By the luck of the draw, in 1943, I was born white, male, heterosexual and middle class. I was instantly granted cultural privileges and advantages that gave me a distinct leg up as I made my way in the world.
I grew up in a small town in Tennessee during the so-called "good old days," when men were men, women knew their place, blacks were second-class citizens, the poor were "lazy white trash" and the existence of homosexuals was not even acknowledged. The cultural paradigm of the time was powerful, so I internalized those beliefs and looked down on those whom I considered "less" than me.
During my college years, I mixed with students and professors with
broader worldviews. I began to question the way women, people of color
and folks who had less material wealth than I did were treated. After all,
weren't we all cut from the same cloth? Consequently, during the 1960s
and '70s, I was heartened when our nation passed legislation moving us
toward greater equality for African-Americans and women, and also made the alleviation of poverty part of our political discourse.
As our culture evolved, I made changes in my own life, including questioning my own culturally-based presumption of superior status as a white male, working to amend my previously unexamined beliefs about folks who weren't like me, and raising my first daughter in a manner that empowered her to become a powerful, independent woman.
One prejudice that I had not yet confronted, however, was my attitude toward gays and lesbians. The prevailing culture of my youth had led me to believe that being a sissy, effeminate, or, heaven forbid, gay was the absolute worst fate imaginable for a male. Consequently, I avoided any contact with gays and spent a great deal of time finding ways to prove my masculinity. I did everything I could to comes across as tough, uncaring, independent (some might say aloof) and physically strong. With this simulated manliness, I kept constantly on the lookout for anyone who might poke a hole in my fragile facade. Predictably, I was scared out of my wits by even the thought of homosexuality.
Well, life has a way of presenting you with what frightens you the most. During the late 1980s and '90s, I became involved in a community in Dallas that included gay members. After a while, I learned that, with the exception of the gender with which we chose to enter into committed relationships, gays and heterosexuals are pretty much the same, with similar yearnings, hopes and dreams. During this time, I began to get in touch with who I really am--not a "macho man," and not either, for that matter, a sensitive "New Age" guy. I was just "me." With that recognition, my anxiety toward gays and lesbians naturally subsided. And though I'm aware this sounds like a cliche, today a number of my closest friends are gay.
Those of you who were around in the 1950s probably remember the furor about the intermarriage of blacks and whites. In fact, in 1955, the Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals declared that if whites and blacks were allowed to marry, it would create "a mongrel breed of citizens." Such marriages had to be blocked to prevent "the corruption of blood" of white people. Sounds laughable in 2013, doesn't it? So do today's ridiculous and groundless arguments against LGBT rights and gay marriage.
Recently my wife Shonnie and I were looking at baby photos of our young daughter Gracelyn, including some that showed her in the buff. I lightheartedly said, "These will be fun to show her boyfriend when she's a teenager." Shonnie looked at me knowingly and said, "Or, perhaps, her girlfriend." "Oh, yeah," I muttered. Another growth opportunity.