This week’s article starts with the painfully true story of my childhood ignorance and goes on to talk about how I became an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community. The first moment I discuss demonstrates the lack of understanding and knowledge of me and, probably, society as a whole at the time, as well as a lack of representation in media outlets. This lack of representation leads to children and adults feeling different and ashamed of who they are. (Thankfully, times are changing.) The second moment I talk about, represents the first moment I began to understand the power of hate and the pain it causes others. As a straight woman, I grew up feeling “normal”, in my sexuality, never feeling different or ashamed of who I was. The final moment I discuss is about the moment that caused me to find my voice as an ally. It took me a long time to find my voice and speak out, but I think that my story shows how far we have come as a society and how far having knowledge and open communication goes. Keep the conversations going! We are slowly changing the world.
When I was in middle school, in the 1990s, my older sister had a call from a boy. This was a time before cell phones were in the hands of every person over the age of ten, so yes, this boy called our landline. I remember her talking to this boy as I was in the room, at some point she handed the phone to me because he wanted to talk to me. Because I had never met this person before, I remember saying, “hello”, and not much else. I was a shy girl and had never even talked to a boy on the phone before. The story is short, but the thing that sticks out in my mind, is the words this boy said to me in the seconds it took for him to decide that I was different, “what are you? A dyke?”
I remember saying “No!” without even thinking and handing the phone back to my big sister. I didn’t even know what a dyke was, but his tone suggested the word was something bad and I instantly felt ashamed, like there was something wrong with me. I guess saying “no” felt like the right move at the time because I didn’t want anyone to think I was something bad. I never talked to him again, my sister didn’t either, and I never discussed this moment with anyone. To this day this is the first time I am even talking about it, but I think it perfectly depicts the lack of knowledge I had as a child, and the start of my journey to being an ally.
The thing is, at the time of that phone call, I was somewhere between 10 and 12 years old. I was raised by a heterosexual couple, in a small country town, I had never heard the term “dyke” before, and to be honest, at this point in my life, I didn’t even know what gay was. I believe that my parents are accepting of others, and were even at the time, but they never sat me down and had the “all families are different” talk. Which, you know, might have been helpful.
I remember running downstairs after this phone call and picking up the dictionary from the desk in our kitchen, trying to find out what this word I had never heard of meant. To my dismay, the dictionary my family owned, was a CHILDREN’S DICTIONARY WITH COLOR PICTURES made in the 90s, so I wasn’t going to get the information I needed. We didn’t have internet, our dictionary was lacking words, and I was at the mercy of figuring this out on my own.
I never asked for clarity about this word from anyone. I think I was at that age where I pretended to know things even if I didn’t for fear of seeming unintelligent. A la, ignorance. I went on with my life and never thought of it again. But, the memory of how I felt in that moment sticks with me. Please, ask questions kids.
In today’s times, I could have done a simple search and found out what the word meant in a second. But I am glad I didn’t. I think if I had found out that the boy was trying to call me a lesbian, in a tone that was less than pleasant, without having the talk with my parents that being different IS OKAY, I would have felt shame for it. Because I didn’t know, and didn’t ask, I never associated being a lesbian with shame and me and my ignorance got to brush our shoulders off and go on with our lives.
High school was in the early 2000s. At this point in history, gay was still a hush topic that no one talked about. Whispers about people swarmed the school halls, but being gay wasn’t discussed. I was 21 years old before I personally knew someone who was openly gay, my high school best friend, on the day she came out to me, five years after I met her. At the moment she came out, I knew that her being gay didn’t make me think of her differently or love her less. But, it wasn’t until that moment that I actually started to think about her pain and why she felt like she couldn’t tell me. I started to wonder why she had to “come out” in the first place. I remember thinking that she could have started dating a girl and I wouldn’t have questioned it. But in her mind, she thought I would stop loving her. My love is unconditional, but not everyone’s is. Not everyone’s was. She lost friends when she came out, she lost family, and it didn’t make sense to me.
This was the first time I felt privileged. I never had to come out as straight, I just was, and people accepted it. I have never felt shame for my heterosexual relationship, or have never been scared to say, “my boyfriend,” “he”, or “him”. When my best friend came out to me, I checked myself so hard, I can’t imagine the pain she was in for all those years and it killed me. It still kills me, because I know she still carries that pain today. I know she still has to feel afraid to be open about who she is and it makes me angry. That is why I am an ally. I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t be open about who they are. I want children to be exposed to same-sex relationships and know that it’s normal. I want the entire LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe talking about who they are and who they love. I want everyone to feel privileged.
Eventually I learned what the term “dyke” meant, we got the internet and I could start looking things up that I didn’t know. It kind of never stopped from there. I wanted to know everything, I never wanted to be caught off guard again. Now I know that it’s okay for me not to know things, but I know that the responsibility is on me to educate myself. I still have the tendency to see the best in everyone, but I know that as a society we have a long way to go. It wasn’t until last year that I experienced true hate firsthand. It reminded me that I have to be louder. During a meeting at work everyone, except for me, was laughing at an inappropriate joke my superior made. I was silent and it made everyone else uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. At the time silence was all I had in me. The joke was wrong and it made me sad that I was finding out who these people were, and that I worked for a company with such poor values. That experience changed me, since then I have vowed to speak up. Since then, I have learned that my voice as a straight woman is powerful. That I could advocate and stand up for the people who deserve the same treatment as me. I have decided that I can share my experiences and knowledge to stop the hate in this world by being an ally. The growth was slow, but I express gratitude for it every day, because it’s powerful.
It took me years to find my voice, to gain understanding, to have the vocabulary I needed to speak up. But times have changed and are slowly changing for the better, and it makes me happy but also frustrated that we are not as far along as we should be. I am confident that we will get there. We have so many tools at our disposal to learn and to understand. We don’t have to run downstairs to grab the children’s dictionary, we can pull our cell phones out of our pockets and find the answers to our questions in seconds. We can teach our children that being “different” is okay. We can join communities and support groups and have conversations that will spark change. This fills my heart and soul with hope for a better future filled with acceptance and love. I believe this future will happen with my whole heart.
To my best friend and anyone else that has felt, or still feels the pain of having to hide who they are, I am sorry. It sucks and you deserve better.
Love is love. Be an ally.
[Please read the beautiful coming out story by SLC writer Lindsey -here-]