Today, as I was sitting in the break room, I was talking to a couple of co-workers, the question of Makeup came up. The conversation was how Chanel Mascara doesn’t go as far as it used to.
“I personally use Mac Cosmetics for my makeup needs” I quipped.
The person talking about the mascara laughed and my other co-worker, an Indian woman, honestly inquired, “Oh, do you use makeup?”
“Only when I do Drag.” I said, “But honestly, I have only done it a couple of times for big parties.”
She gave me an inquisitive look, and blushed. “I don’t really understand… is this common in the United States? Men wearing makeup?”
“Oh, no not usually. But it is more common in the Gay Community.” I said.
“Oh I see, I have never seen this in India, and I don’t really think we have a … community like yours in India…” She then spoke up, “Well, we have 1.25 billion people, so I assume there is one, but I have never seen it anywhere. You are the first… of your community, I have ever actually met.” Her voice hesitant, and you could tell she was struggling to find words that weren’t offensive.
And suddenly, I was in happy activist mode.
I explained that, yes there is a large Indian Gay community in India, but it is likely hidden because many societies and religions feel that being gay is wrong. She wanted to counter that as a Hindu, there is no issue, but socially it is considered “not normal.” Not being an expert on Hindism and LGBTQI rights, I let that go, though I know India has begun in the last few years to talk about and discuss LGBTQI rights in the courts and around the country.
The conversation progressed, and we talked about the path the United State had taken with LGBT rights, and how it is still in progress. We talked about being Out, and what that means, and why I am relentlessly out in my life. (I have a wedding photo as my Computer background as an example).
She asked if my being gay was a “state of mind, or a physical thing?” and I spoke about the arguments of Nature vs. Nurture, and the idea of epigenetics possible influencing DNA so it could be a mix of both. We talked about my Great Uncle, who is also Gay and how he lived in the 50’s, and how he hid himself and his partner relationship from most people = for years… which lead to a talk about gay persecution during that time, as well as Alan Turing.
It was an interesting conversation. She was clumsy with her words at times, and never actually used the word “gay,” but she was honest, and inquisitive, and open-minded. She said that she really liked me, and she didn’t want to offend me by asking silly questions, which I quickly calmed her down about, saying that I have been an activist since coming out at 18, and that as a natural teacher, I want to help people understand that we *are* normal, and that this is just how we approach it.
After the conversation, I somewhat realised that I haven’t had in that situation in a while, being the sole representation of the Gay community. In some ways, I cringe. I am literally the vanilla of the LGBTQI community, the proverbial entry point. I am not genderqueer, I am not Trans, I am not the flaming queen who wears feathers into work (but omg that would be awesome if I did…) I am the happy activist, the person who patiently explains our world to outsiders in the hope to broaden their perspective. But even my perspective is limited. It is based on where I have been, and what I have learned, but the LGBTQI community is so vast, different, and far ranging, I feel I can’t do it justice.
But in reality, I feel that has always been my strongest asset to the community. In social movements, you have ideologues, you have extremists, and you have moderates. Each group have an important use in the movement, but too much (or too little) of one can be detrimental to the others and the greater community as a whole. I have always sat squarely in the Moderate category, trying to take the ideologues and the extremists issues and bring it to the fore in a way that outsiders can engage in, and in a place where I don’t condemn, but rather teach.
For me, I have always wanted inclusion, but also understanding, and my method of activism is what I would call “soft activism.” With this mode, I explain, teach, and inform, and through that plant the seeds of tolerance and understanding. By accepting and being kind, I hope to change the pre-conceived notions of what being Gay is, and subvert it, allowing them to confront their bias and change their minds. It is often a slow, long process and it doesn’t always work. But it has always been my way.
And today, I fell into that role again, happily and honestly using my life as an example to prove that we are not so different and just as normal as her and her family. And it is something I still do not tire from. Each conversation is a chance to change minds, and even in the most unlikely of places, you can leave a mark. As we ended, I told her to not feel embarrassed in asking me questions, that I would rather her ask me, than not knowing. She smiled, and said “I really like you Aaron, you are very kind.”
And I hope that with that, she learns a bit more, expands her perspective, and one day, maybe remember me when she sees something on TV or the news, and see past the stereotype or the negativity others put on us.