Cultural Conditioning and the Courage to Be You
This last week has been an interesting journey for me. I was asked to speak at two luncheons, one for a service organization and another for a seminar on “Eliminating Heterosexism”; both requested my talk on “Discovering Your Mission”. I gave the same talk – but the perspective and outcome were very different not only for my audience, but for me as well.
Wednesday, one of my clients notified me that they were approached on Facebook by a person (who knew they were working with me) who had gone out on my website and discovered my links to Gay Friendly sites, and asked them if they were working with me professionally, or if they were working with me because they were gay. The question completely “weirded” them out.
On Thursday, my husband was glancing through the newspaper and found an editorial from Leonard Pitts Jr. entitled “Hard to speak the truth on being gay”. The editorial was about Roy Ashburn, a senator from California, and Eric Massa, from New York; both lacking the courage to be who they are because they are afraid of what people will think.
On Thursday evening, the Open Circle I host at my home each month discussed the “Lies Your Parents Taught You” and if you have been able to shed that conditioning, how long it took you to get there.
On Saturday, I was presented with a much different concept of homophobia than I have been exposed to over the last fifteen plus years. The day long seminar was presented by Dr. Robert Minor, a nationally acclaimed lecturer, writer and workshop leader on issues of gender, sexual orientation and active change and Professor Religious Studies at the University of Kansas.
Dr. Minor pointed out that the word homophobia is used to broadly describe discrimination, oppression, hatred, prejudice and intolerance of people who either don’t identify as heterosexual or are perceived to not fit the cultural definition of being straight. It’s interesting that the word labels an act of discrimination, prejudice or intolerance as “fear” (phobia) – moving it firmly into a psychological condition aimed at gay people rather than where the focus belongs – on the actions and attitudes of a person or group that have been culturally conditioned to portray this response.
Of interest to me, the real definition of homophobia is the fear of getting close to one’s own sex and is ingrained in everyone within the culture of the U. S. regardless of their sexual orientation. Homophobia supports most cultural values and may be internalized as:
- The fear of homosexuals;
- The fear of homosexuality;
- The fear of being perceived to be, or of being a homosexual;
- The fear of same-sex relationships.
He went on to tell us that this mind-set is actualized in our male children by the age of 5 with them being taught that it is not manly to show affection to persons of the same sex, exhibit any kind of emotions considered “sissy”, or interest in anything considered “girly”. If they do so, they are likely to meet with the “beat or be beaten” code that produces a warrior stance toward other men; the competitive mind-set wrapped around winning at the expense of others; and, the incapacity to share emotions with other men.
Our female children escape this to some degree until they reach puberty. They are then taught that they must maintain their distance from each other so they might maintain competition for male partnership; they have difficulty in trusting their own internal knowledge of who they are and absolutely distrust any validation they receive from other women; they become so separated from other women that they have difficulty in cooperating with each other to obtain some semblance of equality in a patriarical society.
The upshot of this is that homophobia isn’t really about gay people. It is a problem that is acted out on any person who publicly doesn’t express the fear of getting close to their own sex. It is fear installed and enforced by the negative consequences that happen to someone who doesn’t internalize society’s core teachings. Healing from this fear requires people to face the fear and the methods used to create it in the first place. Without gender roles, people may not know who they are; it requires a new definition of who you are.
The above is a snapshot of the seminar, and gave me a much deeper perspective on the need for Discovering Your Personal Mission: The Who of You. It points to the need to review your needs, values and priorities in life to determine if they are, in fact, your needs, values and priorities or if you have been conditioned to think and behave a certain way. It has a much broader application, encompassing your beliefs around rich people vs. poor people; tall people vs. short people; skinny people vs. heavy people; Caucasians vs. African Americans vs. Latinos; Christians vs. Muslims; gay vs. straight; and on and on. We have internalized so much information from our tribes, it is imperative for us to begin to extract the truth so we might begin to create the connectivity between us, as individuals, and create the unity that to be effective, requires us to decide to live as if equality, fairness and full acceptance for all human beings isn’t negotiable.
As the mother of a young gay man, I wonder how much homophobia he was taught as he grew up, and how that has affected his own feelings about himself. What stereotypes did I teach my children without even thinking of what I was doing? What stereotypes do I still carry around with me and continue to allow them influence over my thoughts and actions? My journey this week has heightened my commitment to dig deep and continue to honor the person I am willing to be; to have the courage of my convictions even when I know it could cost me in a variety of different ways.
Georgia Feiste, owner of Collaborative Transitions, located in Lincoln, NE, is a life transitions coach, writer, and workshop facilitator. She specializes in career and personal life transitions for people seeking change in their life. Georgia is uniquely skilled in providing support and encouragement as her clients set intentional goals to attain their desires, holding open the space they need to stretch and grow. Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life. Her website is http://www.collaborativetransitions.com, where she blogs about business and career, and http://www.rainbowbridgecoach, where she and many other coaches blog about mind, body, spirit and emotion. Georgia can be reached at (402) 484-8098.