I used to be a closeted homophobe.
I’m not sure if it was the words of my elders and my upbringing or if it was the music I listened to. Either way, it happened, and it happened so subtly that I didn’t notice it.
I was first (knowingly) introduced to a gay person in high school. He had similar interests and even loved the same music. We had become friends very quickly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort that I held inside of me. What was making me feel this?
I picked up on some popular quotes that homophobes say. Things like, “I don’t mind if you’re gay, jut don’t do that stuff in front of me!” and “Just don’t hit on me and we’re cool, alright?” I also used the word “fag” and “gay” as synonyms for “idiot” and “stupid” respectively. I realized that I had felt uncomfortable with him because I was saying these things behind his back. It had nothing to do with him, it had everything to do with me.
Growing up as a black male, I was lucky that I didn’t face as much blatant discrimination as you would hear about in American media, but I still faced it. People would call me “white-washed” because I spoke “proper” English. I would be called white for my taste in music and, questionably, for having higher grades. Hearing those things hurt. I always did my best to hide it, but I could only imagine that if I didn’t find my small group of close friends, I would be a completely different person. Much, much angrier.
It was only later that I understood that many people go through the same shit. Being discriminated against for something that you can’t control, and harassed until you feel numb. I realized that I was in the same column as the people who made fun of me. I was just as responsible as them for how I made others feel. My words, whether I said them to someone’s face, or behind their backs, were my responsibility. I had to let go of that terrible habit.
Ideally, our private lives and our social lives should reflect each other. When you live your life congruently, it means that you have a healthy set of boundaries. Forcing myself to speak my mind and calling out people on bad behaviour is still something that have trouble with. What I do know, is that the more I work on this particular aspect of my life, the less stressed I feel, because I don’t have to worry about living two different lives.
Almost everything that I do is a reflection of who I am and what I believe in, from the conversations I have with my family and friends, to the music that I listen to. I am, by definition, a minority and I am responsible for the equal treatment of minorities. People that I have worked with are part of the LGBTQ community and my best friend is a lesbian. In the end, I am responsible for the feelings of the people closest to me.
Being anything less than stellar is a betrayal to them, and to myself.