I’ll begin with an anecdote. Once, when I was in the second grade attending a school in Cayce, S.C., right across the Blossom Street Bridge, I was riding the bus home. Sitting in my assigned seat, the two third-graders behind me where having a time with “yo’ mama” jokes and the occasional homophobic remark. During the ride a point came where I could no longer take the jokes as jokes, I began to get angry. I stood up, only a foot taller than the back of the bus seat with just my head popping over. “Y’ALL DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT QUEER MEANS. Y’ALLDON’T KNOW WHAT GAY MEANS! YOU’RE STUPID!” The bus driver, also a family friend, kindly warned me to sit down. I tried, but I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t stop flowing out of my mouth. “Y’ALL ARE SO DUMB! Y’ALL ARE GONNA HURT SOMEONES FEELINGS ONE DAY!” In 2007 I was suspended from the bus because I would not follow the safety directions of sitting down in my seat all because I had the urge to stand up for my uncles.
This story was just the beginning to my human rights activism. I spent most of my childhood being cared for by my gay uncle and his partner of now 25 years. Like Kant writes, “… it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him.” I was raised in an environment that never showed animosity toward homosexuality. I quite literally never even acknowledged the fact that anyone in the world could possible be disgusted, angry or in disagreement with homosexuality until the day I was suspended from the bus.
My father’s side of the family is strict Southern Baptist. Until I was in high school I attended church every Sunday and Wednesday for as far back as I can remember. How these two ideals never clashed I will never understand. BUT, as a long-time member of a Southern Baptist congregation I can whole-heartedly understand why different influences in another person’s life would lead them to stand up for the complete opposite, to believe with every inch of their soul, that homosexuality is not of God or Christianity. This is a view that is typically formed over a lifetime of personal norms and is not changed over night. The influences of immediate family, friends and role models leave a lasting impact on a young child.
My own experience of separating myself from the influences of my family is in the permanent art on my body. Both sides, maternal and paternal, my uncles included, would have never allowed me to permanently change my body… if it were their choice. My wrist tattoo is my personal way of explaining myself before you ever talk to me. If you see me walking down the street and see this tattoo you know before you ask that I am a card-carrying human rights activist.