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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Do They Truly “Care”? (Part 2- A Blog Post About Facing Fears)


A Continuation of Part 1

When we experience a life threatening situation like a car accident, it reduces our self-confidence to great amounts. We think that cowering in fear will make the problems go away. Anxiety is a common characteristic in people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, regardless of whether or not they are actually diagnosed with a particular type of Anxiety.  I’ve always hated therapists who tell me that I need to “put myself out there” if I want to make new friends. I am in college now, and the feelings of not “fitting in” have been with me for a long time. I am sure they will stay with me in any social situation. 

Throughout most of my (almost) twenty years of life, I have always known that I was “different.” I was “unpopular” in high school and the vast majority of my classmates either didn’t know that I existed or took advantage of it. Because of that, I found it extremely difficult to decipher whether or not people were merely trying to be kind. My former therapist, Mike thought that forcing me out of my comfort zone would magically cause an epiphany and end all of my problems. His demanding personality and use of scare tactics made me believe that he was not really trying to “help” me, even though he tried to convince me otherwise. The truth was that I really had no idea what was bothering me. I was just bitter about the fact that I was “not like everybody else.”

You are probably asking me to answer that one burning question. What is that thing that has caused me to feel so empty? So, you should know that I am “putting myself out there.” I now know I am a gay man. I knew that I was not ready to say that during my high school years. My classmates seemed to notice this and they used it as a way to provoke me. My small, unincorporated hometown in Western Pennsylvania mainly consists of Conservative Christians who are not very accepting of the GLBT community. Life in the Freeport Area School District was about conforming, fitting in and doing what was expected of me.

The school claimed to have a “zero tolerance policy” towards bullying. From elementary school until tenth grade, the schools seemed to think that displaying signs that read “bullying will not be tolerated” or “teasing hurts” would give students the message that bullying was not acceptable. The truth was, it did the exact opposite. The vast majority of the students paid no attention to the signs. My teachers were under the kind of mindset that we were in a perfect school in a small town and that any forms of intolerance and bullying are just a little pigment of our own imagination. As a matter of fact, I remember my tenth grade health teacher rambling about how he thinks it’s “funny” that our school district even needed a bullying policy. He was just one of the many Freeport teachers who lived under the “perfect small town” mindset. If you are still not convinced, look at the website greatschools.org and read the one and two star reviews written about the junior and senior high schools. 

Going back to my “drill Sargent” therapist, I can remember one thing about his tactic that truly infuriated me. His tone of voice was often very questionable, meaning I had trouble figuring out whether he was being genuine or being sarcastic. I was “not like everybody else” and I was not interested in most of the neurotypical activities, in particular, dating. I wanted to “be like everybody else” but I didn’t know how to. Just about every single session consisted of him trying to cause that magical epiphany. He wanted to me “put myself out there.” He would go on and on about how I should be interested girls, the sarcastically said “unless you like boys or something…”  That was one of the many comments that caused a major personality clash between the two of us. I didn’t know I was gay back then, so I just refused to respond to him. If I had known, I still would not have “come out” to him. This was due to the lack of respect and understanding from the vast majority of my peers, teachers and counselors. So, I am sure you can guess why I felt this comment was pretty questionable. His tendency to bombard me with questions, to get in my face and tell me how much I need to “open up to people” caused even more resistance. I most likely will never change my opinions about the man. He had no regard for the fact that I simply was not ready to discover and reveal what was really bothering me. 

If there are any Autistic and/or gay people who are reading this blog post, I am sure you know that we have many stereotypes and labels thrown at us. This is why I felt that “coming out” during high school was not safe. When people think of the word “gay”, they picture a male who is effeminate, materialistic, shallow and overly obsessed about sex. When people think of an Autistic person, they picture someone running out of control and throwing things in a screaming meltdown. It is true that there are gay and/or Autistic people who show those characteristics, but that most certainly does not excuse the acts intolerance and hatred that society throws at them. 

I have also noticed one thing when it comes to “cultural and neurological diversity.” There have been times where I have been around Aspies who negatively use offensive slurs such as “faggot”, “cunt” or “dyke.” I have also heard LGBTQ people negatively use offensive slurs like “retard”, “freak” or “psycho.” It infuriates me to hear anybody use those slurs, but especially those who know how it feels to be different. I have come to the sad realization that they use these slurs for the same reason that anyone would use them. They fear people who are different because they still believe the ridiculous myths and negative stereotypes that are always thrown at that particular “group.” It’s called the fear of the unknown. 

My Asperger’s has always caused me to be very careful who I choose for a friend, and I know I will have to be even more careful now that I know I am gay. This could very well mean that I could lose support from friends and family due to their religious stance on “homosexuality.” I will most likely endure my fair share of  the bible says it’s wrong” lectures. Those family and friends could start negatively gossiping about me and even use those slurs that always have and always will infuriate me. I know that I shouldn’t let them bother me, but it will truly hurt if this ever ends up being the case. All I can do is expel them from my life, tell myself that it’s their problem and hope they change their ways. However, homophobes usually don’t change the way they feel about people who are different. Their religious propaganda “molds” them into that kind of mindset. 

My priorities in a friend are now starting to change. I am experiencing a friendship where I am always the one who reaches out to the person, when they never seem to reach out to me. It makes me feel like I am the only one who seems to truly care. I’ve had friends who say they are going to help me with things then turn around and not do it. It makes me wonder if they really want to spend time with me. It also makes me wonder whether they are avoiding me or just “forgetting” about me. I know not to automatically take it personally, but I always have wondered what the real answer is. I ask myself two questions. Are they using that as a cover up? Do they truly care? This is the hardest part, but I must accept what the real answer is. 

I thank you for reading this very important post!

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