Tolerance


I’m coming out.

Not as gay. Though I would come out if I was gay. No, I’m coming out as liberal.

Yup. Liberal. Tree-huggin’ hippie liberal. Socially liberal. Fiscally liberal. Tax and spend liberal. Liberal, liberal, liberal.

Tolerant liberal.

But more on that later.

Most of you probably already guessed that I’m liberal but in case any of you are gasping and clutching your pearls and wondering how a nice girl like me wound as such a  flaming liberal, I’ll tell you: I was brainwashed by liberal lesbians. In church.

OK, just one lesbian. It was my best friend’s mom’s partner Pat. She used to come to our Sunday school class at the Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY with her guitar and sing songs to us while my friend and I behaved like total harridans because we were 7 years old and thought it was hilarious to misbehave in front of one of our parents. The brainwashing part came in when Pat taught us a Unitarian version of  “This Little Light of Mine” that went – and I swear I’m not making this up – “This little liberal light of mine”.  I was in high school before I realized that word had been added by Pat.

Pat wasn’t the first gay person I had met. The choir director of our church was gay, too. He lived with a nice man who had a beautiful tenor voice. He also gave me piano lessons and is good friends with my mother to this day. Unsurprising, because my mom sang in about three different groups he directed over a course of 30 years and you can’t make that much music with a person and not love them.

I have no memory of ever formally learning about what those gay relationships meant. They just were. Like the straight relationships around me. They just were.

I do remember my best friend telling me her mom is a lesbian. I was the first person she told because in those days her mom told her to keep it quiet. People weren’t as far out in the 1980s as they are now. There was more fear of negative repercussions then. It made sense to tell a child to mask a fact that could cause her hurt back then.

But it’s better, now. Now, my son is in a playgroup with three same-sex couple families. You’ve probably interacted with a couple of them – some of the moms read my blog.  Though you might not be able to tell they’re lesbians when they comment on things I write about the cost of diapers or fun places to take kids in DC. They sound just like every other mom.

Funny, that, huh? Moms who sound like moms. Imagine.

Then there was the other night when I ran into an old friend who adopted a baby a few months ago. He was rushing home after work to go check his son’s Similac to see if they needed to toss it after the latest recall. He sounded just like a dad. Not like a gay dad even though he is gay. Just a plain old dad.

Yeah, it’s better now and there are tons of good examples of families with same sex parents that I can use to demonstrate to C that gay people are just people and same sex relationships are just relationships.

Which is why this guest post at Scary Mommy’s blog where a mother worried that a lesbian teacher would bring her personal life into her classroom in an inappropriate way simply because she’s gay upset me so. It cracked at the parts of my heart that are given over to my gay friends and family members, all of whom are living their lives, and doing their jobs, and raising their families, not executing a  nefarious plot to corrupt the children of nice Christian moms in Texas.  This woman doesn’t think of gay people as people first, she thinks of the gay part first.  She thinks there is something inherently wrong with being gay and that gay people should hide who they are because of it. She doesn’t believe that those relationships can just be;  she thinks they are bad for her children to see, that they should be hidden away. Because she wants good role models for her children and she believes that means heterosexual role models, preferably Christian ones.

This woman in not tolerant though she really, really, wants to believe she is.

And I have to be ok with it. I have to be tolerant. It’s my burden as a liberal.

My version of tolerance, what I need to struggle to remember, is that different belief systems must exist on level ground and I must treat them all as equal, provided they are not being used to hurt people. I believe that all religions are equally valid and do not hold my own religion, Unitarianism, above the rest. I believe all political viewpoints are equally enlightened and my liberalism isn’t the only right answer (thought I acknowledge my knee-jerk reaction to call some politicians names and shout at the tv when they start talking – I’m not proud of it). I believe all consensual adult relationships are equally correct and I don’t think my heterosexual marriage is the ideal. So, I need to tolerate what this woman believes and file it away under “Things that are different from what I believe” and do my damndest not to go all smug and think about how much better I am than she is.

I have to let her live her life as she chooses and I have to expect that she will let me live my life as I choose and we should both allow our smugness to come out only when we think about how great it is that we live in a  country and an era where is it permissible to go about our business with no worry that someone will slap their value system in our face and tell us ours in wrong and we must conform to theirs.

The imposition of a value structure onto others who may or may not share it, the assertions that that value system is the best one and everyone should accept it, the use of a value system to remove those who do not hold to it from an environment – that is intolerance made manifest.

You see I think, and I don’t have an academic studies to back this up, but I think that if you believe your religion is the best one, then you might think it’s ok to belittle people because of their religion. I think that if you think your political party is unerringly right and all others are misguided, you think it’s ok to mock people because of the bumper stickers on their cars in election years. I think that if you believe that your relationship is the only right kind of relationship then you think it’s ok to deny people in other kinds of relationships rights. I think that merely “tolerating” difference while still allowing yourself the arrogance of believing that you’re actually better than those you tolerate leads to bullying behavior. It leads to disenfranchising behavior. It leads to abusive behavior. It leads to discriminatory behavior.

It leads to harm unto others.  And that I cannot tolerate.

***

For another great take on tolerance, check out Mary Mac’s post from yesterday at Pajamas and Coffee. She tackles the subject with a heck of a lot more humor, and a lot of wisdom from kids.

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17 comments for “Tolerance

  1. October 14, 2010 at 8:21 am

    I was raised in a UU church. I was also raised by my grandparents who were Jewish immigrants that survived the Holocaust and escaped from Russian-controlled, communist Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution. My youth was all about tolerance. NEVER judging a book by it’s cover. You work hard, you love hard, you live well (and I don’t mean financially). I have a VERY hard time with narrow minded people. I truly don’t care how people live their lives. Just be happy. Not meaning to sound Pollyanna-ish or come off as the happy guru, but really. And for goodness sakes, what the hell is the teacher gonna do? Bring in gay porn for show and tell? C’mon.
    Ignorance crap like this annoys me to no end!

  2. October 14, 2010 at 9:05 am

    You’re a LIBERAL????

    ::dead::

    🙂 I agree. People are people. Heterosexual teachers don’t talk about their sex lives in the class room (I hope) so why would Homosexual teachers do that?

    So weird.

  3. Jenny
    October 14, 2010 at 9:38 am

    The comments on that post are really interesting. The gymnastics of irrationality involved with some folk’s justification for their “feelings” are seriously intense. If you are that freaking uncomfortable with your kid (who you claim knows about gay people already) being around someone who is openly gay then put them in a private school or homeschool them. It’s like she is afraid her kid will notice that the teacher is a lovely person and therefore decide that mom is wrong and gay is ok.

  4. October 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

    You really had me sitting here thinking because I don’t think I can remember a time when I had to be taught what “gay” was either. It was just people who happen to love people with the same private parts.

    Ya know I always say this but I know PLENTY of heterosexual couples that would be an awful role model for relationships to my daughter. I can only hope that she is just exposed to people who teach her how to be loving, tolerant, accepting if those people are religious fanatics or gay tree lovers doesn’t matter in the least to me.

  5. LCW
    October 14, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Loved this post. My husband and I often talk about homosexual’s parenting and he believes it’s “unfair” for the child, and then I scoff at him for thinking such a thing and remind him I grew up in a “blue” state and I’m far more liberal than he. I remind him that some heterosexual parents don’t equal great parents, that many straight parents don’t deserve their children, and a child being raised in a loving, caring, nurturing home is far superior than being raised in a heterosexual home. Because like you said, a “gay” dad or a “lesbian” mom are not defined by their sexuality, but as their rolls in society, which is man, woman, mom, dad, son, daughter, not gay or straight.

  6. October 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

    The best thing we can teach our children is tolerance. Accepting and respecting that people are different and it doesn’t make them better or worse than you or I, on any topic. Great post.

    PS. I still think we’re the same person, living two different lives.

    PPS. Ironically, I’m a moderately conservative Catholic. Figure that shit out.

  7. October 14, 2010 at 10:05 am

    as i read that guest post I was brought back to my childhood. I was raised in a manner extremely similar to the way she is attempting to raise her children. Couple of things: there are 6 of us, 3 of my sisters married without dating (they went along with my parents Courtship idea), were virgins when they married and actually honestly truthfully had not even kissed prior to their first kiss during their wedding ceremony. They have very happy healthy marriages. They have raised their children with similar values though not quite as conservative as our parents were when we were young. My brother slept around, got a girl pregnant, got kicked out of bible college, etc… now he is a youth pastor with two kids and is arrogant and conceited and full of himself instead of the love we are told to show others…ALL others. I am considered extremely liberal by my family. I have gay friends, teach my children to love everyone, they attend public school and I pray that God will bring people with different opinions and lifestyles into their lives so they can learn from them and practice what we preach. My youngest sister….well she is a different story all together. She lives on the street, has a rough life and has rejected my parents and everything they taught us. So, you can teach your kids whatever you want but at some point they make up their own minds and live the way they want…. hope this poor niave lady isn’t shocked when one of her children reveals they are gay.
    Second, tolerance is sometimes so difficult to practice. I believe God commanded us to love everyone…even the intolerant, ignorant people who refuse to actually read all of the Bible…. I do believe that there is only one true God, but I don’t judge anyone who believes differently. It is their right and we don’t know which one of us is correct. God gave us all our own minds and opinions for a reason – we are supposed to use them 🙂
    Narrow minded people are the reason we need to put our whole heart into supporting causes like “It gets better”…

  8. October 14, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I know exactly where you’re coming from – the only political issue that gets me riled up is gay marriage, even to the point where I participated in the march though I hold a strong anti-march bias. But I thought the poster on Scary Mommy did a great job why it bothered her, which is an opinion I initially find hateful, but when I started to think about how I’d feel if my children were in a situation like that. For me the issue would be – if my children’s teacher believe strongly that homosexuality is wrong and that LGBT people shouldn’t be given rights would I be okay letting that person be in charge of my child’s education. And while I hope the answer is yes, I think it would cause me some second thoughts. ‘Cause the idea that my kids might pick up on those beliefs and put credence in them is something I find terrifying. And I don’t even have kids yet.

    So I get where you’re coming from – truly, I do. But that woman received so much hate for just trying to speak her mind and be open about her feelings, some of which, like in all of us, are prejudiced. And it just makes me feel so sad for her.

    Also? I’m freaking jealous of your church, as it sounds like a beautiful, accepting place to grow up.

    p.s.~ I just realized this could come off as ranting at you, which was not what I intended at all! I think your post is great, it just reminded me of the whole saga which has been stewing in my mind.

  9. anthrogrrl
    October 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I distinctly remember the moment where I, as a child, decided what attitude I would take towards homosexuality. I don’t remember ever discussing it with my parents, despite the fact that they were pretty open about talking about anything. But somewhere around 6th grade, a friend came up to me at school and told me, in a hushed whisper, that a public figure she admired was gay. He had just come out. I remember being a little confused about why she thought it was scandalous, but I figured if that was how people felt about gays, I should make sure to be scandalized too.

    A little later, I decided to practice my new stance on homosexuality, and I passed along this bit of information to another friend, in the same hushed tones. Her response was very simply, “Good for him!” This immediately validated my original response to the information, let me know that being gay wasn’t a big deal, and I have maintained that stance ever since. Maybe not so coincidentally, she happened to be a member of your church. *smile*

    As an anthropologist, I have been steeped in cultural sensitivity and tolerance for years, and I love knowing that there are other people out there who really and honestly think the same way, without any college classes beating it into them first! My biggest challenge is being tolerant of intolerance. You think you’re right and I’m wrong? Well, okay, you can think that. You have the right. I’ll just continue thinking what I think over here. *smile*

  10. October 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Ugh – you can’t see your response, so now I’m gonna look like I’m crazily talking to myself.

    But I’m used to that, so it’s cool.

    I think it’s completely accurate to make a correlation between being racist and being a homophobe – but being a KKK member is far different from being racist. Aside from also hating other groups than African Americans, KKK members have decided their beliefs of white supremacy require action, often violent action. Study after study shows that the vast majority of people are racist, even if only inherently, but I think only a small percentage of those are people who would belong to the KKK.

    I concur that there is no value set to being gay – sexual attraction has no definitive belief system. But I think that was the woman’s point was it is that specific teacher’s belief system that she had a problem with.

    Though I don’t know for sure, I would assume she’d have no issue with this guy teaching her kids (http://gaymormonguy.blogspot.com/2010/10/president-packers-talk-from-gay-mormon.html) – as it’s not a person’s sexuality she has issue with, it’s their beliefs about it.

    And while I would hope no teacher would ever blatantly state their personal opinions to a class, I think that everything a person thinks, even facts, are strongly influenced by their beliefs. And if you find that belief repulsive, the idea of it then influencing your child is frightening.

    She hasn’t and isn’t attempting to pull her child out of class or get the teacher fired, she’s just sharing her initial discomfort with the idea.

    I don’t agree with her feelings – the thought that because it makes parents uncomfortable that someone might stop a gay person from teaching makes me feel nauseated and I would fight against that with everything I had.

    But I’m just saying that this woman was, in what I found to be an open and honest way, explaining how it made her feel.

    And for the first time, I understood where she (and those who believe the same) was coming from.

    Because the thought that the guy I linked to, that gay Mormon blogger, was teaching my children would give me pause.

    I wouldn’t stop him from teaching, or even pull my kids from his class, but the way he lives his life, the way he looks at the world is to me something tragic and sad and self-hating. And if it was possible, if I could, I would protect my children from knowing that such a position existed.

  11. October 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    And THIS is why I think my kid is going to live in a better world – because even those of us raised with religious parents or in very conservative households have come to realize the obvious truth that people are people and people love who they love and anything more than that SHOULDN’T MATTER. Maybe it’s just the circles I run in (both in life and online) but the overwhelming majority of moms I know are instilling tolerance and love in place of old prejudices.

    I read a wonderful blog written by a lesbian couple raising two children who have a relationship most straight couples would kill to have. Who wouldn’t love their partner to really understand what breastfeeding was like or to truly see the “work” of staying home with kids as WORK.

  12. October 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Fan-freaking-tastic post! Love everything about it! AND, I think you should write lots more about being Unitarian, because I’ve had several people recommend it to me after reading my blog posts about my own religious stance. I’d love to learn more about it!

  13. October 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Where do I start??? There are tears running down my face. I feel like I am back in high school with this giant secret that I am not allowed to tell, but need to because otherwise I might just crack. I wish I hadn’t gone to the link in your post. That woman makes me so mad and despite my desire to see where she is coming from, it just hits too close to home.

    You see, my mom left my dad when I was three for another woman. My mom and this woman just celebrated their 30th anniversary. These two women taught me about kindness, unconditional love, respect, tolerance, and everything else amazing parents teach their kids. The scolded me when I said hurtful things and taught me how to be accepting of others. They talked to me about boys and relationships and how I deserved to be treated like a queen and nothing less.

    My dad? He had a wounded ego when it happened and married within a year to a woman that told my sister and I that she just didn’t have enough love in her heart for the two of us (yes, those were her words). This woman? Sent 7 page letters routinely to my mother telling her how awful of a person/mother she was because she was gay. She abused me verbally and physically. She toyed with my young heart, pretending to love me one day and push me away the next. She told me that I was worthless and asked me why I couldn’t be like the neighbor girl. I learned from her that I didn’t deserve the best.

    Thankfully my dad finally left that woman when I was a freshman in high school and by the time I got to college he met Donna and with her help, we healed as a family. I still struggle with the voices of my evil stepmother in the back of my head and as an adult I get angry that no one protected me from that horrid person.

    So my mom, her partner (or my nice stepmom), and my evil stepmom were all teachers. Who would you like child to be taught by? The two women that have love in their heart for everyone, who will teach your child to be kind to everyone and accepting of individual differences, and are gay OR the straight woman who is evil to the core, that routinely abused her stepdaughter, and was hateful to anyone who disagreed with her….but smiled and appeared nice at school?

    In the end, (when I take a moment to gather my emotions) I guess I really just feel bad for the people that don’t seem to get it. You hit the nail on the head in your post. These people aren’t gay first. They are people first who might be moms, dads, teachers, doctors, pastors, skiers, writers, runners, dog lovers, and so many other things…it is our society that puts their sexuality ahead of everything else, not them. They are just trying to lead a normal life and we keep screwing with that.

    Thank you for letting me vent in my reply. 🙂

  14. October 14, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    This is an excellent post- far more eloquent than mine (thanks for mentioning it) and the world would be a better place if more people thought like you. Thanks for your amazing writing!

  15. October 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Just amazing what that post over on Scary Mommy’s site has caused, countless bloggers are blogging their hearts out … and each and everyone that I have read thus far errs to the side of ”teach our children just to love”.
    Thank you, I so enjoyed your post, the reactions of so many make me feel as tho we may still be in the dark ages. For us before all things we try to teach our children tolerance, which goes hand in hand with acceptance, and as a multi racial family or whatever damn thing they call it these days .. we have come across not being accepted first hand!
    Currently on a trip (in your neck of the woods btw way should you care to join me for a glass of wine and beotch on the many sad state of affairs, happy to buy you lunch at that little ‘bistro’) but plan on writing a post on acceptance, why not all homeschoolers school their kids because they want them in a box and how we teach our kids that God didn’t say I love you, and you and you not so much … ok, my husband the atheist doesn’t word it that way but that is the gist. But pencil me in for something insightful … or at least a tad amusing …

  16. foxydenmom
    October 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    You made me look-up harridan~ took 3 tries for me to find something that made sense. Love new words…thanks.

    The only thing I thought about was….because we are growing more tolerant as a society (I hope) there are certain people– straight or homosexual, young or old, etc–who insist upon flaunting their sexuality. *Drives me nutz.* They turn everyone around them into an audience for their intimate escapades and some of us suffer horribly when they give us TMI. They talk loud and they’re overly animated about many things that simply don’t need openly discussed in public. Shall I just call them extroverts? Am I supposed to ignore it? I’m not a prude, it’s just that I think we’re losing an important level of public decorum.

    Of course I get just as angry at the idiots in their slippers an lousey excuse for PJs when they’re clearly NOT sick…slopping through the grocery store on their cell phones. Or they park their cart and roam around–often reaking of cigarettes or TONZ of cologne.

    I’m not a prude…really. I strive for “live and let live.” I just think there is a level of decency that’s somehow been breached as we deem everything “OK” and “All about me.” Where I have to hear their conversations on their cell phones, see their clevage and underwear, smell their god-forsaken body-spray cologne / after-shave…and I end up assaulted because I’m in a public place. I’ve had all I can tolerate…of being “tolerant” sometimes.

    Makes me wish for those victorian ladies who looked harmless but who could switch you into place with their walking canes to keep you in line and publicly acceptable.

    That’s not very tolerant of me now…is it?
    😐
    Oh well.

  17. October 15, 2010 at 10:25 am

    You rock for standing up for what you believe (or don’t believe)! I respect a lot!

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