A Too Ready Acceptance

Matthew Shepard
From boyhood through my forties, I was singularly non-judgmental, my one notable prejudice being against the under schooled, aside from whom I could be friends with pretty much anyone who treated me well.

When I was in my thirties, my seemingly macho father confessed that he was transsexual (it being the word of choice back then) and said that he liked to "go down on" both genders. I told him it didn't matter. When a nephew told me that he and some friends beat-up two gay guys in a McDonald's parking lot, I didn't even bother to remonstrate.
As Jesus said about the sun and the rain, my acceptance fell "on the evil and the good, on the just and on the unjust," and it made me the recipient of confidences. I asked no questions because I had none. I instead existed as an incurious witness to words, facial expressions, and body language. I observed life as through the wrong end of a telescope. I told myself that real men kept their peace, and that condemnation was for prigs and hypocrites.

I can only speculate as to why I began to take a less accepting view, but it corresponded with listening to ultra-conservative Fox radio (aka "hate radio") for hours a day, plus finding my neighborhood suddenly infested with graffiti, heroin needles, and homeless people. As Fox infected me with its purulence, and my anger over what was happening to my neighborhood increased, I came to hate a great many people, but for reasons to lengthy to delve into, homosexuality became the first issue over which I tortured myself, and to which I will devote the rest of this post. 

I began by telling myself that homosexuality was "unnatural" because it was an evolutionary dead-end. When a young gay man named Matthew Shepard was tortured to death on a freezing Colorado night, "Fair and Balanced" Fox presented his murderers as the victims in what came to be called the "gay panic defense." What this meant was that Shepard's murderers went temporarily insane upon realizing that he was gay, and were thereby forced to do what any red-bloodied, God-fearing American boys would have done, which was offer him a ride home but instead drive him onto the prairie where they tied him to a barb-wire fence, and robbed, beat, tortured, and burned him. He was still alive when they drove back into town and started a fight with two Hispanics (they also suffered from Hispanic-panic). Because of its obvious lies, endless exaggerations, and convoluted logic, I stopped listening to Fox. I also re-evaluated my tolerance of my gay-bashing nephew in view of the Shepard murder and Rev. Martin Niemöller's Nazi-era admonition:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me 

After a few years of internal debate, I lost interest in why people are gay because it seemed to me that justice and compassion demand full equality, and that anything short of full equality means tacit support for everything from job discrimination, to parking lot beatings, to blaming a young man for the fact that you tortured him to death. I never looked back from this position, and my interest in the life experiences of gay people became such that Peggy--who supports don't ask/don't tell and favors civil unions--flummoxed me by wondering aloud if I was a closeted gay.

I find it immensely rewarding to possess a clarity that I struggled to achieve, my previous years of ready acceptance having been as ethically neutral as the acceptance of a villainous man by his dog. I never called the cops when friends drove drunk; I refused to admit, even to myself, that I had two friends who were pedophiles; I looked on in silence as a friend tormented an insect with a cigarette; I said nothing to friends who bootlegged music and movies; and then there was the day that I didn't remonstrate when my cowardly nephew told me with pride that he and he and his gang of cowardly friends had beaten two gay boys.

I would not have you conclude that there was ever a point in my life that I would have tolerated anything (I would not have remained silent had my friend tormented a mammal with a cigarette), but I certainly tolerated too many things, and I did so, not because I was high-minded--as I told myself at the time--but because my values were so debased that I lacked a foundation for morality. I believed that virtue was for chumps, a chump being anyone who didn't go along with my willingness to use self-interest as a rationale for violating the rights of others--others beside myself that is.


Elephant's Child said...

I read this first a couple of hours ago, and went away and thought about it before commenting.
I wonder how many of us are guilty of similar things?
I know that I have not always stood up for victims of injustice as often or as loudly as I now do.
I don't think I ever believed that virtue was for chumps. Cowardice was my excuse. And not wanting to put myself any more firmly in the other/not as good as us category.

Linda Sue said...


A talk that may interest you. Also I just returned from a trip back home to Laramie where Mathew was murdered, you will be pleased to know that every rainbow flag lined street welcomes not only gay folks but hispanics, Asians, and blonds- I did not see one single MAGA hat nor tRUMP sign!

Snowbrush said...

"I don't think I ever believed that virtue was for chumps. Cowardice was my excuse. And not wanting to put myself any more firmly in the other/not as good as us category."

I got a bit lost in the third sentence, but I think you meant that you feared social exclusion. In any event, in my case the cowardice meant not wanting to be rejected for being what I grew up hearing people refer to as "a goody two-shoes." You might have noticed that on Westerns the bad guys always think of the good guys as sissies, and that the ordinary citizens who are caught in the middle are invariably cowards. Cynicism, for boys sets in when they observe that the good kids often come out worse in real life, and so it was that, for me, while striking back was a virtue, it never meant striking back against evil, but instead slugging some kid who insulted or bullied me, and even that didn't come out of courage, but out of the knowledge that worse things would happen if I didn't strike back. In other matters, I couldn't wait to surrender to cowardice. For instance, when my high school was integrated in 1966, I shuddered to witness the abuse that was heaped on the three black students (in a school of hundreds), but I knew very well that it would have meant social death--and probably a lot worse--if I spoke out.

I wonder whether males and females face different challenges when it comes to speaking out because while girls don't tend to get beat up by other girls, it dawned on me at some point in life that, aside from serious injury, getting beat up might be preferable to the kind of emotional abuse that many girls can inflict.

One thing that surprises me no end anymore is how casually people steal music. Peggy and I have both had friends who copied CDs for us, yet neither of us told these people, "Thanks but no thanks, thief." Our own cowardice aside, what is the difference between copying a CD versus walking into a music store and stealing it outright? It seems to me that the biggest difference is cowardice, which is why, back in the days when I used to shoplift, I congratulated myself on my bravery.

Linda, I watched the video and when Peggy (my wife) entered the room, I went back through it and showed her the flagpole miracle and the religious knowledge survey--speaking of which, did you know that non-believers know more about religion than do believers (https://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/)? I'm an atheist, a longtime member of the "Freedom from Religion Foundation," and, before that, of American Atheists (for which I served as non-resident editor when Robin O'Hair was editor). I also occasionally attend the Episcopal Church (where I volunteer as a sexton and am fully and warmly welcomed by the priest and others who know of my atheism), plus I own a collection of Episcopal prayer books that go back so long ago (roughly 200 years) that some of them include prayers to be said in debtors' prison and at executions (these prayers exhort prisoners to admit full responsibility for their problems and to accept the appropriateness of their punishments).

I never would have envisioned rainbow flags in Laramie anymore than I could envision them in my hometown in Mississippi. Maybe the difference is the prevalent evangelical view (in Mississippi) according to which people are LBGT by choice, and that, because of their sins, our entire nation is in danger of God's wrath (you might recall Pat Robertson saying that homosexuality was the reason that New Orleans was hit by a hurricane).

kylie said...

I'm another who tends to shy away from the social exclusion that comes with standing up for a cause. Though I am getting better at it with age.
I look at myself and think I can be weak but at the same time, I consider the treatment my son has received from "friends" since he became vegan and I am not at all surprised at my own weakness.
People can be brutal .....and of course this is how evil is perpetuated

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

An interesting thoughtful post per usual. I never suffered from violence from other girls (helps to be big and strong) but I certainly was a victim of many mean girl incidences. And mean girls are very plentiful! And some of them grow up to be mean women. I worked mainly with men and seemed to get along with them much easier.

Am I prejudiced? I've been known to say thoughtless things about Asian drivers and can't embrace those that cling to misogynistic religions or anyone who uses 'religion' as an excuse to hate or bully. I avoid Trump supporters though I know I am among them occasionally, I am not friends with them. My family is very multicultural I have an African American grandchild Jewish children Arab grandchildren, Polish children, Asian nieces so all this hate rhetoric that Trump is encouraging send her back) is personally stressful.

As for gay people, it is genetic, not a choice. Yep it could be a genetic dead end though my gay stepniece will carry a baby soon. And know lots of gay parents who raise kids that are occasionally theirs genetically. Do I stand up against bullies? Not really. One of my co-workers one day was up in arms because on 'diversity' day, a gay boy was going to speak and my coworker thought it was a recruitment talk. A scientist!! I did try to disabuse him of such nonsense. How can you possibly recruit someone? He claims to know you can from personal experience. I think he had a brother that was 'recruited' Perish the thought a gay gene was involved.

Tom said...

My natural inclination is to live and let live, as long as people aren't hurting anyone else. Our lifestyles are part genetic, part personal choice, and who are we to judge? But of course "hurting anyone else" is subject to wide interpretation ... and so we continue to argue about it.

Snowbrush said...

"I consider the treatment my son has received from "friends" since he became vegan and I am not at all surprised at my own weakness.

From infancy on, people are like chickens who will gather together and peck to death a chicken that is different. It is often assumed that children are exempt from prejudice, but tests prove that they are not.

"I never suffered from violence from other girls (helps to be big and strong)"

Perhaps you just mean to say that this made you more imposing because, while things might have changed, I never once knew of girls fighting physically.

"I worked mainly with men and seemed to get along with them much easier."

For most of my life, I deified women because of their bodies, plus I considered them the gentler, kinder, wiser, more self-reflective sex. I was also aware of the extent to which males objectified and mistreated girls and women. So, I was surprised to hear from some girls and women about how viciously backbiting, exclusionary, and mean-spirited females can be, and how they themselves preferred the company of males... Years ago, my transmission started giving me trouble, and the shop told me I needed it replaced, explaining that the last person who worked on it had screwed something up. Well, the last person who worked on it had been a good friend with whom I had since had a falling out. However, that didn't stop me from calling him to ask his opinion. He suggested that he look at my transmission, which he did, and upon which he made a minor adjustment that completely and lastingly fixed the problem. When I told a woman friend about the incident, she said that no two women would have acted like he and I had. I've always wondered if she was right.

"I avoid Trump supporters though I know I am among them occasionally, I am not friends with them."

I never felt that I couldn't be friends with a Bush supporter or a Reagan supporter, but i share your feeling about Trump supporters simply because he's so blatantly outside the bounds of respect, inclusiveness, and decency that it makes me doubt the intelligence and goodwill of his supporters. Why Republicans don't consider Trump's extreme divisiveness a problem, I can't imagine, but I can't tell that they do. It's as if they reflect his attitude of: If you're not 100% onboard with me, then screw you.

"Our lifestyles are part genetic, part personal choice, and who are we to judge?"

Since the bulk of this post was about homosexuals, I'm wondering if you think that homosexuality is partly a choice. I know I could no more be a homosexual than I could be a cat, which reminds me of New Yorker cartoon in which two dogs are watching a cat walk by, and one dog asks the other, "Is it heredity or lifestyle?"

"But of course 'hurting anyone else' is subject to wide interpretation ... and so we continue to argue about it."

Yes, people will argue that prostitution doesn't harm others, but then they either have exceedingly low standards, or they haven't lived in a neighborhood frequently by hookers, and the same is true in my neighborhood with homeless campers. However, when it comes to homosexuals, where's the harm? I instead think of them as like Jews in that they are NOT

Myrna R. said...

I appreciate your honesty now most of all. Many of us, who now see more clearly the moral imbalances we witnessed while doing/saying nothing, would still not have the courage to admit our darker days. Thank you for sharing your process/growth towards a more compassionate and responsible way of behaving in this world. I hope to follow your example.