My recent road trip across the country with my conservative sister really opened my eyes to how we can make a big difference in the way people view the LGBT community on an individual and everyday basis. You can see some of the background story that led me to this conclusion on my other blog posts (Gay across the USA… Pt1 & Pt2).
People often ask, “How can I make a difference?” At times when you feel like you are just one small person in a society that seems to be committed to denying LGBT citizens their full rights and equality, it often seems easier to sit back, live your life, and not get involved. It is easy to feel like you have no role to play in the LGBT rights movement, to feel like your life isn’t making an impact. But you are wrong. You can make a huge impact on society and the fight for equality by simply living your life, openly and honestly. You can do this by making sure you aren’t living what I have come to think of as the everyday “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
So what is this “everyday” policy, you may ask? It’s how so many of us live our lives. We go quietly about our business, many times facing struggles and roadblocks because of who we are as LGBT people. We do this everyday and never tell anyone about it. We don’t let our friends or families who are straight know about the discrimination or legal barriers we face just for being who we are. They don’t ask and we don’t tell.
There can be many reasons for this mindset. Some of us had hard experiences with family and friends when we came out. They may have had a hard time understanding who we are and accepting us. They might have feared for the “hard life” we would lead as LGBT’s or for the battles we would face. They worry about our safety in a world where senseless hate-crimes happen too often. Sometimes, they might just feel like we are someone different than the person they loved all their lives or like they don’t know us. They don’t understand the struggle we go through to be honest not only with them, but ourselves as well. They don’t ask and we don’t tell.
We work hard with our families and love ones, sometimes in a process that can take months or even years. We try and let them know we are the same person as always, that we are strong and can take care of whatever comes our way. We tell them not to worry about us and work to convince them that nothing has changed. In fact, we try so hard to not worry them or to be accepted by them that we leave out the hardships we face. We sanitize our life to gain acceptance and they never even realize it. They don’t ask and we don’t tell.
Eventually, hopefully, they begin to get past the initial shock of our coming out, seeing that we are the same son/daughter/sister/brother/friend as we were before. Life goes back to a semblance of normalcy. Acceptance comes slowly and we do everything in our power to keep it growing. We do this by not telling our loved ones about the serious issues that we face. We don’t tell them about the time someone threw a bottle at our head from a car when we were just walking down the street. We don’t tell them that we hear people mutter “queer” under their breath at us all the time. We don’t tell them that there are times we have to stop ourselves from touching our partner’s hand or shoulder because it might not be a safe place to do so. They don’t think to ask and we don’t tell.
We don’t tell them that if our partner gets sick, we might not be able to see him or her in the hospital depending on where we are because we aren’t a legally recognized “family.” They don’t know that we can’t take their child and care for them if they die because we can’t legally adopt in some states. They don’t know that we travel with a stack of legal documents in case something should happen to our partners or to us and, sometimes, those documents still aren’t enough to guarantee we can take care of each other. They don’t know that if something does happen to one of us, we might not have the right to make those final decisions and carry out each other’s wishes. They don’t know to ask and we don’t tell.
We try so hard to protect our loved ones from the realities of being LGBT in America. We do this out of love for them, out of the need to be loved by them. Yet are we really doing what’s right? How will our families know to ask how their support can make our lives better if we don’t tell them? They won’t ask how their votes and support for a candidate or policies can improve our chances to be safe and gain equality if we don’t tell them. We need to start letting the people in our lives know how serious these issues are for us, how they affect our life everyday. They need to hear, from our lips, how hard life can be for LGBT people and how they can help. We need to let them know it’s okay to ask us how they can help. We need to accept their love and support. We need to ask for it. We have to stop being “strong” for those who would be there for us if we would just ask. They won’t ask if we won’t tell.
I know I personally struggle with this. I want those in my life to understand the challenges I face and to help, but I don’t want to “burden” them. I want to make it easier for them to accept and love me. It’s hard to tell them the things that happen to me as a gay man, the hardships I face just trying to live my life with my partner, on a daily basis. I want to protect them and remain silent. I want to protect myself and the relationships I have worked so hard to mend. I fear that by telling them what it is like to be a gay man in America, I will be confirming their comments about the “hard life” that lies ahead of me. I am afraid they will blame me, or worse, not care about the discrimination I face. I don’t want to lose what I have worked so hard to regain. Yet, I know I can’t live like that anymore. I know I need to love them enough to trust them with all the details of my life, good and bad. They will never ask if I don’t tell.
By telling those that love us that we need them, by including them in our successes and our struggles, we can start to change how society views the LGBT community. Start telling those around you about your life. Tell them what you are going through and dealing with. Soon they will be asking what they can do to help. You can start to change society, one person at a time. You can have a huge impact on LGBT rights just by being honest with those around you. By ending this “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in our own personal lives, we can truly make a change that will improve the world. They will ask if we will only tell.