Making Tolerance a Reality
“I’ll regret it the rest of my life if I don’t do something to get you to change.” This was my father’s plea urging me to go to gay conversion therapy. I was twenty-two years old when my father told me this but he still treated me like a child, trying to “correct” my “immoral” behavior just like when I was growing up. I remember my grandmother incessantly lecturing me about how I needed to make friends with boys rather than just girls. I remember my father harassing me about the types of toys with which I enjoyed playing. My thirteen-year stint in Catholic schools only served my family’s campaign to force me into the “proper” mold. Any hope that others understood what I was going through seemed far from reality. I even remember a theology teacher comparing homosexuality to bestiality.
These are just a few of the litany of memories that I struggle to forget. I am flooded with many emotions when these memories inevitably pop up in my thoughts. I feel inferior. I feel shame. I feel pain. Among all my emotions, tolerance for those who have caused me this pain is not one that tops the list. On the contrary, I often have wanted to inflict my pain onto those who have made me feel this way. In the moment it feels empowering to disparage those in the religious community who have caused this pain. But this feeling is fleeting. I have quickly realized that causing this pain to others does very little—it does not change any of my past experiences, it does not change my family’s view on homosexuality, and it does not make views on LGBTQ rights any less polarized.
While tolerance sounds commendable in the abstract, as a gay man I am often left questioning: “how tolerant do I have to be?” and “do I have to sacrifice my identity to be tolerant?” My concern rests squarely on how I should interact with individuals who have caused me so much pain. In answering these questions, I think it is important to first consider what tolerance does not require me to do. Tolerance does not require that I deny the pain that those in the religious community have caused me. Tolerance does not require that I change my identity to fit into a “proper” mold. Tolerance does not require that I agree with the beliefs held by the religious community. My core values and identity do not have to be sacrificed to be tolerant. But, tolerance does require me to accept the reality that other people have different core values. Tolerance does require me to accept that I cannot change the hearts and beliefs of every person. Acceptance is difficult but it is the best way to propel meaningful dialogue.
The adage an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind seems fitting. Better put in this context: more and more infliction of pain leaves the whole world polarized.