Category Archives: homophobia

Why I had to un-friend my favorite aunt on Facebook today

“I don’t understand it, but I accept it.”

Those words would have to rank near the top of my list of the most annoying things straight people say about gay people. What they’re really saying: “You’re sinners, but you’re here and you’re queer, so what choice do we have but to put up with you?”

Despite serious misgivings, I decided to let it go when my Aunt Juliet did the whole song and dance at my brother Jeff’s wedding 11 years ago. I had just introduced her to my then-boyfriend Khleber, and I was so determined not to ruin Jeff’s big day that I let it pass when she started talking about how sad she was that I would miss out on a spouse and kids, all the things that heterosexuality would have supposedly granted me that she herself was living without.

Come to think of it, Jeff’s wedding day wasn’t the best moment to be gay. The stench of homophobia was in the air, and my Uncle Achille, who was performing the ceremony, made an even bigger stink than Juliet.

I was best man, and I was so nervous about getting it right that I totally missed the thing Achille said about two men in the Garden of Eden. Being the fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper I’d always known him to be, he couldn’t just leave a tender moment alone. He had to drop in some judgment, which, in hindsight, I realize was totally for my benefit and for that of my brother Alexi, who is also gay.

He made some crack about how God created Adam and Eve, not “Hemp and Shemp” …or something to that effect. The names are not as relevant as the intended message: God hates you, faggots. Fortunately, both the words and the message went over my head because my head was elsewhere.

Wait, where’s the ring?…Oh, there it is.

When my mother repeated her former brother-in-law’s comment later at the reception, her voice dripping with disgust, she was furious. It was actually my first time hearing it, and I wasn’t sure if her reaction was about what Achille had said or the forum in which he’d chosen to say it. I decided she was angry for me and for Alexi, and I loved her for it.

As for my uncle, I had only one personal encounter with him at the wedding. It was when he walked into the men’s room and caught Khleber and me in a warm embrace. He glared at us but didn’t say a word, not even when I directly addressed him and asked how he was doing. I bit my tongue and let his silent treatment go. He’d always been my least favorite uncle, and I knew I’d probably never see or speak to him again after Jeff’s wedding day.

Now I can say the same thing about Juliet, who today became the first family member ever to be un-friended by me on Facebook. The deal breaker arrived on the morning shortly after I learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared gay marriage legal. It was wrapped in big box of hate and re-posted on Facebook:

The post itself isn’t even worth debating. It’s passive-aggressive drivel, hate dressed up in Sunday church clothes. If you think I’m a sinner who is going to hell, if you don’t support me or marriage between my kind, I have absolutely no use for your “love” or “friendship.” As for the alleged name-calling and stereotyping, if you’re going to walk the homophobic walk and talk the talk, be prepared to be taken down for it.

But on a more personal level, why would a woman who has at least three gay nephews spread this message in a place where she knows they’ll likely read it? Was she trying to douse a celebratory occasion with some good old-fashioned negativity, just as my uncle did on my brother’s wedding day?

Here’s the thing about homophobia. Like racism, it doesn’t always carry a pitchfork and twirl its moustache. My Aunt Juliet would probably never openly criticize me or my life. The last time I spoke to her, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation. But at the end of the day, she thinks I’m defective. She can hide behind “love” and the Bible all she wants, but she’s homophobic. I have as much use for homophobes as I do for racists. As the kids say (or at least used to), deuces.

Alexi, who tends to take this sort of thing better than I do, may or may not agree with my reaction to the latest incident of homophobia within our family ranks. But I’m pretty sure he understands and accepts it. That’s a lot more than I ever got from others who have called me family.

I can do better…and I already have.

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Filed under gay, homophobia, racism, religion

The Great Thing About Getting Older

It gets better.

True. But I still hate when people say that. In the last year or so, I’ve been hearing it way too often, usually coming from celebrities who already spend most of their lives repeating other people’s words.

The serious issue of gay teen bullying can’t be resolved by soundbites, slogans and pop songs like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” They may provide solace — and entertainment — for some, but they’re not nearly enough. Just because three words are catchy enough to provide the hook of a philanthropic campaign or the title of a No. 1 song and album doesn’t mean that they’re particularly useful.

The actor Zachary Quinto was wise enough to know that preaching “It gets better” wasn’t enough, and to his enormous credit, he recently came out of the closet. Gay teens don’t need a marketing campaign. They need strong role models offering ideas with actual content — solutions, not sloganeering.

I know that in the case of the “It gets better” movement, the hearts of celebrities are in the right place, and the video on the It Gets Better Project website in which everyday people tell their own growing-up-gay stories is incredibly valuable and moving. But a bullied gay teen needs to know how to live today, how to live for today, not that in five, 10, 15, maybe 20 years, life will be — might be — better. As a former bullied teen, I wish someone had helped me figure out how to deal with the insults and physical threats that were regularly hurled my way. I think I knew that things would improve one day, but I didn’t start living in the future (or the past) until several years down the road.

More than 20 years later, I still don’t have any solid answers.

Yes, it’s gotten better. But not in the sense that my problems suddenly disappeared just because I was older and wiser. Bigots and homophobes come in all ages, and they don’t only prey on teens. My big brother recently had his own encounter with homophobia in Toronto when a guy spit on him and called him a faggot after my brother complimented his t-shirt. The guy then went inside a nearby bar, while my brother called the police, who came and arrested the man.

It was the perfect reaction to the crime and the sort of example that we need to be setting for our kids. Fight back. When confronted with bullies, it’s important to stand your ground and defend yourself, not necessarily with physical violence (though sometimes fighting back means throwing the second punch), but with actions (alerting the police or some other trusted authority figure) or with intelligent words, which can be as useful a defense as any weapon.

Those terrible teens can be torture, but rather than wishing them away, which is what I spent most of mine doing, it’s important to make the most of them. I wish I’d known then what I know now: how to handle racists and homophobes, how to win friends and influence people, how to be alone, how to take a decent picture.

A good grasp of the latter might have prevented the slight mortification I felt today when a Facebook friend posted a photo of the 16-year-old me at the beach with her and some other friends. As I stared at the snapshot, I almost didn’t recognize myself. Who was that scrawny kid striking the queeniest sideways pose in the back? I don’t think I could re-enact that one today if I tried. Cruel as kids can be, I suppose I can understand why some of them might have been tempted to pick on me. I was such an easy target!

Not that being older and wiser is without its special challenges. The joints start to creak, the muscles ache and hair comes and goes in all the wrong places. Still, I wouldn’t trade my middle age for anything in the world. If you’re lucky, as you get older, you become more skilled at expressing yourself, dressing yourself and posing in more flattering ways — or rather, not posing at all, because that is the secret to taking great photographs. I didn’t really learn that until I got older.

Yes, for me, it’s gotten better. But that’s not the main message I’d want to send to teens. Those of us who have improved with age, whose lives have improved need to explain how we got over, what we did to make our lives better. It’s not an automatic process, or a guaranteed one. I know 40 year olds who are no more well equipped to deal with their sexuality than a 16 year old. And they still don’t know how to take a decent photo.

Knowledge is power. It’s cliche but so true. We should be spreading more of that instead of catchy slogans.

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Filed under gay teen bullying, homophobia, It gets better, Lady Gaga, racists, role models, Toronto, Zachary Quinto