Tolerance vs Acceptance

Within the past several decades, as people take an increasingly nuanced look at their identity, many more identities have risen to the public awareness. These different identities aren’t new to the human race. There have been many representations of people identifying as queer and transgender etc. since people have existed. Whereas before, Western and specifically American culture has shunned and punished those who wore these identities proudly, there are more consequences to acting out hate and prejudice against queer and non-cis people. (I won’t talk about the rest of the world.)

However, as with all other types of prejudice, it can manifest in very subtle ways. Besides the sign-wielding, megaphone type of prejudice, the far more insidious half-suggestions and denials is more damaging in the long-term and harder to snuff out.

The refusal of people to use one’s chosen pronouns and name.

The refusal of others to recognise your partner, rather labeling your relationship as “good friends”.

The “it’s just a phase” from your parents

It’s the implication that you as a person is “ok” just as long as you’re not “too gay” or as long as you’re “reasonably passing”. Basically, what it means is that as long as people are able to assume that you’re cishet, then you’re good. This was the idea behind Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

People keep saying, “I’m okay with gay people, as long as…” To me, there are two points wrong with this. Besides what I said in the previous paragraph about performing “normality”, they’re identifying people first as gay and using that label to decide what they think about them before anything else. Not being cishet shouldn’t be a person’s identifying characteristics just as being cisgendered or heterosexual isn’t. Because having a particular sexual identity or sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily tell them any information about that person other than how they identify within/out the gender binary and who they find sexually attractive. That’s it. Second, just the fact that they have to say “you’re okay” with a person’s existence. You and I exist independently of what others think of us. It shouldn’t be within the ability of a person to judge another’s existence.

That is tolerating. Tolerating is you don’t get in my way, I won’t get in yours. There is still a sense of separation, an uneasy truce. Tolerating is my mother knowing my friend is bisexual and letting her stay the night but would disown me if she knew I was bisexual. Tolerating is the “equal but separate” treatment which everyone knows isn’t equal. It’s “you can exist as long as you don’t think you’re equal to me”.

That is why true acceptance is important. The response to “I’m gay.” should be “Cool.” and move on. It should be as easy as telling people your favorite color or pasta sauce. You don’t say, “It’s okay that your favorite color is yellow,” because it doesn’t need to be said; it’s not controversial, the other person wasn’t really expecting anything otherwise and it doesn’t say anything about you as a person besides the fact that you like yellow. This is what needs to happen not only for LGBTQ but also for things like mental conditions, disabilities etc. These are normal parts of being human and they need to be normalised.


That’s it for this time. I have a link for a 2016 essay on the intersection of race and sexual orientation that I couldn’t fit up there so if you wanna read it, check it out. This is Lieutenant and we’ll talk to you next time!

Gay Will Never Be the New Black

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