New hat. #goHawks
That makes four
Two down, two to go.
Working on a commission from @C2E2
I heard my first Jason Collins joke today. It wasn’t funny. For anyone that doesn’t know, Jason Collins is a 12-year veteran of the NBA who recently came out as the first professional, gay male athlete. It didn’t take long for one of my male friends to crack wise about it. I spent the next ten minutes trying to educate the would-be jokester on why it wasn’t funny. It made me think a lot about my evolution as a person and how it came about.
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, I was not ignorant of prejudice or bigotry. The mostly white neighborhood I lived in had its share of residents willing to start trouble if you looked different or had a funny last name. Tough kids of Irish, Polish and Czech families grew up listening to the rough-and-tumble stories of their fathers, uncles, and cousins who fought in the city streets so their kids could live in the suburbs.
Being a teenage boy in high school is a little like being the new guy in prison. You’re constantly worried about being singled out. Like a pack of wolves on the hunt, other teens are always on the lookout for a wounded victim that may make easy prey. How do you make yourself look strong? By picking off the weakest among you as warning to anyone that might challenge your superiority. It was bloodthirsty. Your only options were to either fly under the radar or stand tall and make yourself look too hard to challenge.
Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but as a teenage boy, the mentality of always having to have your guard up, always having to show toughness was something passed down from one generation to the next like an old Timex. It existed throughout our entire adolescent lives. Not just at home or school either – on television, in magazines, and sports all presented this idealized male standard that we looked up to. About the worst thing anyone could call you was “faggot”. It was a weapon more powerful than fists and you soon wielded it with the grace of a chainsaw.
Is it an excuse? No. But the reality is that growing up being told that the worst thing you could be was gay, sticks with you. The idea that you were less than a man, if you loved another man, was a powerful drop of poison in a young mind. That you might also be embarrassing yourself, disgracing your family, and opening yourself up to a lifetime of ridicule and hate was too much to even imagine.
But things can change. Experiences alter your perspective. You start to see the bigger picture. You grow by meeting people and listening to them. You gain empathy and wisdom by seeing the realities that others have to struggle with. You soon see friends and family members whose courage is something to be admired not whose existence is something to be ashamed of. You slowly are able to let go of the past and welcome a future where your prejudice no longer weighs you down and irrational fears no longer overcome your intellect or compassion.
I hear a lot of people say they are just sick and tired of hearing about gay rights or gay pride. I have to admit that I feel the same way sometimes. I just don’t care anymore about it. I don’t want to hear it every day on the news, in the media. So what if some basketball player is gay? I really couldn’t care less. It has no effect on my life one way or another. It is a foregone conclusion in my mind that gay marriage should be legal and LGBT people should be legally protected by our government as much as anyone else. Where do I sign on the dotted line? How do I make this happen already? It’s not a big deal that a professional athlete has come out as gay; just get over it already and leave me alone. It’s not a big deal. I just don’t care.
But then I hear another gay joke and I remember that not everyone feels the same.
Some people do care. They care about telling other people how to live. They care about protecting something they have no right to define. They care about their own insecurities more than they care about human rights and decency. They care about making other people feel less than human because of who they spend their lives with.
Sure, not everyone that makes a gay joke or chuckles at the thought of a gay athlete feels that way. I think more often than not it’s not hatred or anger that fuels these reactions as it is the instinct you get from growing up the way I did. But as long as you chuckle along and let it slide, the poison will continue to be spilled.
We as a society have to continue to educate. We have to continue to spread empathy and understanding not hatred and fear. We have to keep making people attuned to the problems that exist and the humanity that is being sacrificed so that we can keep changing attitudes and broaden perspectives. Compassion can be learned as easily as hatred and fear.
When I was a kid, it used to upset me if someone called me a fag. It made me doubt myself. I associated it with weakness. I didn’t understand the courage and bravery it takes to be who you are, regardless of what other people think or what it might cost you. I didn’t understand what it would be like for a man like Jason Collins to hide who he is because of the fear he felt inside. I couldn’t feel for someone like him because I was too worried what people might think of me. Now, I just don’t care.
I hope someday everyone will be as carefree as me.
I will be set up in artist alley all weekend at C2E2 - The Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo. I will have prints for sale, including my new Wolverine, Harley Quinn and Game Of Thrones. Please come say hello. Hope to see you there.