This week I went to a presentation on homophobic bullying. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to go and hear the speaker. He spoke about some things I already know, and some things I had no idea about. But one thing that he said specifically resonated with me.
He talked about measuring the "health" or the "safety" of a community - whether it be a school, a town, a company, a government - by the visibility and involvement of minorities. If a space is not a safe space then the minorities will not speak out, they will not be vocal, they may not even be visible. It really made me think of our experiences in this small community where we have been for more than ten years. First of all we are the ONLY out gay couple that I know of. There is no gay organization in this community at all. The high schools have no out gay students or gay student organization and the college has no gay student organization.
Let me say this before I continue - there are "pockets" of places where we have felt very accepted in this community. One of these is with some of the administrators and teachers and aides at the school where our kids attend. On days Mother's day they send home two cards, or two projects for the boys for each of us. On Fathers day they send home a project for us, so the kids are still working on things when the others are making things for their dads. We have a pocket of support in our small rural community - we have neighbours who are AMAZING and who have been good friends to us. So we don't live in this horribly hostile place and I don't want to give the impression that we do. However, having said that, I DO feel as though I have been stifled. I have stood in my office at work when co-workers have made fun of gay people. I attended a family campout with my children where at a campfire one of my friends husbands, in front of everyone, said to me " I have no problem with people being lesbian, I just think if they use a dildo then they are not a real lesbian and they are fooling themselves. Do you use one?" Interestingly he did not, nor did anyone else, talk about the sexual practices of anyone else around the campfire, and whether or not their sexuality was "valid".
I think of myself sometimes as an "apologetic gay". I am sorry for the anguish that my being gay has caused in my life and in the lives of my family. I am sorry that it has affected some of my relationships. I am very conscious about the things I say, the things I post on facebook, the things I post on my blog, and the way I present myself (or don't present myself) in public because I don't want to be offensive. I have avoided saying things when co-workers have made gay jokes or said "That's so gay". I have laughed off, and downplayed comments like the one made to me at the family picnic. It makes me a little sad. A LOT sad - because as I sat in that presentation and I thought of being a gay teen in this community where there is no support, I thought of how I WOULD say things on the behalf of that youth. I would protect, I would advocate and I would not be silent in the face of such overt and blatant homophobia. I am sad that I have not done that for myself, and for my spouse. I resolved in that meeting that I would like to change how I have been apologetic. Now I just need to figure out how!