In a recent conversation with the co-host of our podcast, Hayley Evans blew me away by talking about the choices women must make every morning on the message they want their clothes and make-up to convey. I’m conscious today of what clothes camouflage my tummy, but my safety isn’t dependent on it.
Subsequently, I began asking women friends if they agreed, and each one did. Can you imagine needing to decide if your clothes might be described as “provocative?”
Then I began asking more questions. As a champion of LGBTQ diversity for 50 years, I’ve thought of myself as sophisticated on issues of difference, but I’ve only known the basic facts and little of the feelings of people different from me.
Ray and I have two very good friends who are Little People, meaning they are short-statured. I asked them about going out to dinner, and they said, “Everyone stops talking.”
Our pain management physician’s assistant told us that the African American fraternity in his college wouldn’t let him pledge because he was from Jamaica. Last night at a party, a straight Latino told me that he was not hired by one Spanish-speaking company because he didn’t look enough like a Mexican, nor was his last name clearly Latino, despite his mother being Mexican, and him identifying himself as such his entire life. “There is a great deal of racism in the Latino community,” he and his Latina wife said.
I know the personal pain of not being considered “gay” enough by some elements of the far-left in our community, and of being rejected by some lesbians simply because I’m a man. But I’ve thought about just the facts of racism and sexism, and not enough about the personal feelings, especially when the bias is coming from your own people.
The only way I can understand these feelings is by asking others to talk about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bias. “I know this is a personal question,” I’ll say, “but what does it feel like to have the restaurant go quiet when you walk in the door as dwarfs?”
“What does it feel like to be stopped repeatedly by the police because you’re a Black man?”
“How does it feel like to be told you’re not ‘Mexican’ enough?”
“How does it feel to have to make a decision every day about the impact on your safety of your clothes and make-up?”
From my own experience, I’d say you get used to it. You expect it, and then you either fight it or accept it. “There must be a mistake in the reservation. It says you want a king-size bed for the two of you.”
Asking questions and hearing stories is the most reliable means of opening my eyes to the daily indignities experienced by others. From my own experience of telling my story, I know that it profoundly changes attitudes and behaviors.