A (very) personal note to my friends & family
I have wanted to write this article for some time, but it is such a very personal glimpse into my life that I have, in all honesty, been a really afraid of doing so. Afraid of being judged, afraid of being rejected, afraid of the abuse I might suffer - and also afraid that I may come across as very angry. But yesterday I saw a news article that made me so furious I couldn’t focus, and also made me realise that I need to write this. So I ask you to be kind when reading this.
We all make minor adjustments in our behaviour depending on our environment, situation, the company we are in etc. In front of our parents maybe we don’t swear as much, or at networking events we don’t talk about our family lives, etc etc. These are small things that we do just to make everything a little easier, or not to offend, or not to cause a conflict we don’t want to face right now. We self-censor. Every single one of us. And that’s to be expected I guess.
But some of us do that every day of our lives, in almost every situation, because if we don’t we put ourselves at risk of rejection, abuse, violence and in far too many cases, we actually risk our lives. Sadly there are a number of groups in our society who have to do this. Those of us who DON’T have to do this, won’t even be aware of it - which is why I wanted to write this (very) personal letter:
To my straight friends and family.
I have been so fortunate to have family, work colleagues and friends who have been supportive, loving and totally accepting. Some people have taken a little time to be fully comfortable with me, and that’s ok too. I have also worked in industries where I’ve been accepted, for which I am very thankful, as it’s made my life and career much easier. Or at least given me the same chance as everyone else. I also know most of you have no idea what I’m going on about as you treat and regard me in the same way you treat and regard everyone else. But that’s why I need you to remember that I am not the same as everyone else. I still, at the age of 46, have to censor the things I do and say - EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
I don’t write this to make you feel guilty or for sympathy - I do it so that you realise that we need you to act in ally-ship every single day, because sometimes our lives still depend on it. Saying “I just see everyone as humans” is a great sentiment, but it is only someone with the privilege of never having really faced discrimination just because of how they are born, that is able to think or say that. (The same applies for issues of race, in fact even more so…but that’s for another letter I feel. :)
You see I have been in a relationship with my partner for 7 years now, and yet every time I walk down the street with him I have to look around and evaluate who is around us before I take his hand, or brush an eye-lash from his cheek. Every time we have dinner at a restaurant - even ones we go to all the time - we have to scope out the people sitting near us before we can touch or hold hands - even if it’s our anniversary dinner. Every new person we meet in our work, at a shop, at an event, we have to size up mentally so that we are prepared for the inevitable moment when we have to (all in a split second) figure out which gender pronoun to use when referring to our partner, just in case it causes the whole tone of the event to turn a little awkward.
When those spontaneous moments happen and we’re laughing and having a great moment, I cannot just give him a little kiss without first checking that there is no-one around that may take offence, cause a scene, hurl abuse or get violent. Every pub or bar we go into, we have to check to see if it looks like there are people there who may not like us being there if they figure out we’re ‘not like them’. Every time we decide to travel we face the un-easy moment at the hotel when we find out if our kind is welcome. Of course that’s if we don’t risk imprisonment or being murdered in that particular country just by existing. And we can never truly let our guard down…because the consequences for us could be horrific. Life-threateningly horrific.
You, however, never have to consider these things as you go about your every day life. It never crosses your mind. Because society is geared around you. You are ‘normal’. I am not. I have to find a way to blend in to survive. Standing out is risking abuse. I have been doing this for probably 35 years now. Every. Single. Day. It’s exhausting, and while I am now pretty much too old to care very much what people think, when I think of all the young people out there facing these things daily, it still makes me angry. SO very angry. Turning on the TV and hearing strangers who’ve never met me debating whether I’m allowed to have the same basic rights as another human being, or whether children should be allowed to know I am a human who is capable of love. Seeing an article every other day about a preacher or evangelist who wants my type killed, eradicated. Having to avoid reading the comments on social media posts - not because a difference of political opinion will get me riled up - I’m ok with THAT - but because there is inevitably someone who thinks I’m disgusting or wants me dead. Reading posts where people who ‘agree to disagree’ on whether I have the right to exist!
The sad thing is that these are just the very prominent things that we face. The little things - that happen our whole lives - can be just as damaging. I remember as a young boy what it felt like to hear my brothers using derogatory terms about gay people they saw on TV. I remember the feeling of hearing two of the people I looked up to most in the world mocking people who, deep down, I knew were like me...which meant that’s what they thought of me too. I remember being called names for being too sensitive. I remember every one of those names. I remember how I was constantly told not to ‘act like a girl’ if I showed emotion. I also know how those little things led to me internalising my own homophobia - especially of men who presented as ‘too feminine’, or of femme gender-nonconformists. I am so proud that I realised and worked on that. And it took real work. But many people don’t even realise they do it, or they dismiss it as a ‘personal preference’, when it is often a result of those things we grew up hearing and seeing all the time. And those things continue to cause damage to our own psyche and community. We turn on our own.
Let me be clear - I don’t allow these things to make me live in fear, I WILL NOT. I do not hide who I am, and nobody puts Baby in the corner! :P As I have said - I have been very fortunate in being able to be myself with relative ease in the environments, industries and cities I have worked and lived in. And as I have got older I have become more confident in who I am, and care less what others think. Mostly, anyway. ;) But all these cautions I mentioned before just become part of how I think every day. In the same way that you may check that you have your wallet with you before you leave the house.
Now don’t get me wrong, things have changed SO much in my lifetime alone, and I am so, so very grateful for that. But there are still people that have faced (and continue to face) FAR worse than I do, or than I ever have. I was not thrown out of home. I was not subjected to torture or exorcism. I have had it easy. Many, MANY people still do.
But what I am asking you to remember is that’s it’s not all fine just because you don’t have a problem with me or my sexual preference. Because as much as I love you all, I don’t need your permission to exist, and be true to myself.
MY EXISTENCE IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE.
So whether you or anyone are OK with it or not, I exist, I count, I matter. And so does every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual and gender non-conforming person out there. WE EXIST. WE COUNT. WE MATTER. ALL OF US. And those people need you to KEEP acting in ally-ship, every day. We need you to REMEMBER that not everyone is like you. We need you to speak up, challenge other people in your world when they use derogatory terms or make jokes about us. Act as if we are in the room with you. Because if you won’t stand up for us when we aren’t there, then you are not an ally or a friend.
This week I saw an article about people wanting a ‘straight pride march’ in Boston. It may seem silly, but maybe this helps explain why that is so insulting? Because every day that you don’t have to censor your every thought, action and word IS straight pride day. You are seen, heard, held up as the ‘norm’ and represented everywhere we look and everywhere we go. Pride as a movement is not about just celebrating our diversity, and it’s not about getting attention or having a party - pride is about just being allowed to be seen to exist - just as we are. Pride is a parade so that every child out there who hears their family using derogatory terms for gay people while they die a little inside, hiding their secret, will know that there are other people out there like them, that they belong, they are loved and that they are not ‘abnormal’. But the reason i wanted to write this is because of a second article I saw recently about a lesbian couple on a bus being beaten by a group of men because they wouldn’t kiss on command for them. It makes me so angry and so sad that I can’t even bring myself to write my thoughts on the so many things wrong with that. But do me a small favour - think about how often you and your loved one may touch hands or show affection on a bus or out in public, without ever having to fear or even consider any backlash, let alone violence.
So my straight friends and family, please know that I love you all dearly and I am so very grateful for you. But I ask you to also remember this - LGBTTQQIAP people and ALL the other wonderful varieties of people out there don’t need your permission to exist. We don’t need you to ‘be ok’ with who we are, and we also don’t need you to act as if we are all the same as you. We are not the same, and we don’t want to be. We want to be allowed to just BE ourselves. Without fear and without violence. But perhaps what we do need from you, is for you to act - every single day - in empathy with what we go through - just because of how we are born and who we are. And maybe, just maybe, this letter has made it a little easier for you to really empathise.
In love and gratitude, Wayne
AN IMPORTANT NOTE AND A REQUEST
The kinds of daily struggles I talk about in this letter are by no means exclusive to the LGBTTQQIAP community. Women have to second guess how they dress for fear of being seen as ‘inviting’ harassment and even rape. People of colour face even worse self-censorship every single day, just to safeguard their very lives and that of their children! Trans people risk violence by just stepping outside their front door as their true self. (And sadly, there are too many other examples to list here.) I want to mention that because I think the issues I have lived through are really important to consider as part of the bigger picture of society and our communities as a whole, and also because I want to be very clear that I do not regard my struggles as equal to those that others face. They are not. Despite everything I have been through I still speak from a position of privileged. But I can only speak to the struggles that I have personal experience in, and so I wanted to draw attention to them - particular this month, as I see ‘Pride Month’ being celebrated everywhere. And before you think I am all doom and gloom - I know there is SO much to celebrate. But celebration does not negate injustice.
So I have one ask of you: when you are browsing the internet and social media, if you really care at all, take some time to actively seek out people who talk about these issues - even if that makes you a little uncomfortable sometimes. Read about Matthew Shepard, the Stonewall Riots, and about Marsha P Johnson. Find the artists, the performers, the activists, the writers, the campaigners and the ordinary people who are standing up and being seen and celebrating their diversity - even though they face discrimination and abuse every day. Read, watch, listen and really commit to stepping out your comfort zone so that you can be there for the people who really need you to empathise with what they face. Stand up for us all when we are not there. Because you will never experience these struggles, and we still do.
A FEW RESOURCES
Below are a few resources which may be on interest. This list is by no means exhaustive, and is really just a jumping off point.
(I will try add to this list as I can, and if you have suggestion of other resources you think should be added to this list please feel free to drop me suggestions at waynefick.com/contact )
THE KINTSUGI JOURNAL
Kintsugi: The Japanese art of repairing what is broken or damaged with pure gold resin. A philosophical approach that teaches us to treat our flaws and experience as precious parts of us which make us more beautiful and unique, rather than striving for some perceived perfection.
Every Monday I will drop into your inbox to share new writing, links and resources from my own experience. I believe in sharing honest, helpful content that will help you build a more intentional business & life.