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Where is My Sense of Humor?

Published Jan 4, 2010

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A new decade dawned, bringing with it another chance to make resolutions.  By now a grizzled veteran of such promises, I can hardly resist casting a cynical eye on both my own resolutions, and those of others.  Those last five pounds?  Spending less time on the computer and more on housework?  Writing thank you notes within six months of receiving the gift?  Being a better friend/mother/sister/spouse/daughter?  All worthy goals, even though 2010 marks at least the thirtieth anniversary of the first time I made them.

My personal resolutions, like those of most people I suppose, are probably of limited interest or value to others.  But in addition to my own pedestrian goals, I have a few in my role as PFLAG parent, and one, in particular, has provoked some reflection on my part.

As I thought about what I hoped to do in the coming year - on the areas of my life in which I consider myself most deficient or in need of improvement - I realized that I have not spoken up for my son, or indeed for gay people in general, all the times that I could or should have.  I thought about the many occasions when I heard gay jokes, or negative opinions about gay marriage or relationships, or casual anti-gay slurs, and kept silent.

I realized that I have not spoken up for my son, or indeed for gay people in general, all the times that I could or should have.

It's entirely obvious that gay people, at least those who closely conform in appearance and behavior to the majority, "pass" as straight if, as and when they want to.  This is doubly true for the parents: we are, in fact (by and large) straight, so there isn't even any "passing;" we are what we are, and unless we speak up, nobody will ever know that we have anything to do with GLBT people.  If I make a joke about black people to somebody's face who is African-American, I'm going to know that.  One way or the other, if I make such a joke or a slur, I can't claim to be surprised when my arrow finds its target.  For GLBT people and their loved ones, though, comments and cracks can be launched with no foreknowledge.  Many times in my life, I've had folks say things, assuming it's "just us chickens," not knowing that in reality at least one of us is a duck.

Then, too, as my mother used to say, "many a truth is spoken in jest."  I've often heard straight people use words typically thought of as gay slurs, or tell "gay jokes," knowing that I'm sensitive or have a personal connection, but the implication is that in 2010 we are somehow "post-offense" when it comes to language.  Sort of like African-American people using the "n-word," except somehow I doubt that most Caucasians would feel comfortable using it in mixed company.  I feel a bit of a blue-nose, or subject to being labeled the dreaded "politically correct," if I object.

Finally, truth be told, I can't claim that I've never in my life laughed at a "gay joke."  It's said that the best humor involves transgression of some kind, and sometimes the "forbidden" hits our funny bone the hardest.  Maybe it's just the way we're wired as humans.  The stuff we're not "supposed" to laugh at is what provokes the strongest response.  I hardly think I'm the only person who feels this way: anyone who has attended a performance of the CGMC will know exactly what I'm talking about.

So it seems to come down to a matter, once again, of degree:  both in the sense of the relative sophistication or crudity of the statement, and in measuring who is speaking, and to whom.  Since it's impossible to set any bright lines or absolute mandates here, I'll just share a few thoughts that I hope will guide my conduct in the coming year:

  • When it comes to the politics of gay marriage, I'm not going to stay silent while someone else expounds.  I don't have to get into a hysterical, screaming fight, and I hope that come 2011 I'm still on a few guest lists, but I'm at least going to say that I disagree and, if it seems opportune, share a bit as to why.
  • I am as entitled to my religious views as anyone else.  I'm a faithful, practicing Christian (okay, I still need lots of practice!) and my belief is that God made our GLBT children just like He made the rest of us.  Again, I don't have to provoke a knock-down, drag-out fight, but if it comes up, I don't have to cede the field to the narrow-minded and intolerant.
  • I will try, as best I can, to figure out where someone is coming from when they make superficially anti-gay comments.  I will call out people for using epithets, even if it's only "in fun."
  • I will not allow situations to evolve in which, because I never spoke up in the first place, a friend or acquaintance makes assumptions about what's okay and not okay to say to me.  I do realize that as time goes on, people settle into patterns of communication, and can, rightfully enough, feel blindsided if they're suddenly corrected.  But I also understand that there will never be a good time to speak up if I don't do it now.

How to translate all this into specific responses, in specific situations, is, of course, the rub.  Very often we're advised to assemble an arsenal of responses, things we'll say when confronted with a particular situation where we might otherwise become flustered or speechless.  My February article will detail some of the potential situations that might occur, and some ideas I have for things to say or do.  In order to make this the most useful and wide-ranging, I'd love to hear from you!  Email me at greaternewhavenpflag@yahoo.com with your suggestions: what should a parent or loved one say when confronted with religious prejudice?  With anti-gay slurs?  With unfunny gay jokes?  Where do you think we should draw the line?  And... where is my sense of humor?

The Shoreline/New Haven PFLAG chapter meets the third Tuesday of each month from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Church of the Redeemer, located at the corner of Cold Spring Street and Whitney Avenue in New Haven. All are welcome. You may contact greaternewhavenpflag@yahoo.com for more information or to be placed on our mailing list.

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Jane Ferrall lives in Guilford, CT, where she and her husband of 20 years, Bill, enjoy their family of four children. Among her other interests and volunteer work, Jane was a founding member and is the moderator of the Greater New Haven/Shoreline chapter of PFLAG.

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