Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Appeasing Liberals with Words is Easier Than Looking Into the Eyes of the Snake

When teaching Multiculturalism to Midwestern college students, especially the "men," homosexuality was a really hard issue for them. It was by far the most common choice for their resistence projects. Often, the male students associated homosexuality with being less than a man, probably because it was a criticism used on the playground.

They were particularly fearful of being hit on by gay men. For people who have never met an out gay person, they only have stereotypes to go on, and their knowledge that "gay dudes fuck other dudes." I think being an American man is hard. So many expectations are still "out there" in terms of being a provider, being in control, etc.

What usually got their eyes starting to open was the day I brought in the GLB panel. I always tried to get some really unlikely gay men in there. They were astonished to meet men who had tried to live the straight lifestyle, who had tried to be jocks, and in the end, had realized that they could only be who they are and that living a lie, for anyone, is torture.

But getting straight people who are threatened by gay people to interact in this way isn't easy. I usually did these panels near the end of the semester when there had been ample opportunities to prepare them for hearing coming out stories, to open their eyes a bit to their own luxury of ignorance. We talk about how if you're living a sheltered life, you can easily walk through the world and not even realizing you're interacting with gay people all the time, only you don't know it.

What was SOOOO powerful was when my friend Matt (one of the regular panelists) would come in and talk about how his fraternity "buddies" would say all this hateful stuff in front of him, and how that made coming out even less of an option. Many of the guys in my class realized that they'd probably done the same thing before, and I got to read about it in their papers.

But creating a safe environment where people can talk about this stuff without fear of being called offensive is so hard. It's easier for most people to play PC most of the time, rather than do the work it really takes to deal with these feelings of resistance. The author of the textbook I used called it "looking into the eyes of the snake." It's easy to play colorblind, pretend you get it, say the right things, then quietly go into the voting booth and say what you really feel... and that might be that you think gay people are abnormal.

All the prejudices of the pre-Civil Rights era are still around, but they've gone underground. The conservatives have learned to not get into it with the liberals because they would rather avoid the topics. They say what they know we want to hear and keep on exactly as they have.