If Others Can't Hide, Neither Will I
If Others Can’t Hide, Neither Will I
An Essay by Brian Sheridan
I think one of the worst things about being raised and schooled as a Roman Catholic was that it limited my perception of people. I’m pretty sure that up until college, I only knew about five minorities. Most of the culture I consumed was white, and though I branched out into the queer community, I kept what I enjoyed hidden. There was no room in the congregation for things outside of their pristine, heteronormative bubble. It took me a while to stop looking at the world through that glossy, artificial lense, and I don’t intend to move it back over my eyes.
I graduated high school in 2016, amidst a flurry of social, cultural change and discussion. One of my former religion teachers was adamant about getting his voice heard in every single topic. He’d always leave me surprised at his opinions. During a discussion about gender identity, he told us that he’d never make fun of or judge any person going through an identity discovery. He stated he could not imagine what that could possibly feel like. Of course, he followed it up with:
“Do you think those… transgender people should go around wearing a button that says, ‘he formerly she?’ It’s only fair!”
Our school wasn’t air conditioned at the time, and I remember pulling myself from a sweat induced daze to raise my hand.
“I know you stated you wouldn’t make fun of transgender individuals, but you just did,” I said flatly. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to say something when you have no authority or input on the subject.”
That was probably one of the only times I’ve ever felt like I made a difference. He seemed to regret his words, and apologized, which I suppose is good. Still, the damage had already been done. When you start talking like that around a bunch of heterosexual, teenage white boys, what kind of impact and rhetoric do you think you’re perpetuating?
I was no stranger to the queer community, but I kept my full involvement hidden from the majority of my peers. I played off having my opinions because of “my gay cousin” or “my bisexual aunt.” I was content to shut myself off from what I enjoyed and who I really was, at least until high school was over. Who wants to be ostracized from the only community they’ve ever known?
When I moved to college, I thought it was going to be like in the cheesy indie movies that don’t portray anything accurately. Everything I did was going to be what I wanted. I was sick of hiding myself, and I felt that I’d found a place where I didn’t have to any longer. We all know what happened next; the 2016 election.
I wasn’t sure I should be as open as I wanted to, what would happen if I did? Like every other person with a brain and two eyes, I’d been transfixed on the entire election process. Knowing what was going on terrified me. If I had a choice to hide it, why shouldn’t I? I could fade like I had in high school; it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Something had changed for me this time, however.
Two of my closest friends, both of whom were minorities, felt the impact of the election much more than I ever would. Sure, the three of us could hide our sexualities, but my friend couldn’t hide their skin. The amount of racism I’ve seen or heard since the election — whether or not it be directly pointed at my friends — put things into perspective for me.
I used to be so afraid of being open about myself. I never once thought how privileged I was to have the option to hide it. Queer people of color have opposition stacked against them. I can’t ever fully know or imagine the odds and issues that they face, but it’s important to know their reality is much scarier than mine.
Let me be perfectly clear — racism and homophobia/queerphobia are not the same problem. However, they both contribute to the dehumanization of individuals, and it is through that shared issue that different minority groups can unite to overcome adversity. I know I could face plenty of challenges for who I am, but I will never face opposition for being white. If you’re Caucasian and reading this, please pay close attention.
We have a privilege that — unfortunately — gives us something that minorities don’t have. We are given first priority. We are talked to normally. We can interact with the law without fear of being shot or arrested for our crimes. We are listened to. I implore you to use that to help others. Make some good out of the privilege you’ve been given.
I am no longer ashamed of who I am. I embrace it. I have a responsibility to. I kiss men and women in public without hesitation. I flaunt my bi banner on my backpack, I have it hanging in my apartment. I try to use my position to elevate others who may not have had the same opportunity.
My friends had never been able to hide who they are, it was time I stopped.