Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt, yet for LGBT people, familiarity is our best weapon against the bastions of hatred and discrimination that we are faced with each and every day. This past weekend was an excellent example of the necessity of familiarity in breaking down “walls” that separate people. This holiday weekend, my husband and I traveled to St. Louis (originally had planned Atlanta, but changed at the last minute) to spend a few days with my grandmother. Though we had spent a week with her this summer, during this trip there were frank discussions about being gay, our relationship, etc. In the end, she told us that “it is 2011, we are not living in the early 1900’s, so people just need to get over it”. These words were quite shocking to hear, for though I knew that my grandmother would be the one who would have the least issue with “being gay”, I was surprised that she had come around this quickly.

These discussions that we had with my grandmother started me thinking about the necessity of familiarity when it comes to our community. As much as I am not one to throw my sexuality in people’s faces, it is important that we bring up issues that we feel strongly about. Whether those issues be political or who we are in a relationship with, each and every time that our friends and family hear us speak about our lives are moments where we have once again become “human” to them.

As I have stated numerous times on this blog, discrimination rears its head when we allow ourselves to be “othered”. Such othering can be seen in how African-Americans were treated in the United States, to how the Jews were “othered” by the Nazi’s. When we lose touch of the inherent worth of our fellow human beings, we have successfully “othered” them, and thus find it easier to (1) deny them rights and (2) portray them as a group rather than as individuals. What is the best defense against the “othering” that our community is subjected to every day? The answer is simple, yet hard to play out. In order to overcome “othering” we must be out, be forceful, and be honest with ourselves and those around us. We cannot allow ourselves to back down in the face of societal, religious, or familial pressure. Only by being honest with how we are impacted can we show those who “other” the people behind their sterotype.

Though it is not easy living in honesty and openness regarding our relationships and sexual orientation, it is a necessary component of who we are as a person. We don’t have to constantly talk about our sexuality, no more than a heterosexual person would discuss their sexuality, yet when our family and friends are talking about their significant others, we should bring up ours. When we gather around the holiday tables at our respective homes, we should insist that our spouses are allowed to be present, and if they are not, politely decline to attend (all the while stating the reason why we are not attending). Such a rejection of “othering” is never easy, but after years of lost relationships with family members, those who have rejected us will come back to the table, realizing that their hostility has hurt them more than it did us.

Though our community has made great strides in the past few years to overcome the discrimination that we are faced with every day, there is still much work to be done. We are the foot-soldiers in the war for our very personhood, for as Secretary Clinton said, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”. 
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