I HEARD FROM MY UNCLE that his daughter — my cousin — is dating this guy. Apparently, he’s in medical school, super honest, and down-to- earth guy. I hadn’t talked to my cousin in a while but was happy to hear some great news like that, so I gave her a call. On the phone, she sounded happy and airy. School was good, the family was good, and so was this guy, Tom. She was so excited to share her happiness with me. Since we hadn’t been in touch, I asked if I could drive down to catch up. It was decided: next Friday afternoon at Atlas Coffee.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I found her old beat-up Subaru and parked next to it. In the back seat she had a gym bag, an array of papers, a mug in the cupboard, and a brief case. That was weird — she had always carried a dark red leather bag. It was her signature thing. I went in, and there she was, looking brilliant in a green sweater with Tom sitting beside her. Man, he was good looking, and I could already tell how he felt about her.
Tom saw me walking towards them before she did, and stood up to shake my hand. Inviting smile, rm shake, and a glance down at Kat before making some silly face and saying, “Nice to meet ya.” We chatted about random things, but everything was funny. Their happiness was infectious, and my mood rose to the occasion. His eyes barely left her face, and his right hand barely left her hip. She was happier than I had ever seen her, and I left with every intention to inform my uncle of my approval.
* * *
I heard from my uncle that his daughter — my cousin — is dating someone. Apparently, it’s a girl and my uncle had no idea his daughter was “like that.” Apparently, she’s in medical school, but my uncle didn’t have much else to say about her. He seemed a little shocked actually. I had sort of lost touch with her, so I gave her a call. On the phone, she sounded happy and airy. School was good, the family was good, and so was this woman, Em. She was extremely shy about bringing her up and was even less willing to give up details than her dad had been. I asked if I could drive down to catch up. She was surprised and said yes, next Friday.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I found her old beat up Subaru and parked next to it. In the back seat she had a gym bag, an array of papers, a mug in the cupboard, and a pair of black heels that were way too big for her tiny feet. I went in and there she was, looking nervous. Next to her was a very tall woman with a slightly more con dent expression. She was relaxed and gorgeous. I could tell she really cared about Kat and planned to take the reigns during our conversation.
She stood up to shake my hand and Kat smiled and introduced us. She was smiling openly. Then I hugged Kat, and said I was so happy for her. We chatted about random things, but everything was funny. Their happiness slowly became more evident, and my mood rose to the occasion. When one of them moved, the other followed. Kat was happier than I had ever seen her with this woman, and I left feeling much more comfortable with the idea. I left with every intention to talk to my uncle, as his hesitations were far from necessary.
* * *
So what’s the difference between allowance and acceptance? Allowing LGBTQ members of our society to exist presupposes superiority and makes the assumption that other members of society have the power and authority to allow others to be. Although allowance in comparison to rejection is undoubtedly a good thing, it is not the goal. The ultimate goal for all underrepresented, misunderstood, or minority communities has always been acceptance.
African American people don’t want to just bring an end to prejudice against them; they want to be understood and accepted as equals and as valuable additions to American society. Women don’t just want to bring an end to domestic violence, rape, and social inferiority; they want equality in terms of respect and opportunity. In similar ways, LGBTQ members look forward to bringing an end to negative stereotypes and prejudice and gaining equality in society.
An understanding that the cisgender population must work towards is that LGBTQ members of society are firmly who they are, as much as women identify as women and African American people are African American, and that is not the cisgender population’s duty to allow them to be that way. Society as a whole will have to commit to ending this acceptance and respect before equality is found.
Another important consideration of this framework is that gaining acceptance in society is a long process. African Americans significantly progressed their fight for equality over 60 years ago, and they continue to work for it. On an interpersonal scale, acceptance is an emotional and imperfect process for Kat, Em, and Kat’s father. The shift cannot be systematized. Marriage equality and political acceptance are monumental but not fundamental. The changes that pave the road for greater social acceptance cannot and will not originate in these policies.
We cannot attack a problem rooted deep in the foundation of society without first acknowledging just how deeply the problem runs. It can be innate, as prejudice slips into conversations unless we work to maintain an open and educated mind. As with other types of discrimination, homophobia exists in varying degrees, both in aggressive ways and to slippery and subtle extents. It is surreptitious and seeps into our perceptions before we notice.
As we mature into an age where the LGBTQ community is accepted, we must also fight to keep this new mindset. We must guard against rejection and work to encourage acceptance on individual and personal levels.