This is a guest blog by Joni Bosch, religious education teacher, and longtime LGBT ally.
I took a human sexuality class in college. The last day of class, the professor gave us a scenario. The world was going to come to an end in one hour. What were we going to do? A few of us started by saying we were going to contact loved ones or go someplace beautiful. The professor said, no, the doors were locked and we were stuck with each other.
What followed was both weirdly powerful and somewhat scary. It was the kind of thing you almost want to forget later, but wish you could do all the time. We started to take off our masks.
One person whom I envied because of her apparent self-confidence and self-possession was hitting a couch cushion in tears. I know I shared insecurities with others—including some around whom I felt insignificant. The masks were off, and we connected at a level we had never connected at before. So very powerful. So very scary. So very vulnerable.
Someone once said that opinions that are based in emotion need to be changed with something other than logic. I certainly found that to be true that day in class—and in a few subsequent church retreats as well—there was change but it was not through logical reasoning. The raw honesty reached the emotional core and had a profound impact.
I suspect that so much of the angst related to sexuality is related to similar life masks, and there is vulnerability in removing them.
My first experience with homosexuality was also back in college where people were whispering about a couple of classmates reportedly caught kissing each other. Out of my comfort zone and beyond my experience to that point, my thoughts were pretty much “ick”, ignorance in play.
When I got into grad school, I actually met some people who were gay. Oddly (to me), they were pretty normal too. One woman became a close friend. She was able to take her mask off to me. She was able to share the pain of not being able to share the pain. I joked once with her that she was really a closet straight and hid Playgirl under her mattress. Apparently I was the only person she felt close enough to be able to joke with like that. How lonely that must have been.
There were a couple other gay women in my class as well (and I believe they are still a couple). Somehow in one master’s level nursing class we got into the topic of homosexuality. Here both the advantage and disadvantage of the masks became clear. This was in about 1984—not a good time for tolerance. The discussion turned ugly. Really ugly. During a break in class I walked into the restroom and one of the women was in there sobbing her heart out. This was not a weak woman either. She was strong. Her partner walked in and I barred the door and made everyone else go, no matter how grumbly, to another restroom.
There are risks to removing masks, especially for those who are gay. These risks are not only the emotional vulnerability, but legal, physical, work and home related ramifications as well. Although I have no personal experience in this particular mask, it is clearly a hard one to remove.
Unfortunately, in order for those of us who are straight to understand your path, we need you who are gay to have the courage we will never have to muster ourselves, and take your masks off. We need to see that you are no different than those of us who are straight. I wish we had the foresight to see past the masks on our own, but many of us in the straight world can’t, or won’t.
I needed to see that my friend was a nurse and liked racquetball just like me. I needed to see that my friend, Rob Watson of evolequals, had the same trials and tribulations in his marriage and with his children that I had in mine.
I confess, I needed to make those connections on an emotional level. I understood intellectually about equality, but I suspect even for me, that it is these emotional connections that made a difference. Logic played only a minimal role.
It’s not fair to have to ask you to unilaterally remove the mask. I know that. However, I think it is thanks to people like Rob and my friend Carla, who were willing to risk removing their masks, that tolerance is finally making inroads. I have been working to get others to look beyond masks ever since, including their own masks of bigotry and apathy.
My thanks for helping me lose a prejudice.
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There are a bunch of really problematical things about this article:
1. The author forgets to mention bisexuals
2. The author forgets about transgender people
3. The author assumes we LGBT folks are just the same as cisgender straight people. Sorry, but this is just flat wrong.
4. When was this written? What protective bubble does the author live in? It is not difficult to find an out gay person anymore.
5. It’s not our responsibility as LGBT people to educate you. It is your job to fix your screwed up society so that it is safe for us to be ourselves.
HELL NO! If a hetero (or otherwise more privileged) person “needs” an oppressed person to be more vulnerable and show more pain than they expect to be or show themself, they are an emotional vampire lusting after pain porn and should be kept away from all humanity until they have learned some basic respect for boundaries.
You are no ally.
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I am a little sick of so-called “allies” who think that because they “know” some gay people and are liberal, that they can run the show and show us how to conduct ourselves. So, to you, allies, I say:
You are not our mentors, our elders, the golden example that we must follow. Thanks for the support, but we can decide for ourselves how to act and react and to lead our own lives with or without you.
Instead of telling LGBT people to teach you by removing their masks and being vulnerable for your benefit, please return for remedial ally training. The bookstores and internet are flooded with stories about vulnerability that you and others can read. Straight and cis people don’t have to have a one-on-one relationship to learn to be good allies.
This is one reason that I have never liked allies. Go give someone else a hug please.
What a slap in the face. Basically, blame us for the discrimination we receive while conveniently ignoring the social and political realities that might influence someone not to share that part of their identity. You have no right to come from your place of safety and security to tell us how to navegate our lives (no matter the risks to our safety) to make YOU feel better.
Ally is an action, not a catchphrase. Instead of blaming us for the discrimination and violence perpetuated against us for not being “open enough” about our sexuality (as this author seems to be trying to do), think about the social/political environment that keeps some of us from being completely open in certain spaces, and instead of telling us to do all the work for you, try pitching in to make this world a better place for individuals of ALL sexualities and gender identities/expression. Educate your friends and family so that we actually have safe spaces to come out (because like it or not, a lot of LGBTQ people CAN’T come out because of risks of violence, losing jobs, or even losing custody of children). Don’t place the entire burden on the ones who are most vulnerable.
tl;dr: Queer people don’t exist to make you comfortable in your heterosexuality, and if you claim to be an Ally, you need to do your part too in order to fight discrimination and violence. We can’t do this alone, there’s just too much.
You’re right; it’s not fair for you to ask LGBT people to remove their “masks” unless you remove yours first – which I guess is what you’re trying to do in this essay, but I think you might begin by realizing it’s not all about you.
People have a right to be who they are weather they are vulnerable around you or not. The people who become vulnerable with you are more than likely the people you have cultivated a realtionship and trust with. You just dont go tell every person on the street all your insecurities so that you can be validated as a human or not being “ick”. Do you have to personally know everyone and their inner thoughts and insecurities to validate their right to live their life? You basically had to see someone bleed and make sure their blood looked like yours to see them as equal human beings. That’s your problem not anyone elses. Nor is it their responsibility to validate or in anyway explain their life to you to make you more comfortable.
Everybody has masks and everybody has prejudices about others. The world would indeed be a much nicer and a more interesting place to be if we would all dare to first of all open up to our own fears, vulnerabilities etc, and if we would dare to show ourselves more nakedly to others. But it’s not the job of one sexuality group to do so in order for another, larger sexuality group to understand the minority. It’s the job of everyone, individually, regardless of sexuality, to develop towards being open to all dimensions of oneself and open up to all aspects of life. When one dares that, there is absolutely no question of feeling threatened by people who are different than oneself.
So essentially you’re arguing that heterosexism is our own fault because we, understandably, don’t trust every straight person who comes into our lives. Because until a queer person reassured you that they were like you, you would have continued to be terrible to us.
Way to pass the buck of queer oppression back to us instead of taking responsibility for your own culture. That must be a lot easier to deal with than, I don’t know, changing your behavior and seeing people who are not like you as still worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of whether you like them or not.
It is not an LGBT individual’s responsibility to make someone not homophobic. When we “remove our masks” so you can see us as human, you are asking us to risk our lives, our well-beings, and our relationships worth friends and family all so you can be a decent human being. I don’t know why you feel that your friends need to disclose family life to you so you can relate. This isn’t sportive of coming out. This is ordering us to do it do you can feel better. It is entitled and privileged. And it is built around a straight narrative of our lives. We don’t need you to see us as normal. We need you to let us live (so-called normal or not). If we have to stay hidden, we will. You recognize the difficulties and that it is “unfair,” but that is on you, not us. Want to be a straight ally? Walk with us on our journey for our sake; don’t push us along for yours.
Please don’t call yourself an ally.
With “allies” like you, we don’t need enemies.
It’s not the job of the marginalized to make the privileged feel comfortable.
Read that line and repeat it daily. Replace your mantra of “I believe I’m am ally because I say I am” with that sentence.
hear, hear. When she says “we need,” she’s saying “I need you to make me comfortable.” So where’s this “we,” Kemosabe?
Coming out is extremely important. However, some don’t have the privilege of coming out in a safe environment.
I think you got close to the truth with your closing comments. The masks you saw in others were a projection of your own fears, prejudice and bigotry. Once you got beyond those issues you saw the beautiful people that had always been there. They hadn’t changed you had. The masks you took down did not belong to them but to you. Well done on making those connections. Labelling causes barriers to friendships and true friendships unmasks all barriers.
Reblogged this on Le Dame Steps Out and commented:
Yes! That’s the only way through this quagmire for society. We need Harvey Milk’s legacy to live, not die secretly treasured.
People have come of age at different times. Until I was in my late 20s I did not know anyone that I knew was gay. All my knowledge of homosexuality came from fiction and that ” knowledge” was inaccurate and highly negative. It was when I met people like me who were openly gay that I started to understand my prejudices. I had moved from “ick” to “just not in my face.” I remember one time, during the Anita Bryant era, walking downtown holding my husband’s hand. It felt good. And suddenly, I realized I was denying that simple pleasure to others. I had to identify with people who are gay and truly understand they were no different than me. It really helped to know people who were gay and to hear their stories to move to that understanding. I can wish I had grown up in a society that did not equate gay with pervert, but I did. It was the stories of people like Carla and Rob that taught me to let go of the idiocies I believed and I thank them for sharing their souls with me
Thank you so much for this essay!
LGBT people like me come out for a lot of reasons, perhaps, but I want to believe that my decision permits me to live a life of integrity and even perhaps a little influence. I have to summon my courage every time—every time—I come out to someone, because I know that I risk rejection. I’ve suffered that rejection in many unpleasant forms over the years, and it never gets any better. But the acceptances are as great as the rejections are painful.
More than that, though, I hope that I might change, in even the smallest way, the face of what it means to be gay in America. Maybe the person I’m coming out to hasn’t known (or been aware of knowing) any LGBT people. Maybe by knowing me they will see that a gay person, while different in the way any individual is different from everyone else, is still just a person like every other person. Maybe when they step into a voting booth, they might remember my partner and me and decide against denying us the same rights they take for granted in their lives. Maybe if a member of their family comes out to them, they will remember me and be less afraid to treat that person with love and acceptance.
That thought gives me courage in coming out to someone.
I’m kind of in agreement with part of what James said. We see people through our own filter. We need to change our filter. My sister has always been gay. We didn’t have a kind word for it all those years ago. Last week, we were filling her meds prescription and she was afraid to go to the women’s restroom alone…still. At 60 years of age, people still look at her like a freak and she is the kindest person I know. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. I have cousins that preach at me about right and wrong. My sister’s fear is right???? How many lifetimes will it take? Sign me frustrated.
I’m afraid there are few people who we will be close enough to remove the mask. They will be precious to us.
I don’t think gay people do wear masks. I think religious, straight people look at gay people through the distorted lens of the bible and therefore simply don’t see what’s in front of them. I have 2 christian nephews who have grown up seeing that I’m no different to my straight siblings however because my sister brought them up fundamentalist Christian they believe my marriage to be inferior. My other nephews and nieces see no difference between my siblings and I. Any censorship of my sexual orientation never came from me, it only came from the parents believing children were ‘too young’ to see it.
Do you mean anything beyond the fact that we should make friends with straights?
The first step is to remember that friendship has to work both ways. Some people, though, can’t seem to figure that part out.
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