Tolerance vs. Acceptance

A lot of people publicly insist that they “have no problem” with groups of people that are different from themselves… and then their very protests make it clear how much of a problem they really have.

There’s a very powerful difference between tolerating people and actually accepting them.

Recently I found myself doing a little Facebook sleuthing, checking out the profile of someone who is dating a person I know and care about. A quick glance at some of the posts made it clear that this stranger and I have very different views on politics and religion and such, but that’s okay — people can agree to disagree.

And then I saw a post about gay people, and I suddenly found myself paying a lot more attention. It started off with a disclaimer: “Those of you who KNOW me know that I have NO issue with those of the homosexual nature.” It then referenced a gay customer and, using quotation marks, “his partner”. And it went downhill from there.

The author mentioned that he had done some remodeling work for this gay couple, and had been tipped $200 cash… “But we all know it was because of me being clean cut and damn good looking. Who are we kidding here.” And then he confessed that he had left something at the house, and was worrying about having to go back and pick it up.

The gay client was apparently a little too cheerful about the idea of the author going back over to the house. The author’s reaction was the point of the Facebook post, and was summed up thusly: “Um….should I be worried????? Is this a buffalo bill it puts the lotion in the skin moment? Should I even be sharing this?”

Now, I could write all of this off as poor word choice (“homosexual nature” could just be a strange but harmless turn of phrase, and the quotations around “his partner” might not have been meant to imply anything) and the sort of off-color joke that many of my friends and I might make… But then I saw some of the comments added to the post from his Facebook friends, and more importantly his reactions.

One of his responses in particular really drove home the reaction that prompted me to blog about it:

Told my boss I might be able to get some more cash out of him if I rollerblade up in boy shorts, tank top, and sweat band. Lol. He was a cool guy but telling me he can’t wait to see me worries me. Look all you want buddy….touch and I’ll break ur fingers.

Again, maybe the comment about dressing provocatively in order to get more money was harmless and playful… bartenders, servers, and others who work for tips do that sort of thing (though usually more subtly) all the time, right? But the rest of the comment really tells the true story, in my opinion.

“…telling me he can’t wait to see me worries me.” Worries you? Really? Because he was so scary that you were afraid he might kidnap you, chain you up, and rape you Girl with the Dragon Tattoo style?

And more importantly, “touch and I’ll break ur fingers” is where the author’s real opinion about gay people comes out.

This is the crux of the tolerance vs. acceptance issue: the author tolerates gay men, as long as they don’t seem to have any interest in him or (god forbid) try to touch him, and as long as it’s socially acceptable to make a few jokes at their expense from time to time. He tolerates their existence and their presence in his life from time to time, but it’s definitely not a reaction of acceptance.

How can we tell that? Simple: Replace “gay man” with “unattractive woman” in the scenario he mentions. If a woman that he found physically unappealing said she couldn’t wait to see him, would he be worried? If a woman he thought was grotesque tried to touch him, would he be so appalled that he would break her fingers?

Indeed, would his horror at being touched by an ugly woman be so unmistakable and understandable, even socially acceptable, that he would proudly brag about it online in front of his mother and the general public? (Yes, his mother reads his Facebook page, and it’s clearly open to all Internet users, so this in my opinion his posts are fair game for critique.)

Of course not… he wouldn’t have such a vehement reaction to being touched by a female he wasn’t attracted to, and even if he did he wouldn’t be talking online about his desire to respond with violence. He would worry (and rightly so) that his mom and relatives and girlfriend and friends and everyone else would think poorly of him for threatening violence against an unattractive woman.

But a gay man? A gay man deserves your public scorn if he seems too cheerful and friendly in conversation. And if he dares to touch you with his defiled gay fingers, he should rightfully expect you to break them. And your family and friends clearly will understand why you had to do it.

If you only tolerate gay people as long as they don’t make eye contact and never get too close to you, emotionally or physically, then you clearly don’t accept them as your equals. And that’s fine… it’s not my place to tell you how to think or feel.

But knock off the “I have no problem with gay people” bullshit — it’s perfectly clear that you’re grudgingly saying what you think you’re supposed to say in this day and age, with a wink and an elbow nudge, understanding that everyone knows full well how you really feel.

Because we do.

One Response to Tolerance vs. Acceptance

  1. Micki says:

    You should repost this entire piece on his Facebook page, being certain to tag all his relatives and girlfriend in it. If they get to it before he catches it he might have some uncomfortable questions to clear up.

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