When you write about it having never lived it, you have to imagine it to some extent. You can read documented experiences, and you can talk to people who have lived, and are living, it; but at the end of the day you have to rely on empathy and compassion in order to imagine what it’s like to have to think about what you say, and to whom, for fear of the wrong people finding out about who you are. For 34 years, I’ve lived a life of privilege – caucasian, male (seemingly cisgender), middle class – I could walk into virtually any room and ‘fit.’ I’m still privileged by my genitalia and the colour of my skin, but after coming out as Queer on August 2nd, the privilege afforded to me by my status as cisgender and heterosexual disappeared overnight.
My writing, speaking, and working for change doesn’t pay my bills, at least not yet, so I make my living in a blue collar industry. The industrial site I work at brings with it a lot of challenges for any LGBTQ+ people who find themselves employed there. First, it’s located in what I can confidently say is the most homophobic/transphobic community I have ever personally encountered, and second the nature of blue collar culture doesn’t always blend well with the world outside of it. While there is an increasing number of blue collar workers becoming aware of and engaged in social issues, the traditional way of doing things has been to focus on making a living and not to bother with what the rest of the world has going on. The lack of interest in learning about issues keeps people in a state of perpetual ignorance, and the biases that are fostered by that ignorance only grow stronger. There is an inability, in much of the blue collar world, to see what harm is being done and so homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc are rampant. More than just outright hatred, it’s ingrained with words like “cocksucker” that just roll of the tongue as if there’s nothing wrong with it at all … and to them, there isn’t. I have always been uncomfortable in that place. I’ve never really belonged there. As soon as I came out, that place became dangerous.
I haven’t come out at work, at least not in any substantial way. I want to live authentically, and my confrontational nature often tells me to just go for it, but I will have to be willing to accept a fair amount of physical risk first. There are just three people at that place who I have trusted enough to tell, but on August 4th, just two days after coming out here on outspokenally.com, I wound up in an argument and told the wrong person. What happened did not turn physical, but made me feel attacked all the same. For the very first time in my life, I was made to feel deformed in some way – as if who I am is unacceptable. I objected to a homophobic statement and received the ignorant response “straight guys don’t defend gays.” I answered with “well, you’re wrong. And what makes you think I’m a straight guy?” From there the conversation took a proverbial nose dive and I was left feeling dehumanized. No matter how insignificant or stupid this man’s “opinion” was, it still hurt.
Do I now know what it feels like to be physically beaten and to live in fear as I turn every corner? No. But I have been hurt for the first time. I used to think it must be like getting bullied. I was bullied as a kid, hurt by the words and jeers of others, but bullies never zeroed in on my personal identity. Bullies made stuff up, they never took who I am and tried to crush it. For the first time in my life, I have been told that who I am is wrong, that I am not this way, that my identity is fake. He told me that I am responsible for turning kids gay, making little boys think they’re girls, and vice versa (it’s all the same to him). He called me a monster. I answered him with the truth. I told him he needed to learn a few things or he would continue to make himself look like a jackass. I told him his comments hurt. He looked me in the eye, with an arrogant grin, and said “I don’t care” … and the depth of what he meant was clear.
“I don’t care.” It’s obvious that he doesn’t care that I was hurt by what he said, but there was a lot more to what he meant. You see, I had brought up heterosexism (not the actual word, but I spelled it out for him). I had told him how misinformation and hatred cause homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide. I had brought up the violence committed against LGBTQ+ people daily. When he said “don’t care,” he said a lot. He said he didn’t care that I was hurt, didn’t care that his majority is oppressive and thinks it should continue to be, didn’t care that hatred is ruining lives, didn’t care that hatred is ending lives. “I don’t care” meant that I could be attacked and killed just for who I am, and he would think it was my fault.
I chose to write this today because I firmly believe in the power of unity. I believe in the power of standing together. Outspoken Ally was started with an understanding of the harm being done and a desire to end it. I chose to write this to bare my own experience, my own vulnerability, because I need people to stand with me as well. I still have it good, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be hurt, and the relative security in which I live is jeopardized by this hatred; not to mention my own mental health. I also wrote it for those who still feel alone. There are always allies, always people like you, always people who can help.
Getting hurt for the first time sucked, but it taught me a valuable lesson. The progress being made for equality (ie: marriage) is all centralized within a pop culture framework. People outside of that are seeing what’s going on, making up their own theories about it, and then when they come across people like me, they unload those theories as accusations toward a person they have invented and put my face on. It’s so important that we confront this. Change has happened because enough people decided that although they would be attacked, they would not be victimized. We have to decide the same!