A few months ago I was listening to a mother describe an experience with her son. The two were having an incredibly cute conversation about romantics and love. The son raised a concern, attempting to inquisitively confirm that not all love came between a boy and a girl, but sometimes between a boy and a boy or and a girl and a girl. The mother assured him that this was the case, but she had to warn him of what others may think or do if he expressed his opinion. By no means did she try to suppress him; she just gave him the tools to be prepared for conflict. I was taken back by the mother's story. It reignited a thought that has existed in my mind for a long time: we have a lot to learn from children.
Certainly you can recall as a child, recognizing how different we were from each other. You knew that this or that kid came from a very different place from you, but it never mattered. They were still just other kids. Then one day we began to distinguish between types of different. We began to allow these differences to subtract from one another's worth as a person. We let the compassion and love that came with us so naturally be damped by the learned behaviors of dislike and selfish fear. Whether we learned these things from our parents, teachers, media or our peers, we became players in the tainted discourse over how someone is measured better than another.
I find it unsettling that we are often slow to grow-up in regards to taking responsibility for ourselves—that we frenetically cling to our childish characteristics of entitlement and reliance—but we are quick to grow-up in regards to closing our minds, to learning how to not care, and to establishing an ignoble sense of self-righteousness. These attitudes fuel oppression and inequality, big and small, broad and local. In the spirit of this column, I am choosing to focus on sexuality, but the implications of this issue are very inclusive.
All people struggle with dealing with their sexuality. There are some who knew, early, that they were not in a position to express their desires. They live in regions, communities and even families that will reject them. There are some whose most difficult moment wasn't an awkward moment of puberty but a night spent alone in their room, trying to convince themselves to stop hating what they are.
It is necessary for us to support each other through these struggles, whether trivial or detrimental. When I examine our population's attitudes toward this need, I see two groups of people: those who will make things easier for others and those who will make things more difficult. I classify them this way for an important reason—one can be a supporter in the sense that they want others to live comfortably with equality and safety but never take a single action in an attempt to make a difference.
All people need an ally, especially those who suffer. Change comes when those who are not affected by an issue develop sympathy for those who are affected. If you want to see change, you have to be it. Specific to sexuality, if you want to see the lives of LGBT (and really all with respect to their sexuality) people improve, you must be a fierce ally. It's easy. You don't have to learn to be an ally; you just have to allow yourself to be one. I think of the mother whose boy had a hard time understanding why others would have a problem with non-traditional love. But he didn't seem to care what others would think of him for believing what he did.
We have much to learn from this boy. Your principles should reign over your concern for your image. Said differently, your beliefs, your convictions, and your values are what should command your decision-making process, not the fear of what others will think of you when you act on these.
— This is Jacob Clark and Brianna Rader's third installment to our column on all issues surrounding sexuality and gender. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.