school teaches (both to students and teachers) is to understand and respect the diversity of human life*. Having a transgendered teacher gave those students a life lesson that very few students have had. Letting this teacher go didn’t support the students’ education – it stifled it.”

*When I say understanding and respect that is exactly what I mean – none of this tolerance bullshit.  God almighty I hate that word.  Yeah, thats going to make blacks, jews, gays and white men feel equal – being tolerated. (I hope this article circulates far enough into the future to see the day when white men become the minority.)

Both as a teacher and in my personal life things like race, gender, sexual orientation, and economic class have always strongly affected me. It is a complex issue and it boils down to that conflict between democracy and diversity. How do we maintain our own culture and balance it with our ‘universal’ status as human beings?

Allow me to cite a personal example to illustrate my point. Many years ago I was an active member of a Christian church and youth group.  That faith and those beliefs became a part of who I was.  At the same time, I was beginning to discover my sexuality.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am gay.  This was extremely difficult for me.  My faith had become a huge part of me and that faith was telling me that who I was and how I felt was fundamentally wrong. But it wasn’t like I chose to be gay, and I couldn’t justify ignoring that part of me either.  This is where many people make a choice – suppress the gay or suppress the faith.  Start dating women or start going to a different church.

That didn’t work for me either.  I believe that every human being needs to find religion/faith/spirituality/belief for themselves, but it didn’t seem right to just pick a church based on the fact that they were ok with gays.  Finding or discovering is not the same thing as picking or choosing.  ‘Picking’ a religion isn’t like picking a college.  That just isn’t how it works – to choose a God just because (s)he fits my own criteria would imply that I am higher than God.  If that were the case than I should just pray to myself every night – why bother with the middle man?  This certainly made a compelling case for atheism (my mathematical mind cited proof by contradiction) but that didn’t work for me either.  It had the same flaw; it was a set of beliefs solely based on what was the most convenient for me – how would that make it ‘right’?  (I understand there is a distinction between church, religion, faith, spirituality and God but I hope you see my point despite my sloppy language.  Also, this is my own personal journey – yours is certainly different and no less valid.)

So what is my point?  The battle being fought in my mind is a microcosm of the issues we deal with as a human race.  How can two cultures interact and integrate without compromising the very things that make us who we are?

I don’t hate conservative Christians who push legislation that suppresses gay rights because I know that their actions stem from a sincere desire to ‘save the eternal souls’ of us gay sinners.  I may find them ignorant and dangerous, but how could I hate someone who truly believes that they are trying to help me get into heaven?  And telling them that they are bad people for thinking homosexuality is a sin is really no different from them saying I am a bad person for acting on my homosexuality.  Think about it – trying to convince a fundamentalist Christian that being gay is ‘ok’ is a lot like a fundamentalist Christian trying to convince a gay man to fall in love with a woman.

Now that I have pissed everybody off, let’s consider the solution.  Is there a solution?  Well, it starts with understanding.  It is ok to be different.  We’ve gotten pretty good at that when the differences are superficial.  The real challenge is to learn not to be threatened by other people whose beliefs and identities conflict with or contradict our own.  Why should any disagreement turn into hate and anger?  This only happens when we doubt ourselves.  If I truly believed that all gays were going to hell, I might try to convince them to ‘stop being gay’ too.  But if they didn’t choose to accept what I believe I wouldn’t hate them for it.  Perhaps I would be saddened and concerned for a fellow human being whom I thought was going to hell – but I wouldn’t hate them.  In fact, it wouldn’t make any sense to hate them.  If I hated someone, wouldn’t I be happy they were going to hell?  I certainly wouldn’t want them bothering me for all eternity up in heaven – let them be gay (insert evil laugh here).

Hatred can only come from something that casts doubt on one’s own faith – that is where the resentment and anger truly comes from.  I firmly believe that the only person anyone is capable of actually hating is themself.  And no, I’m not suggesting that any Christian who ‘hates’ gays is struggling with their own repressed homosexuality.  That does happen but it just doesn’t hold for everybody.  Not to mention that it would imply that any homosexal who hates Christians must be struggling with their own repressed Christianity.  It usually goes deeper.

So when I read things that truly anger me I am learning to ask myself why – why do I feel hatred toward this person?  Why do they feel hatred towards me?

I don’t always find the answer (almost never, in fact) but I have faith that there is an answer.  And it is that faith that will let me sleep tonight.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2012 2:56 am

    Hatred is definitely a sign of fear and – as your rightly point out – commonly not fear of the ‘other’ but fear of ourselves. For all of us fear of being cut off from the herd is the biggest fear and so we want the ‘herd’ to agree with us or else we just bend ourselves out of shape to be part of the herd. It’s too much work. We have no control over the herd anyway so I figure if we plough our own furrows we’ll be fine and able to happily (and in parallel lines) co-exist with each other! Nice posts. (BTW tell the dog I hope he enjoys the treats)

  2. May 4, 2012 7:31 am

    Well written, Matt – I feel your anger and frustration regarding the woes of society. Your writing always prompts me to leave comments where other blogs do not. Good for you in having the courage and confidence to be “out” and to discuss your feelings about non-acceptance. My youngest son is gay and I love and support him with every fiber of my being. I live in a state where the majority of the population consist of a very closed-minded Church – I do not participate in any religion but I do have a close relationship with God. I claim what many do – I am spiritual but not religious.
    God doesn’t make mistakes – period! No one chooses to be gay, or black, or Jewish, or white – it doesn’t matter WHO we are, but HOW we live together in peace, love and acceptance. I know that all of the discrimination issues feel really big to you and others right now – but I can tell you from personal experience during my lifetime that it IS getting better. People are “getting it” even though society’s views and ability to accept others may not be moving quickly enough for some.
    The hatred we still see is taught – we aren’t born into this world with hatred. The key is to continue to teach our children acceptance and to live a “color-blind” life – that we are all ONE and not to ever treat anyone differently that you’d want to be treated. It is a fairly slow process, waiting for each generation to grow and pass that knowledge on to future generations – but I believe whole-heartedly that this is the key. We must lead by example by living our lives exactly how we want those younger generations to lead their lives.
    I am heavily involved in PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) and as a straight parent feel that I have tremendous abilities to help change views of others who are not so open-minded and accepting. Where I live, gay teens are commiting suicide at alarming rates – they feel it is a better option than continuing to feel the rejection and the shame from their religious families, friends, and Church (who ex-communicates them once they come out). It is a travesty. Those of us in PFLAG, love and support ALL teens – gay, straight, black, white, hispanic……we are teaching these young adults how to walk the walk.
    We can each make a difference – you certainly are, Matt. Teaching is a fabulous profession and I am honored to know you!
    Thank you for your post – you always inspire me to write.

Every time I get a comment I give my dog a treat!

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