It’s time I came out: I’m a homophobe.
I cringe at what my gay and lesbian friends will think of me for saying this, but it’s the truth.
It’s worth considering how one can be heterosexual and supportive of same-sex marriage, as I am, while still sometimes having an “ick” reaction to displays of homosexuality.
It’s hard not to react this way having grown up in a culture where “normal” equaled heterosexual. Even so, I don’t recall my parents showing anti-gay bias. The only memory I have of their attitudes was when we were driving through San Francisco one day over 30 years ago, and I shouted, “Ewww, gross! I just saw two men kissing!!”
My mom replied, “Don’t stare, Michael. Some of those men are quite big and could beat you up.”
Slowly, I became aware of homosexuals as actual people. People I knew began coming out. Yet I couldn’t admit my prejudice was a problem until I was a target of homophobia myself.
My first job after college was in PR for Wells Fargo. One day, the bank stopped funding the Boy Scouts after the group announced atheists and gays couldn’t be scouts or troop leaders. The bank’s decision made perfect sense: it couldn’t very well donate to a group that excluded many of its employees and customers.
And then the calls came. For two weeks, my job entailed picking up the phone to listen as callers spewed vitriol, threats, and bizarre logic about what was wrong with gays. For two weeks I was called that other “F word.”
Finally, I got it.
My homophobia abated as I befriended more people who were openly gay. People who deserved the same rights as I did, including the right to marry. People who were, in a word, normal.
And yet if I saw two men kissing today, I might still feel a twinge of that childish “ewww” reaction.
Old prejudices die hard. It does no good to deny them. If each of us can admit our prejudices, the ugly truths about ourselves, we will be taking the important first step to overcoming them.
With a Perspective, I’m Michael Larkin.
Michael Larkin teaches composition and creative writing at UC, Berkeley.