Moving Past Prejudice

One of my favorite bumper stickers… “I support gay marriage, if both chicks are hot.”

I live in what I often refer to as the “northern tip of the bible-belt.”  I grew up in a catholic family, was sent to a catholic school for eight years, and live in a town where high-school football is god and homophobia is considered the norm.  Needless to say, as a youngster, I too thought “gay” was “wrong” and “not the way things are supposed to be.”  I wasn’t ever as hateful as these so-called “love thy neighbor” religious types, but I was homophobic enough that I would never have been able to have a conversation with someone I knew to be gay.

Back in the days when Usenet was used for more than pirating DVDs and porn, I was involved in a conversation about graphic novels and comic books that could be used in a college course.  The lists people posted included the usual “Watchmen” and “The Sandman” and the occasional “Lone Wolf and Cub.”  One other book kept popping up on people’s lists: Howard Cruse’s “Stuck Rubber Baby.”  Then one week I was picking up my usual stack of comics and I saw a hardcover copy of “Stuck Rubber Baby” on the shelf.  “Yeah, Diamond (Distributions) shipped that here by mistake.  You can have it for five bucks.”  Sold.  I hadn’t noticed the words “Gay Literature” on the spine of the book.

It sat at the bottom of my book pile for a while, until late one night I wasn’t tired and decided to start reading it.  That was when I noticed the words on the spine.  “What the hell is this?”

I decided to read it anyway.

It is one of the best damned books I have ever read.

I quickly found myself relating to and empathizing with Toland’s experiences.  The book begins with a young man growing up as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s is underway.  As he becomes more involved with the movement, he is also confronted with his own homosexuality.  As he travels his life’s journey, he discovers and accepts who he is.

I am not going to write a full review here, but I will repeat: It is one of the best damn books I have ever read.  (And if you know what I do, you KNOW I’ve read a lot of books.)

As I closed the book after reading the last page, I noticed that the sun was already up.  I’d read it cover to cover in one night.  I wasn’t able to read anything else for over two weeks.  Every time I tried to open a book, my mind just went back to “Stuck Rubber Baby.”  I’d found myself relating to and understanding the emotional journey of a man discovering that he’s gay.  If I could relate to it, it couldn’t be “wrong,” it couldn’t be “not the way things are supposed to be.”  It just simply was.  It wasn’t something someone chose, it was simply the way nature had created them.

That’s not to say I was cured of all the homophobic tendencies I grew up with.  I was confronted with my own knee-jerk discomfort the first time someone submitted an erotic poem to The Poet’s Haven that was clearly written by a man to a man.  After clearing my brain and thinking past it, I did publish the poem.  As the years have gone by, it has become easier to think past it, to the point where it is no longer a conscious effort and my thoughts just adapt when they need to.  It doesn’t bother me to see two guys holding hands or kissing in public.  (As a straight man, it has NEVER bothered me seeing two women kissing in public: Hence the bumper sticker quote at the start of this essay.)  I still get very uncomfortable in a situation where a guy is hitting on me or flirting.  (Strangely, or sadly, though, while I can count the number of times a woman has hit on me or flirted with me one one hand after an accident with a power saw, I’ve lost count of how many times a man has hit on me.  I’m a large, scary looking dude who grew up in the world of auto racing.  This has never made sense to me.  Then again, writing that out, I’m a large, scary looking dude who works in the world of art and poetry and listens to bands like The Cure.  So maybe it does make sense.)  But the discomfort isn’t that different from what I felt when an underage girl was stalking me.

What this nation needs to get us on the path to proper, equal civil rights for gay folk is a generation of people who can move past their own unease like I have.  The generation that follows will be the one that progresses past all the hatred.  The civil rights movement of the 1960’s succeeded in getting equal rights under the law for African-Americans.  The laws that made this so were passed by white dudes who were able to look past their own knee-jerk reactions and see what was RIGHT.  That generation’s children (and, yes, grandchildren) have elected a black man as PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.  There is still racism out there, but with each new generation of citizens, it grows smaller and smaller.  Now it is time for a new civil rights movement.  It is time for marches in front of government buildings demanding that legislation be passed ensuring that people of all races, genders, and ORIENTATIONS have the same rights under the law, including the right to a state-issued marriage license.  It will be a long battle, but it will eventually be won.  The question is whether my generation has the courage to put us on the right path.