“Fuck your feelings.”
That was a phrase bandied about a few years ago from one group to put down others. They were happy, therefore, who cares how anyone else feels? I have seen this repeatedly since then, in words less harsh but ultimately meaning just the same thing. Of course, the vast majority of these people are white, heterosexual people.
As someone who is part of a mostly invisible minority, I know what it was like to have all popular culture for my early life be about people who weren’t really quite like me. Gay people were the punchline (figuratively and sometimes literally). They were people to be mocked, smacked down, or (at best) pushed to the side and ignored. That’s all I saw for a long, long time. At a high school reunion, I told a classmate that going through school was living in constant terror, that at any moment someone would figure it out and I’d be thrown into the garbage.
It wasn’t a hard leap of logic to make. In 9th grade, almost every single one of my friends dropped me like a hot potato. (There were some notable exceptions, but they really were the exceptions.) They might not have known why exactly, but as one of them point-blank told me back then, I was “different” from them. Even good friends could not entirely be trusted because at any given moment a “fag joke” would slip out of someone’s lips. Why wouldn’t it? Because that’s what everyone saw in books, in movies, in television. It must be all right.
I’m almost at the point in my life where I’ve been fully out of the closet longer than not. I still always expect friends to drop me. I regularly hear a chorus in my head of, “I don’t fit in / I don’t belong.” I know all too well where these trust issues come from, even as I struggle to not let them take hold. I say all of this as someone with a genuinely wonderful family and great friends. More importantly, as someone who is at the end of the day, a white male.
So imagine what it must be like to grow up as a minority who can’t pass as looking like the majority. To read children’s books and be regularly slandered. Encountering casual (and not-so-casual) racism and growing up with the world trying to teach you that you are simply not as good. Imagine reading The Secret Garden and getting to the part where one of the main characters declares that Blacks are “not people.” Getting to the point in Dr. Doolittle where a Black character asks to be “cured” of his skin color. What sort of damage are you doing?
“It didn’t bother me,” says the white straight person. Of course it didn’t. But is it too much to ask for a little empathy? To even try what it must be like to be the perpetual outsider?
There are a lot of physically damaging things that aren’t available any more. I joke about how it is a minor miracle that my sisters and I didn’t put out an eye playing lawn darts at my grandparents’ house, especially every time we would try and shake one out of a tree. Not all damage is physical.
It’s all right to let some things stay in the past.
Originally published at gregmce.com.