So here are some things that straight people might not know:
Even though gay marriage is now legal across the country, I am still afraid to hold my wife’s hand in many public places.
When I was planning my wedding, instead of simply being able to enjoy the chaos of planning a wedding, I got nervous every time I met with a new vendor for the moment they would assume I was marrying a man and I would have to correct them.
I am terrified of the first time that my daughter sees a “God Hates Fags” sign and I will have to explain to her what that means.
When my family and I are staying in certain places, I always check in to hotels by myself because I look “less gay” than my wife does and we never know if we are really going to be welcome or not.
Every single year that I have to come out to a new group of students, I get dry mouth and worry that this is the time that someone is going to call and complain about it.
Whenever I write something about being gay, I am worried that one of the comments that is going to be left is going to be filled with hate.
I have waited for election results knowing that the winning candidate would determine whether or not my family got to be considered a family in the eyes of the law.
When people are rude to my family, I always wonder if it is because the person is just a jerk or because the person is a jerk who has a problem with gay people.
I worry, all the time, that people are going to one day tell my daughter that her moms are going to hell.
This is my reality.
And one of the things that is hardest for me is when I try to discuss my reality with people who are straight and they automatically begin to reassure me that the world isn’t really that bad. When I tell people how hard it was to come out as a gay educator, they often ask me if I really thought anyone was going to have a problem with it. When I tell people about my fears of holding hands with my wife in public, they often tell me how many friends of theirs show support for gay people on Facebook. When I tell people about my fears of what my daughter is going to have to encounter in her life time, they often tell me what a good time in history it is to be gay and how much better things are today than they used to be.
And I know these people have the best of intentions. But what they don’t see is that by trying to reassure me about how good the world really is, they are denying me the experiences that I have had that have shaped the perceptions that I hold of the world. By trying to tell me that it really isn’t that bad, they are trying to erase my feelings and my story and make it all just a bit more comfortable for me and perhaps even for themselves.
Except it isn’t comfortable. Hate never is. And it shouldn’t be. The discomfort is what should propel us to move forward and to keep fighting.
When I tell people what it is like to be gay, to be a gay educator, to by a gay mother, what I need most from them is for them to listen. I am comforted when people respond by saying, “I had no idea.” I feel supported when people tell me, “I can’t even imagine that.” I find such solace when people say to me, “That sucks.” Because that shows me that they are not trying to deny me my truth. It shows me that they are learning from my story and it is going to motivate them to try to do better. It shows me that they are not going to try to argue with me that homophobia still exists. They are going to listen to my story and learn about the things that are still broken in this world so that they can try to help to fix them.
And all of this. All of this in my own life has started to shed a bit of light for me on the idea of white privilege. Ever since Ferguson, I have been working to understand all of the things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t understand. My idea of where we are in terms of race in this country was so wrong. Not wrong because I didn’t care. Not wrong because I didn’t want to do better. Not wrong because I am an awful person. Wrong because I have the privilege of not having to think about race in my daily life.
Just like a straight person doesn’t think twice before holding the hand of the person they love, I, as a white person, don’t think twice before walking into a store about how I will be perceived because of the color of my skin.
The not having to think about it. The not realizing how much others HAVE to think about it. That is privilege.
And the only way that I have been able to start to understand my own privilege is by listening, really listening, to the stories of others who DON’T have that same privilege. By hearing those stories, I am better able to understand the things that are broken in this world.
And when I hear these stories, I have to be careful that my first instinct isn’t to comfort, isn’t to reassure that things aren’t really that bad, isn’t to make it clear that I am not a racist and so I couldn’t be a part of the problem. Because all of those instincts that I have. They are wrong. They simply erase the experiences of the person telling the story. Yes, I like to fix things. Yes, I like to make people feel better. But by doing that I am sometimes just making the problem worse. Because denying that the problem exists is not a way to make things better.
So I am recommitting myself to listening. To seeking out the stories of those who have to think about race every day. To listening and honoring the experiences that others are willing to share with me.
I want to bring those stories to my students. I want them to begin to understand the things that no one ever helped me to understand because we were too busy spreading the message that skin color doesn’t matter.
I want to seek out lesson plans that are written by others who know more than I do so that I can bring more than just my own experiences of privilege into the classroom.
I want to teach my students to listen to the stories of others and use those stories to see what is wrong in our world that needs to be fixed.
I want to help my students to see that race DOES matter and I want to help them to see all of the ways that they are sent messages on race that affect their perceptions of the people they encounter in this world.
I want to read more and listen more and search for more.
And along the way, I know that I will mess up. That I will say the wrong thing. That someone will tell me that what I have said has hurt them. And I want to make sure that I do not see that as an attack, but as a way for me to do better in the future.
Because these conversations. They won’t be comfortable. They shouldn’t be comfortable. The discomfort is what will remind us of all the work that still has to be done. But in the discomfort there is growth. And that growth is the only thing that is ever going to make any of this any better.