Friday, August 21, 2009

Sharing our Diversity

The other day I ended up talking to a stranger, a lovely young woman in Parc Jean Drapeau who asked me to take her photo. She was from the Netherlands, and after spending a couple of months here she has fallen in love with Montréal. She couldn't believe how diverse the city is, and how all of the city's groups seem to coexist in relative (quirky) harmony. I shared her sentiment; our diversity really is our joy here in Montréal. The acceptance of diversity, the openness toward it, is shockingly better than other places I've been around the world. We do sometimes have our language issues, but nothing a little multilingualism won't solve (and virtually everyone here is multilingual--and it adds to the diversity in the way we see the world).

There are so many places, even in the Western world, where 'tolerance' is the best you can get. Gay is ok, but only if it's kept reasonably quiet and conforms to the strictest of heterosexual norms. Real openness is so terribly hard to come by, and the woman I was speaking to was like me, not quite the perfect 'fit' for the place she came from. She talked a bit about the social segregation that seems to be so prevalent between different ethnic groups in her country. This surprised me, as I had never thought about the Netherlands as being anything other than a highly progressive, modern society, having spent a good deal of time there myself. Before parting, this new acquaintance did relay to me one profound little bit of wisdom: In sharing with each other our diverse perspectives, we broaden our minds and enrich ourselves and the community. It was that aspect of Montreal lifestyle, that openness toward sharing, that intrigued her so much.

In my "Pride and Prejudice" post, I suggested that sexual orientation is something that we own and should be able to discuss (or not discuss) as we like. However, the wisdom of my Dutch acquaintance left me thinking: in certain cases, where we know that we are reasonably safe and have little to lose, shouldn't we as LGBT persons be more open to sharing our unique perspective of the world with other people? Couldn't we enrich others with what we have to say, making our world a more open place toward us in the process? What would happen if we really got down there in the trenches to talk about what it means: the difficulties, the paradoxes, the pains, the loneliness, the joys, and the torments of this kind of diversity? These stories are not only interesting, having something of a universal quality, but they are also quite thought-provoking and enlightening to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

While this sentiment makes inherent sense to me, I often find myself unusually distrustful and guarded when it comes to sharing my sexual orientation with others. I sometimes have opportunities, safe ones, to share it, and I choose not to out of my own contemplative hesitation. My trust in society, even in the most accepting of places, is lacking. In addition, after my first round of coming out, I felt like perhaps talking to heterosexuals about my sexuality was something of a taboo. After all, when people learn that you are gay, it sometimes becomes something of a fixation, the first thing some people think about you. I never much cared for being labeled like this and have come to fear it, preferring rather that people associate me with my distinct personality and interests rather than my sexuality. Furthermore, my conversations with heterosexuals about the subject have been a mixed success. Most sit through the 'coming out' talk with that familiar mixture of shock and amused interest. However, after that it can be like it never happened, and whenever I may casually bring up something having vaguely to do with my sexuality, there will often be a moment of awkwardness: blank stares, a quick change in the subject of conversation, etc.

At the same time, having been acculturated in a heterosexual world, I think nothing of hearing guys talking about their girlfriends or a romantic/sexual attraction. People are always hounding me with news about their heterosexual endeavors and interests, yet clearly the same is not reciprocated from my end. The moment of awkwardness is the reason why I don't share: "we can only push this thing so far, CT," I often tell myself. But it is precisely the awkwardness, this disconnection from the world around us, that should be the motivation for sharing more of ourselves. Only through this sharing can we (LGBTs and heterosexuals) form a mutual appreciation, an understanding, and begin to trust each other. Only then can the awkwardness begin to disappear.

To a certain extent, what I said as a younger man was true: no one is going to make this world a better place for us [LGBTQetc persons]; we're going to have to do it for ourselves. We can do this by simply keeping an open mind, not fearing the awkwardness, and openly sharing our experiences, thoughts and dreams with those around us, when circumstances are reasonable for us to do so. When we start reconnecting with the broader world around us in the process, we're likely to feel better about ourselves too! I plan engage in this experience more often, another step toward coming into my own as a gay man.

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