Tolerance vs. Acceptance


I recently viewed a documentary about Chely Wright. The documentary titled “Wish Me Away” followed her three-year journey towards publicly coming out of the closet in her memoir. It also followed the release of her latest album “Lifted Off The Ground.”  Ms. Wright is the very first country music star to come out as an “out and proud” lesbian. You should know that coming out of the closet is a difficult time for many people. Country music fans mainly identify themselves as Christian and most of them belong to the Republican party. Many (but not all) people from these political and religious affiliations are not accepting of the LGBT community. Due to this fact, many upcoming country music artists are forced to hide their sexual orientation for fear of losing their career. Since coming out, Chely has been the subject of numerous death threats from anti gay country music fans. She has not received a single invitation from the country music industry. Despite this fact, she has absolutely no regrets in her decision to reveal the truth that country music forced her to deny for many years. Chely has become a world-renowned advocate for the LGBT community and her story has helped many people who are going through similar struggles.

“I hear the word ‘tolerance’—that some people are trying to teach people to be tolerant of gays. I’m not satisfied with that word. I am gay, and I am not seeking to be ‘tolerated’. One tolerates a toothache, rush-hour traffic, an annoying neighbor with a cluttered yard. I am not a negative to be tolerated.”     Chely Wright

The above quote addressed a word that I feel LGBT activists should eliminate from their vocabulary. The word I am referring to is tolerance.  Tolerate means “to endure without repugnance; to put up with. “We gays and lesbians already know there are people who have repugnant attitudes towards the LGBT community. If you are reading this, I would like to ask you a few questions. Do you believe that same sex relationships are more evil than sick and twisted behaviors like incest, polygamy, pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality? Do you say that you “love” us but detest our sin? Do you believe that we are “unnatural” and a threat to the “sanctity of marriage”? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are repugnant attitude! I will accept that you have your own views. I have grown used to the fact that people do not accept my “decision” to be attracted to men. However, that absolutely does not mean I will tolerate people who impose their repugnance on me. 

Many people on the Autistic Spectrum understand what it feels like to be merely “tolerated” instead of genuinely accepted. I am sure you know that the Autistic mind is a specialist mind. They have a very specific learning style and are incredibly gifted in one particular hobby, skill or topic of interest. There are many advantages towards these unique gifts. It is a great way to build social skills. It gives the child the ability to connect with people of whom they have in common with. If the child possesses enough knowledge and skill, there are many rewarding possibilities in life after high school. They can enter the workforce, join the armed forces and/or pursue post secondary education at a college, university or technical school. They could even start their own business and make money doing that one thing they love to do. These qualifications can put them on the path to a very rewarding career! It is great to know that there are many people who do accept and appreciate our differences, whatever they may be. These are the only people who will matter.

However, there is a darker side towards having a mind that develops differently. You probably know that Aspie kids have the tendency to obsess about their interests and hobbies. They can vary from child to child and often to change as time goes on. They all have the same effect on the neurotypical individuals who interact with them. They (the neurotypicals) tend to get very annoyed when an Aspie obsesses about their favorite topic. This is the number one reason socialization can be a nightmare, at least it was for me. Even during my elementary school days, I can remember feeling an overwhelming sense that I just could not connect with people. It seemed like my classmates had everything that I lacked. The one thing I wanted more than anything was something called acceptance. Instead, they reluctantly “tolerated” that they had to be around me. I don’t even think tolerance was an appropriate word to describe their attitude towards me. During elementary school, people would point at me and say things they could not stand about me. I can remember some insults that come from my fourth grade classmates. “Oh, look! It’s Derek! He needs to shut up! He talks about buses! Nobody likes him!” If we fast forward about nine years after that, insults from my high school classmates became more redundant and unoriginal. “I’m not sitting next to that queer! He is a faggot!” This came from a closeted classmate who refused to sit in his assigned seat, which was right next to me. He said this while he was whispering to his pal in the back of the classroom. This is not one of my fond memories from Comparative Cultures class. I think of tolerance as a word that simply implies how a person feels another one’s existence is a burden that deserves to be negatively critiqued, but they do not admit it because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Now, what would have happened if the teacher forced my possibly closeted classmate to sit with me? I probably would have felt even more hurt, because I don’t want to be around someone who feels that way about gay people. He probably would have rebelled because he didn’t want my “queer germs. 

I have thought about many things since I came out almost a year ago. What steps can I take to change those feelings of isolation and alienation that I experienced during high school? I must say that I cannot provide a definite answer to that question. I know for a fact that rural Western Pennsylvania is not the ideal place for a man who happens to be gay and who happens to be “mildly Autistic.” I have decided that one of my goals in life is to leave my hometown and find a place that is more inclusive of the LGBT community. The burgh is certainly not as vibrantly gay as New York City, Los Angeles or San Fransisco. The gay community is smaller and anti gay bias always has and always will exist. It exists in every city or town across North America and around the world. However, that does not mean Pittsburgh’s LGBT community and their straight allies will back down! They will not tolerate violence, hatred and intolerance towards their brothers and sisters! When it comes to the whole topic of LGBT rights, you will encounter a wide range of opinions. Some of very Liberal about social, economic and political issues and others are very Conservative. Once I get my driver’s license, I hope to drive into Pittsburgh and explore some of the LGBT resources the city has to offer. I hope these resources will help me find the acceptance that I so longed for during my adolescent years.

There is another thing that I hope to start looking for this year. Aspies are often misconceived as sociopathic, psycho and anti social. These ignorant assumptions can be quite damaging to their psyche. I want to begin dating and find a the right man. While there are many Aspies who do not desire to get involved in romantic relationships, many of them do dream of finding “a beautiful woman or a tall handsome man” who will love them. (Those lyrics are quoted from Chely’s song “Like Me.”) I think that the only way for me to be able to do this is to get out there and begin looking! I have to realize that it could possibly take several tries before I find the right one. If I discover that we do not get along, then I have to tell him goodbye and find somebody else. Once I find the right person, I am sure that he is another person who will be able to make me feel accepted.

I am sure you can tell that I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for me in the future. I know the world outside rural Western Pennsylvania does have a lot to offer. I know that if I want the results to be positive, I must learn not to stress about people who do not accept me. This is a very difficult thing for me to do. I hope my words have helped you understand the feelings that are going through my mind right now. I would be delighted to hear your feedback! Thank you for reading this and I look forward to writing to you again soon!

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4 thoughts on “Tolerance vs. Acceptance

  1. Hi Derek. I hope you are doing well. I was wondering if you were still blogging. I hope you are successful in your quest to find someone to Love and love you back. You are still young. My experience with my children, nieces, nephews, shows this to be difficult for all young people so in that respect you are relationship-typical. Good luck.

  2. Aspie or not, one the things someone can’t do for us is make us feel “accepted”. That was our parent’s job, and if they didn’t do it, we have to find the path to learning how to accept ourselves. Going into a relationship with that expectation is a big mistake. And speaking of relationships, one of the most important things to be able to do to find and create a meaningful relationship is to get beyond just finding the “beautiful” woman or man (and based on the perspective you show in your blog, that “beautiful” term could mean you are saying that ugly people need not apply?) and to start thinking of what you have to offer in a relationship, not just what you are looking to have offered to you. One can be gay, hetero, autistic, non-autistic, or what have you, and still have the problem of not looking beyond their own needs in trying to find a mate. That issue has to do with self-centeredness, self-absorption, even self-ishness. Now, given the defined clinical aspects of autism, an autistic is described as self-oriented and “other averse”.

    It would seem they, by their own description, have greater difficulties in recognizing and responding to the needs of others. On the one hand, this is called “autism”, is diagnosed, medicated, treated, etc. Based on your blog, it seems that self-absorption and lack of accepting others is unacceptable, which is a mature outlook. However, on the other hand, it seems that a key component of this disorder(unsociability) is also supposed to be excused, overlooked and accepted, if one is diagnosed with Asperger’s. Though you are obviously intelligent and a good writer, what comes through in your writing is an overwhelming and laser focus on every micro-possibility that you are not being treated appropriately, why you are not treated appropriately, what others should do to treat you more appropriately, and how very appropriate you believe you are. Bear with me here, because I’m saying some things I happen to see as very appropriate and helpful that most people today won’t say. Whether it’s autism or just plain selfishness, the result is the same and the “treatment” is the same. We all need to learn to 1) consider others just as much as we consider ourselves, 2) learn to move on if someone isn’t appropriate or maybe just doesn’t like us instead of picking it apart in ongoing critiques (people make mistakes and we are all allowed to choose who we like; are you always appropriate, have you NEVER offended anyone, and do you believe that you like and want to be around everyone? By your blog I see that’s not the case, so why put that standard on others?), and 3) learn to consider, reflect on, get to know, understand, and even get a sense of the needs of others. The inability of autistics to relate and identify with others has reached mythic and even romantic proportions.

    The brooding or acting-out autistic who is doing algorythms in his head has been some kind of hero ever since “Rain Man”, but this perspective is ridiculous and not helpful to autistics at all. Autism is of course on a spectrum; we have the non-verbal all the way to the Asperger’s. Everyone, including the Asperger’s folks, marvel at their intelligence-so much is made of it. But this comes at the expense of ignoring the very detrimental lack of social skills, which autistics, who can excel academically, are given a pass on. This only encourages higher functioning autistics to give a pass on it themselves, and encourages others to neglect training those autistics in that area. And yes, social skills are learnable, consideration is learnable. Let me say this: I have Asperger’s, and I have worked with autistics. Through a series of difficult life circumstances I was forced into the revelation that I had to get along with people if I wanted to survive and have a reasonably happy life. And in working with autistics, I’ve seen that they can learn social skills when those skills are given priority and intense, diligent attention. In Temple Grandin’s book, she stresses the importance of the social skills she was expected to learn from her own mother, and how important those were to her. Asperger’s are too coddled, yes, coddled, and that only strengthens their aversion to appropriate social interactions. Schools and programs have sprung up everywhere to the point where the family and community don’t have to interact personally to help train autistics in natural social interactions-the programs give the idea that the family can’t really do it as well as they can, and family and community have come to accept that. We’re so mesmerized by their intelligence that its easier to focus on that than the skills they truly need. Now, what I’m saying will not be well accepted, but it needs to be said. What good is intelligence when the social aspect of who we are-the ability to help others, enjoy others, return affection and regard to others, and love others, the things that make life so lovely, are weak or non-existant? When do we teach autistics to look for POSITIVES in others instead of negatives? Derek, can you make a list of all the times people were kind, accepting, supportive, helpful, nice or friendly to you? Sharing that would give a lot of hope to others struggling socially. If you can’t, or if it is very short, how subjective is your experience? It is also said that autistics have trouble seeing when they are at fault or lacking. Shouldn’t the focus then be on developing more self-awareness and self-development, as opposed to self-absroption? If those with Asperger’s claim this is not possible, that it is part of their diagnoses that this cannot happen, then it would make sense then that they should refrain from the common Asperger habit of being so comfortable in negatively judging others.

    If meaningful relationships is the goal, Asperger’s need to be held to some standards (which shows respect for their ability to learn), and need to accept help for developing those other-oriented skills that are necessary for caring interactions. This is not just an autistic issue at all; we’ve been bombarded by a selfish construct of relationship for the last 75 years. No one should be given a pass on this, not even Asperger’s. The better we all get along, the more fulfilling place this world will be for everyone. I must say also that no one has any exclusivity on dealing with bigotry, rejection, unacceptance and repugnance. You’d think in this country that these behaviors were something that just came on the scene to torment gays and autistics, but in at least one instance of greater repugnance than today’s laments, it wasn’t that long ago that an entire group of people were enslaved in this country and deemed to be less than human, and we’re still dealing with the backlash of slavery today. I know “white” people hate to hear about it, but the results of it are still all around us. I’m not the only one who can’t dredge up more sympathy for another well-off celebrity whining about “coming out” when babies are being abused and sex-trafficking is alive and well even here in the US. None of us should be so quick to complain when we consider how much others have suffered, which is another good trait-considering the pain of others-that Asperger’s, and this society in general, needs to develop. Aspies, their “handlers” (who are making millions), and gays need to give it a rest. If any of us are looking for a perfect world, then we’d each have to leave it. I wish you well.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Mark. I am still trying to get used to the whole “gay” thing and I am still trying to figure out what the whole thing means to me. I cannot think of a response right off the bat. I will try write my response to your feedback within a week or so. It takes me a while to think of a well thought out response to people’s feedback because I don’t want people to take anything out of context.

  3. Pingback: Re: Tolerance vs. Acceptance | Dwarren57's Blog

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