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 NiemΓΆller'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.