|Posted on March 8, 2014 at 6:00 PM|
By Dennis Stone
A week or two ago HuffPost Gay Voices published a first person piece by a gay man who had recently gone shopping with his partner for home remodeling products. When they asked a store employee for directions to a product’s location he ignored them, then essentially grunted a curt answer when they asked again.
Dismayed at the anti-gay treatment, they continued shopping, and later asked a question of a second employee, who was also rude. Hurt, offended, shocked, the couple’s day was ruined by the dehumanizing experience, obviously the product of hate and homophobia.
In his piece he talked about how the incident had made him feel belittled, a “lesser” human being. It reminded him of when he had been in school, and had similarly felt like a lesser person when he was picked last for athletic teams. The palpable sense of rejection struck to his core, eating at his confidence, bruising his soul, generating a piece on HuffPost detailing and bemoaning his victimhood.
As I read the story I found myself not feeling sympathy for the man, but rather feeling that he himself was aiding and abetting his feelings of inadequacy. Kind of cold hearted of me, I thought for a moment. But then I started thinking through the situation. The more I thought, the more I realized that the man’s reactions – his completely unnecessary reactions – were to blame for how he felt.
How would I have reacted instead? First, with an instinctive reaction of “what an asshole.” And then it would have left my brain. He was rude about it, but he had given me the information I sought. It would be counterproductive to waste any more energy on him.
A big part of being able to react that way is being aware that people like that are in an ever-shrinking minority. More than half of Americans support marriage equality. And in my experience a large percentage of those who don’t still want to treat you with respect. There really are only a small number of people whose fear and hatred lead them to overt displays of disrespect.
Rather than feeling sorry for myself because he doesn’t like me, I feel sorry for him. He’s out of step with the times and with social evolution, he’s a remnant of a disappearing age, he’s a product of fear and ignorance. What the fuck do I care if a few people like that don’t like me?
Further, by reacting in hurt and fear I GIVE HIM THE POWER to make me feel bad about myself – power he doesn’t have if I choose not to react that way. I have the power to feel sorry for him rather than sorry for myself. I have the power to see HIM as the lesser human being rather than feel lesser myself. I know that I have that power. I know that because I have experienced it in my life. And I know that because any psychologist will tell you it’s true. You DO have that power.
It’s often not quite as easy as I just made it sound, though. People can’t just react to things by picking their reactions off a menu. If you’re hurt by something, you’re hurt. But here’s the thing. You can change your reactions to things by working at it, and by using logical thought. But you CAN’T react in new ways if you don’t know that you’re stuck in a victimhood habit pattern, and if you don’t recognize that there are other ways to think and react.
Another thing has to be considered in the hardware shopping story. It’s possible that the shabby treatment of the gay couple wasn’t based on anti-gay animus at all. Rudeness is not rare in the service professions. I’m sure we’ve all experienced rude or brusque clerks or sales people or customer service representatives. I was reading reviews of local gyms earlier today, and each gym I read about had at least one reviewer who mentioned the rude or indifferent employees.
If you don’t have a sense of victimhood you just move on when you encounter rude people – even if the rudeness appears to be rooted in disapproval of your being gay. There are some people out there who don’t like gay people. Big deal. Most people DO like gay people, or at least will treat them with respect. However, if you DO have a sense of victimhood, every comment, every perceived glance, every assumed slight, will pile up and make you feel miserable. Make you feel like a lesser person. And then you’ve given the haters just what they want.