As I walked back to my dorm after Crossing the Line, the classic frosh tradition, I felt angry. I felt my face flush, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this one moment.
“Have you said homophobic things?” the woman asked.
I crossed the line.
I flashed back to all the things I’ve said: to the time I called a boy too femme for me to hook up with, to all the times I’d called boys gay for liking “girly” things, to all the casual little expressions of heteronormativity that sought to put down gay people for the “crime” of not being heterosexual.
I looked around to see who else had crossed the line. Most had not.
I flashed back, again: this time to hearing “faggot” and “smear the queer” tossed around in the locker room, to the times I’d been asked to tone down the “gayness”, to the time my classmate asked me to “miss me with that gay shit” in response to the mention of my sexuality.
My name is Connor. I am gay. I am out. I am proud of who I am. I have also said homophobic things. I have acted homophobic. I have made people feel less than because of their sexuality. That being said, I have also experienced the stinging pain of homophobia: I am acquainted acutely with the anguish that comes not only from blatant expressions of hatred but also from more subtle, oftentimes accidental, expressions of heteronormativity and homophobia — of comments like “that’s so gay,” or “miss me with that gay shit,” or “no homo.”
I crossed the line because I know I have made mistakes, because I know that my homophobic actions are wrong, that they are inexcusable, that I must confront the fact that I have acted immorally. I crossed the line because even little comments — microaggressions — can cause serious harm, and I wanted to acknowledge that fact.
I felt angry because of how few people crossed that line. I simply cannot believe that all those people who didn’t cross the line have somehow avoided all expressions of homophobia, that they have never made a passing homophobic comment or joke, that they have acted completely virtuously in a culture that pulls us towards prejudice.
To be clear, I don’t even blame my dormmates now. I wished they had crossed that line, but I understand the difficulty of doing so. Perhaps they were worried how they might appear, or they worried that they would be judged for their previous actions. Perhaps they did not understand or remember any small passing comments that they had made. Indeed, as harmful as microaggressions can be, and for how indelibly they can remain in the mind of the receiving party, they are troublingly easy to forget, to dismiss as mere passing comments. However, we cannot afford to merely dismiss these actions or refuse to confront them.
Admitting our discriminatory behavior — or even realizing it in the first place — is hard. In today’s environment — an environment which has rightly attuned itself towards holding people more accountable for their actions — it can be especially daunting to openly hold oneself accountable, to announce to the world that we have acted horribly in the past. However, if we want to confront homophobia — or racism, or sexism, or classism or most any type of discrimination — we must find the courage to talk openly about our shortcomings, about the mistakes we have made, about our own culpability in injustice.
We have to listen to those who have the courage to admit those mistakes. We must encourage people to hold themselves accountable by separating bad actions from the label of bad person. We must make it clear that we understand that people make mistakes, that there are systemic cultural factors behind people’s actions, that we are willing to forgive those who admit their actions and commit themselves to doing better in the future. The pursuit of a more just, equitable future begins not with false pretensions of our own virtue and innocence in injustice but with honest introspection and conversation about our failures and culpability in that injustice.
My name is Connor Toups. I have acted homophobically in the past. I have also undoubtedly said sexist things, said classist things, said racist things, said ableist things. I am complicit in injustice. I admit to those failings. I ask perhaps not for your forgiveness but for your understanding. I ask that you consider your own failings and acknowledge your own complicity in discrimination. I ask this because these things are wrong, because we must be held accountable, because we should be the ones to hold ourselves accountable.
Contact Connor Toups at ctoups22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.