Intolerance: What is This, 1957?!

That first day back to work after vacation? All I can say is, ouch. And I actually like my job!

I’m trying not to think about the fact that a week ago, I was wandering the Vegas strip, having the time of my life. Today I’m wandering from my cubicle to the conference room! And the bathroom! THIS is the real jackpot!!

It truly was a great vacation, and Tara and I had the times of our lives. But it wasn’t without incident. And this is where I’d better throw in a disclaimer saying, WARNING: MATURE CONTENT. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything that was said, because it will lessen the effect of the words spoken.

Bullshit.
Bullshit.

Our last evening in Ely actually got pretty heated. Thursday night, we were gathered in her dad’s house, Tara making dinner. People started dropping by unexpectedly. I guess that happens in small towns, where everybody knows everybody. They were all friends and family, anyway. Suddenly there were half a dozen people gathered around the kitchen table, drinking beer, and they decided to start railing about the social injustices of the world.

In small town America, social injustices = too much freedom and power for blacks and gays.

I had been warned that her family and friends had a conservative streak. I just didn’t realize it was a mile wide and their attitudes dated back to approximately 1957. I tried to ignore them, to tune out their racist and homophobic blather, but it was getting harder and harder to do so. They were upset, among other things, that “fags” were in their faces, forcing their views on everybody else. I could feel my blood boiling over their blatant intolerance. And then Tara jumped in with a huge “Who gives a fuck whether two guys want to get married? Why do you care? It’s their business, not yours!” A perfectly logical and sane argument that, in my opinion, should have shut everybody up. Only it was like adding fuel to the fire. “It’s not natural.” “There’s something wrong with their heads.” “They just haven’t found the right woman yet.” These beer-swilling, gun-toting, Romney-loving good ol’ boys were spewing crap that predated the civil rights movement. And then one of them had the nerve to say it was “their choice” to be gay, and I couldn’t hold back any longer.

Fair is fair.
Fair is fair.

“You think it’s a choice?!” I asked, shocked by the ignorance. “Honestly? You really believe that?! Why would anybody choose to be treated like a second-class citizen and subjected to hate and intolerance?”

But of course, it did no good. In one ear and out the other. There is no changing the minds of those whose beliefs, no matter how awful and wrong, are so firmly entrenched. I was furious, and went outside to cool off. Literally. It was like 21 degrees out there, but the cold felt good. Raw and honest, cleansing the hatred that hung like a thick fog inside.

It’s a real dilemma, because on the surface, I like these people. They are part of my family now, and I don’t want to draw battle lines that cause trouble whenever they’re crossed. It’s important that I maintain a good relationship with them. In the end, I was glad I spoke my piece, because as my friend Monica reminded me while this was going down, Isn’t silence consent? When we sit quietly by, we are part of the wrong. 

Indeed. I would rather risk their wrath than ignore their hatred. I went to bed that night with a clear conscience.

mmw-intolerance-0205_WITH_GIBSON_EDITS._articleTara says she’s been putting up with this kind of bullshit all her life, and is used to it. It’s a small town mentality, especially in rural Nevada, where blacks and gays are few and far between anyway, and Portland feels like a different planet full of strange and unusual sights, sounds, and attitudes. And I haven’t even touched upon gun control or abortion, but you can pretty much imagine how those topics go over. We had an interesting conversation with her sister Maggie, who says education plays a large role. When it’s all their friends know, and their family, it’s all THEY know. Take a simple term like jerry-rigging; it’s what I’ve called the art of fixing something using a crudely improvised design all my life. Well, in their parlance, it’s called “nigger-rigging.” Always has been, always will be. I absolutely cringed when I heard that, but they think nothing of saying it out loud. My argument is that simple compassion should steer their behavior, that morals should dictate their actions. It’s wrong to treat a person differently because of the color of his skin or his sexual orientation, so why do it?! Simple as that. But I guess I’m just hopelessly naive in believing that should be enough. Bigotry has existed as long as societies have flourished. It’s not just going to end overnight. wouldyou

“This generation is more accepting,” Maggie says, and I agree with that. Little by little, we are wiping out racism, homophobia, and unbiased hatred. We may never change the minds of older bigots languishing in rural small towns, but at least there is hope for the future.

Not coincidentally, that evening was when the homesickness set in. I have never missed Portland so much in my life. It’s a city full of acceptance and tolerance, where being different is considered a good thing. After all, it helps “Keep Portland Weird.” You’ll be back in the land of Voodoo Donuts, gay lovin’ liberals, and hippies before you know it! Monica texted me that evening, and I couldn’t help but smile. She was right, of course.

Fight hatred and racism. Don’t sit silently by. All it takes is one lone voice to make others think. And when people start thinking, change can come swiftly.

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29 thoughts on “Intolerance: What is This, 1957?!

  1. Good for you and Tara! Tara’s family sounds a bit like mine–and even Sara’s. I know, hard to believe, isn’t it?! Fortunately, they know for the most part not to talk politics in front of us. I’m just glad to have a brother-in-law and sister-in-law who are much more like us. Don’t know how my siblings managed to hook up with liberals.

    Great post, Mark.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. The sad thing is, there is a gay person in her family as well, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t stopped loving him just because of that. They probably just think he’s making a bad decision and hoping he’ll “get over it” someday. Ugh. You’d hope for a little more tolerance given the situation, but no such luck.

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  2. You know my stance so I won’t go into it here. Being a Christian means that I love everybody, regardless of color, race or sexual orientation. I would hope that most would be the same, but I know they’re not. And that’s unfortunate.

    It will never be my place to judge ANYBODY. It’s nobodies place to judge anyone.

    Love you, SIL!

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    1. You have always been far more tolerant than others, MIL. That’s what I appreciate about you! I’m pretty sure Jesus would advocate that we love everybody regardless of race, creed, orientation, etc. It kills me when Catholics, for instance, don’t “get” that. Thanks for your thoughts and your openness. Love you, too!

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  3. It is sickening, their racism and beliefs. Yes, it is in small-town NV, small-town AZ, and even small-town FL, and I’ve witnessed it myself. Always felt better to return to my home where hatred will not exist. I’ve heard the phrase n-rigging, but I won’t ever use that phrase. My children will never hear it from my lips. Let us hope for more toleration over time. Thank YOU for speaking up.

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    1. Exactly why I added the disclaimer. I’m not comfortable even typing the N-word, let alone saying it out loud. At least, after this trip, I had an even deeper appreciation for my wonderful, liberal, accepting home! :)

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  4. Major props to you and Tara for standing up and speaking your mind!! I think my mind literally would have exploded if I was around for that conversation.

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    1. Mine was pretty close, Alice. Hence the stepping-outside-in-the-freezing-cold-to-look-at-the-stars. I think that saved me from an aneurysm.

      Next time we pass through Tacoma, we should get together for coffee! Tara and I have been saying that forever.

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  5. “It’s not natural.”
    “There’s something wrong with their heads.”
    “They just haven’t found the right woman yet.”
    “It was “their choice” to be gay.”

    Yes Mark, all of which I’ve heard over and over again by so many people.

    But you see, it’s not a choice. It’s what I was born. That would be like telling a heterosexual person, it’s your choice. No, it’s not their choice, it’s what they were born.

    My brother most recently told me that while he was visiting a married couple that he’s friends with, they got on the topic of homosexuality. And when he told them that he had a brother who was gay, they freaked out. “You mean, you have a brother that’s GAY?” And the wife of the couple said the same thing, “Why would he choose to be gay when it’s wrong?” My brother responded, “He was born gay, he didn’t choose it. And it’s not wrong.”

    You know, Mark, you eventually get to a point when you’re gay (at least I have) where you longer defend yourself. Because quite honestly, you can’t. As long as no one is cruel or bullying to me about their opinions on being gay, I just let them talk.

    And you know why? You can’t defend ignorance. And that’s what it is really, ignorance and fear.

    I am who I am. I’m Ron, and part of who I am is being homosexual. I see my sexuality as natural. And I always have. I don’t purposely cause attention to it by screaming from the rafters “I’M GAY!” nor do I demand that others accept me for it.

    Just by being who I am, people seem to accept me.

    As is.

    And those who don’t? Oh well.

    I think it’s ironic though, that primarily all the men who read my blog are heterosexual, and not a single one of them care that I’m gay. Or have a problem with it.

    And do you know why? Because they know who THEY are. And they’re secure in it. Therefore, they don’t fear.

    Great post, Mark!

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    1. You’re not “gay Ron” to me. You’re just Ron. Or Ron from Philadelphia. Or Blogging Ron. There are a dozen different ways I have of referring to you, my friend, but your sexual orientation never comes into play. Nor should it. We are drawn to you for your wit, your charm, and your self-deprecating humor more than anything else. Oh, and the awesome pics you post.

      “Because they know who THEY are. And they’re secure in it. Therefore, they don’t fear.”

      Do you have any idea how badly I wanted to say to these guys, ‘the only men who despise homosexuality are those that aren’t confident in their own sexuality?’ It’s the ol’ American Beauty closeted-latent-homosexuality theory….which probably has some truth to it!

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your valuable opinion, just Ron.

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  6. Prejudice runs rampant in small towns. We forget that when we live in cities, but as you experienced, Mark, family get-togethers seem to be prime outlets for these people. One of my grandmothers, who was an otherwise lovely lady, was racist. She was just a product of the environment she grew up in. And so are the people who don’t like gays. I try to remember that. Our kids and grandkids will think differently because they are growing up in a time where being gay is no longer shocking to the majority of people.

    And I have always thought about Ron the same as you do! WE LOVE OUR RONNIE!

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    1. This reminds me of my own dear departed grandmother, who famously called blacks “colored people” or just “coloreds.” I don’t even think she was racist, but that’s what she was taught to say growing up, and by the time she was 70 that was one habit so ingrained it would never go away. Maybe that explains to some extent the N-rigging comment that feels so natural to them.

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  7. Great post. My blood boils the same way when people talk like that…Rural Nevada is a hard place for us tree-hugging liberals. I always think about MLK in situations like this… “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends!” Its better to stand up for what is right, even when you’re standing alone. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I know you, of all people, stand up for what you believe in just as strongly, Michelle. And you probably have to do it far more often than I do, living in Pahrump. I think you and your family deserve a nice vacation in the Pacific Northwest, where you’ll fit right in. Don’t you have a friend in Vancouver? Come on by, we’ll take you out for a Voodoo doughnut, then we’ll all go hug trees together.

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  8. Ooh that’s rough when it’s family. I’ve gotten into heated battles with some of my more conservative family members and it’s lead to blocking them on Facebook. I’m not going to be able to change their minds, but I don’t need to see their hate speech on my news feed, you know?

    Thanks for asking people to speak up and speak out.

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    1. I’ve been tempted to remove FB friends for the same reason, but I usually just end up ignoring them. Turns out that’s a little harder to do in person, when the conversation is interactive. But I applaud you for taking that step!

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  9. Think small town Nevada is bad? Try Texas, the home I love except for 90% of the people. I have family like this, I won’t even tell you what my grandparents and even my parents generation were like. I lucked out with my own parents. The reality is, education usually wipes out ignorance unless it is willful. These days we have a great amount of willful ignorance in this nation. Nothing we can do to change this, only hope those of us who desire a better road forward are in the majority and our constant speaking up, our refusal to stay silent even in the face of family will pave that road.

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    1. Texas, eh? I really feel for you. We’ve got close family friends in Dallas, and to this day they treat Sarah Palin like she walks on water. But they’re super nice people in every other way possible, which makes it difficult to sustain a grudge. That’s the tough thing about arguing politics with family and friends, but it also allows you to see a different side of people that might not have otherwise surfaced. For better or worse. Glad you’re an advocate of speaking up!

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    1. After thinking about it, maybe I should not have quoted Edmund Burke. My reason was that his words were not wrong even if his interpretation of them may have been awful. The same could be said of Thomas Jefferson.

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