Tag Archive: prejudice


Spooked

I’m not sure why people are still sometimes afraid of that which is different. My friend Rosie and I recently toured Ireland, and the trip was, for the most part, a great success, but one incident stands out in my mind and continues to haunt me.

Rosie and I ate an amazing dinner at the Market House restaurant which is adjacent to the Abbey Hotel in Donegal, but the restaurant told us that to use the restroom we would have to head over to the lobby of the hotel. I myself have the bladder of a squirrel, and had already made two trips to the restroom during our extended, leisurely dinner on one of the longest days of the year, but after I paid for our meal on what happened to be Rosie’s birthday, she excused herself, and I followed her over to the hotel.

There was some kind of emergency medical technician arriving on the scene, and the hotel clerk looked at me and said, quite distinctly, that the Abbey Hotel was having a “spook” alert. I’m quite certain I did not hear her wrong, and I stood in silent shock, first hand witness to true Irish racism. Rosie is African-American, and I am white, but I’d never before been confronted with true hatred based on one’s skin color. I have, while in the midst of a gay neighborhood, been called a fag by a passing car, but most of the time, I live out my days without directly confronting prejudice. I think part of the reason the quite recent police shooting of African-American youth Michael Brown stirs up so much controversy and strong reaction is that living with prejudice is a reality for a certain subset of our citizens.

During the first five days of our trip, people kind of assumed that Rosie and I were an interracial couple, and we were greeted on the west coast with a kind of curiosity–we definitely stuck out in the very heterogenous white population–but no one said anything, and we were treated courteously. That changed in Donegal, a small fishing town, and I staggered out of the hotel like a drunk, even though I don’t drink. I’m left reminded of the Robert Frost poem, that we have “miles to go before we sleep.”

Advertisements

The Asian Equation

I went to play tennis yesterday, and the guy I was playing with managed to make fun of both me and Asian-American culture at the same time. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve gotten a bit out of shape, more out of shape than I’m comfortable with, so in between games, I was running lines. For those not familiar with the exercise, what’s involved is that the player starts off on the far side of the court touching the outside line, runs, bends over and touches the next line, and runs the distance of the whole court that way. Since two courts were available, I ran two sets of lines at a tennis club called Tanglewood while an Asian family played tennis on some other other courts that were closer to the swimming pool. The kid playing was good. His serve was especially good. He served with deadly accuracy.

“Whatta happen? Why you try so hard?” My friend mock joked, teasing me being winded, out of shape, and for trying to be extra diligent about getting back in shape.

There are many cultural stereotypes out there, and one of the most persistent is that Asian-Americans simply work harder than the rest of us, that they’re more dedicated, better pianists, better students, harder workers. Why should this be a problem?

I think this becomes a problem because there’s a subtle pressure in our culture not to stick out, a pressure to blend in, and fit in, even if that means being average in each and every way. There are repercussions for more than just Asians. It means that others among us, including the dominant Caucasian culture, are taught that it’s not okay to be a high achiever, and to me, that’s not okay.

In the meantime, we need to be just a little more careful with what we carelessly say.

The Sting of Stigma

Coming out of the closet as a gay man is one thing. Coming out as someone living with Bipolar Disorder is a whole other ballgame. I like to view myself as an invisible minority because most of the time my mental illness is not obvious, at least as far as I can tell. I go to grad school, getting an MFA in creative writing. I help take care of my cousin who is handicapped, and I have a pretty good life with two companion animals, an Akita and Beagle.

Recently, I started dating, and in an effort to be honest, I shared with him my struggles with Manic-Depression. I’ve had long periods of remission where I functioned without any hospitalizations, but in mid-October, and through November, I had a breakdown and my psychiatrist and I together made a decision to try ECT–ElectroConvulsive Therapy, in an effort to stave off future hospitalizations. For those not familiar with the lingo, ECT basically induces a seizure in your brain, and I had this done a total of six times. According to online websites talking about the procedure, it in effect “reboots” your brain, and is quite effective in arresting symptoms.

The guy I had started dating in late January/early February met me two or so months after I had gotten back to a normal routine, but the possibility of my having another breakdown at some point in the future scared him. Just admitting I live with Bipolar Disorder proved too much for him to handle, and though I appreciated his honesty in letting me know that this issue was bothersome, it took me by surprise that this would be a deal breaker. I don’t see myself as a “crazy” person. I live a more or less normal life, punctuated, however, by a need to take Lythium, Risperdal, Cymbalta, and Clozaril.

I need to make sure I get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and challenge myself intellectually so as not to wallow in depression. Going to Northwestern is a lifesaver because it provides focus and drive to my ambitions to be a published author someday, and it gives me much needed structure.

Having said all that, I must confess that being rejected for having Bipolar Disorder stung, almost more than if I had been rejected for having HIV (which I don’t). My mental illness is just one small part of who I am, but it wouldn’t have hurt any more if I he had told me that he doesn’t date black men, or Asians or Jewish guys. I feel, perhaps incorrectly, discriminated against for something beyond my control, and I feel the sting of prejudice.

I like to consider, like Kay Redfield Jamison in “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” that my mental illness fuels my creativity. It is something I can marshall and summon to work for me, not against me. There remains, however, the possibility that it might sometime betray me, but on the whole, most often, I am glad to be who I am, glad for the gifts God has given me, and glad for the chance to leave the world a better place for my having been in it.

In Hollywood, especially for women, there aren’t all many roles as actors age.  After being relegated to playing the part of the mother or father, there are few roles for grandmothers and grandfathers, and the role of grandparents is generally relegated to minor characters.  Male actors have more options than their female counterparts, but even so, there aren’t all that many roles available. 

No one seems particularly interested in what older characters can teach us.  It’s emblematic of the way we treat the elderly in our society.  Other cultures revere their elders, but we just shove them into nursing homes, to be forgotten rather than honored.

That’s what makes the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel all that special.  Starring amazing actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and their male counterparts, including Tom Wilkinson, the story proves the point that it’s okay to want more out of your life, even if you’re in your golden years.  Rather than expecting less and less, the characters plunge into a foreign culture in Jaipur, India, enlarging their experience of their lives.  They might very well have said, “My life matters, if only to me!”

I’m reminded of a quote by Emile Zola:  “If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you:  I came to live out loud.”  Like other films such as Short Cuts, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows each of its seven main characters in separate vignettes, but shows its protagonists coming together at the airport, intertwining their stories into one cohesive tale.

An interesting subplot follows Maggie Smith’s character Muriel who worked for many years as a housekeeper, but managed to stay isolated in her own, exclusively Caucasian world, and she is more than willing to reveal her extremely prejudiced viewpoints to anyone who will listen.  She has travelled to India for a cheaper hip replacement, and she is forced into interactions with Indians, and this rubs up against her xenophobia.  The story proves that prejudice, even firmly entrenched prejudice, can be overcome.  And life turns out to be about connectedness, not disconnectedness.  Rather than simply passing time until they die, the characters seek to enrich their lives.  It’s a great story, well worth telling, and well worth going to see.  Allow The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to transport you to another culture. 

Chasing Prophets

I recently reread one of my all-time favorite books, A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.  At one point I even read the entire book out loud to someone I was dating, a chapter a night for all 543 pages. 

In the book the diminutive main character, Owen, feels he as a special calling, that he is destined for greatness.  His best friend even comments, “How could I have known that Owen was a hero?”  I believe that we can all be the main character, and the hero, of our own story, just as Owen believes he has a special purpose.  Would that all of us shared that belief that we matter, that our actions are not in vain.  Prophets, in my mind, are individuals who embrace their destiny, and actively seek connections to the greater world.

E M Forster said it best with his mantra, “Only connect.”  Our world has gotten away from organized religion, and now, people who connect through good works as well as faith often pursue a spiritual path not designated by any particular religion. 

The main thing to remember is that judgment kills, and is the source of much misunderstanding and prejudice.  I like to think that good people think, how are we alike?, not how are we different?  What tracks will you leave behind after you’re gone?

 

Amazing Grace at the DMV

Prejudice lurks in the most unlikely places.  I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day, waiting in line to renew my driver’s license when a black woman audibly coached her three kids to stay away from the fag in line.  I’m not sure how she figured out that I’m gay.  At the time I was talking with my friend Ryan who needed to apply to have his license reinstated after a DUI.  We had gone to the DMV together.  I can only assume she heard my voice, and decided I have a “gay accent.”  I myself tend to look around wherever I am to determine who else might be gay, but that is more an issue of wanting to fit in and not feel like the only gay person in the room.

My cousin assures me that I’m not at all obvious and don’t have a discernable accent, but I often wonder what sort of things give me away–who knows, maybe my sense of style.  We all know that gay men are fashion-forward.  It’s one of those little markers that gay men tend to err on the side of being more fashionable than the average man, even as we age.

Earlier in life, however, many gay kids go through experimental periods, pushing the boundaries of fashion.  In some ways, gay kids go through a sort of delayed adolescence since we are generally not encouraged to come out of the closet, or practice dating during high school, unlike our fellow students.  I remember when I first announced that I am gay, I went through a period where I frosted my hair blond, and had my left ear pierced (hey, it was the 90’s).  Since then I’ve grown more conservative. 

You would think that since the woman at the DMV is African-American, she would understand about prejudice and people making all sorts of racist judgments about her, based on her skin color.  I’ve discovered that right-wing conservatives and fundamentalist religious persons feel free to treat gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people as second-class citizens.  I don’t know how many fundamentalists you know, but from my experience, whether the fundamentalist is Baptist, Mormon, or a Tea Party Republican, they can be extremely prejudice against people who don’t fit the mold.  It would be nice if religious people followed Christ’s example, “Love they neighbor as thyself,” and recognized that love is the ultimate commandment.

My friend Ryan, who is straight, overheard the woman’s comments about me, grabbed my hand as we left, singing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, who saved a wretch like me.”  She scowled and turned away, but we walked right by her, swinging our arms.  In truth, all I wanted was to stand up and be counted.  Ryan made that possible.  I’m reminded of the little known adage:  as children of God, we do not grovel.  Bravo to all who take the road less travelled.