Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Some of your best friends are gay and you don't even know it !"

     In the wake of the tremendous outpouring of admiration and support for NBA star Jason Collins on his coming out of the so called closet, I thought I would share with the readership my own personal experience with the concept of the closet, ignorance and homophobia.

The Closet:

     I was not always a tolerant and gay-friendly person.  I - like most individuals raised in a West-Indian and Catholic household was indoctrinated with a sense of morality which made homosexuals and homosexuality worthy of scorn, ridicule and isolation.  In my little world and by my simple mind homosexuality was a matter of choice.  They chose to be homosexuals so they opened themselves for scorn and ridicule.   In this climate fathers disowned sons.  Sons disowned fathers.  Mothers disowned their children. Brothers disowned sisters and vice versa.  Homosexuals - while we knew they existed - were forced into segregation and hiding.  The fear of losing family, friends and employment was so strong and compelling that homosexuals had to live "double lives" or "in the closet" as the concept has come to be phrased.


     I came to learn firsthand the power of the closet and that ignorance is at the heart of homophobia.  Two of my closest friends Paul and Mary (not their real names) enjoyed a friendship with me which started during our days as students.  Peter and Mary were a couple and myself and anyone I was romantically involved with at the time would frequently socialized together.  I considered Paul and Mary to be among my closest friends.  I assumed that like myself they were heterosexual and that like myself they held homophobic views.  Accordingly, from time to time I uttered the odd homophobic slurs in their presence - "flamer", "fag", "batty-man" etc.  One day Mary looked me straight in the eye and said, "Ernest some of your best friends are gay and you don't even know it."  Those words and the stern and serious look in Mary's eyes when she uttered them were branded in my consciousness for eternity. This was the start of my awakening and enlightenment.

      Unknowing to me Paul and Mary and their relationship was a product of the closet.   Each of them had a public persona as "straight" and their private persona.  To their parents, family, friends and employers they felt compelled to wear the mask of "straightness" and to park their homosexuality far in the closet.  The consequences of being "outed" were so potentially devastating to their lives on virtually all fronts. Indeed, if their parents and family and friends were like me their election to stay in the closet makes perfect sense.

     In reflecting back on my experience with Paul and Mary I feel both shame and pride.  I feel shame in knowing that I uttered homophobic slurs and denigrated others out of ignorance.  As book-smart as I was I never took the time to analyze the issue for myself - electing instead to blindly follow what was the conventional wisdom.  On the other hand I feel pride in knowing that this experience has profoundly opened my mind and my heart and has made me a much better person.  I truly hope that in sharing my experience it may cause others in the community to re-evaluate their views on this issue.


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