To start off, this is not about how straight white males are the real victims. I don’t believe that. I also want to clearly acknowledge that I don’t really know what it’s like to be gay. I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. I have no idea what it’s like to be black. But I do understand some.
I have experiences of my own, you see, decades of them. Discrimination is not only leveled at a few. If you have never experienced any at all, you are extraordinarily fortunate. Please allow me to talk about some pieces of my life.
When I learned that a teacher I idolized believed all Mormons were going to hell because he didn’t think we were really Christian, I learned something about religious prejudice. When I found out that friends were shown anti-Mormon propaganda at church, I learned even more.
I am not macho and I do not want to be. As a result, accusations and intimations that I might be gay have been a part of my life since puberty. When my date and I were voted King and Queen of a high school dance and a boy in the crowd yelled out “Fag!” I learned something about what it is like to be gay. The bullying I went through in a Mormon Boy Scout troop was also fairly instructive.
I break expectations for men in a number of ways. I am an introvert. I am highly sensitive. I also had a strong tendency towards anxiety and depression in the past. This declined a great deal when I was able resolve childhood traumas, but it defined much of my life as a young adult.
When a “companion” on my Mormon mission harassed and bullied me because I wasn’t loud and aggressive like him and he felt threatened by my confidence in my own intelligence, I learned something about being treated like I was inferior and stepping out of my place.
When I fell into depression later and wished I could die and a local Mormon told me I needed to snap out of it because I couldn’t be a good missionary like that, it stung. I learned something about being told I was inferior because of something I could not change.
When another missionary who was supposed to be my leader, and whom I had never met before, called me aside and simply quoted me Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” the message was clear. It was a sin to be shy as a missionary. I knew what it was like to be dismissed and demeaned because of something that didn’t really matter.
After my mission, when I was trying to get a girlfriend and discovered it wasn’t enough to be kind, thoughtful, respectful and funny and that my most awful roommates had an easy time getting dates, I knew something about being at the bottom of the social barrel. (Not that you should date anyone out of pity. Please don’t.)
When I was visiting my sister in New York City and went with her to a class for young single Mormons, and down the hall another religious group was watching anti-Mormon propaganda (the same as I had encountered before), I learned something more about religious prejudice.
When I fell into major depression and wound up on disability, I learned much more about being very near the real bottom of the social ladder.
When my friends abandoned me and my former best friend later told me that he avoided me because he couldn’t stand to see me that way, I learned something about being inferior.
When my opinion stopped mattering, even about my own symptoms and needs, I learned something else about inferiority.
Then, when I was working and was transferred into a job with the help of a former boss and union rules, faced strong opposition and then found out no one thought a man could succeed in the job (which I did do), I learned something about gender discrimination.
When I worked mostly with women and was regularly told “Men are…” (always followed by something negative) or “That’s because you’re a man,” I knew something about being treated differently because of my gender.
I had been misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (later changed to PTSD). At one point I had a concussion and had post-concussive disorder. Early on during that experience, my symptoms were extremely painful and worrisome. I called the advice nurse and she told me to report to the Emergency Room. I did so. I waited for a long time, even though the Emergency Room was virtually empty. When I finally saw a doctor, the first thing he said was “You’re bipolar aren’t you?” and “I’m not going to prescribe you any medication!” He sent me home with written instructions to return if I experienced a list of symptoms, the same ones that had brought me to the Emergency Room in the first place. Yes, I know something about discrimination.
When a prospective employer asked me what I was doing before my job history began and quickly ended the interview when he found out, I learned something else about discrimination.
At another interview, when I was one of two final candidates, my potential coworkers, all of whom were female, were allowed to ask me questions they had written. “Our job is stressful and we lean on each other. We’re all women here. How will you fit in?” “We have a potluck every month. What will you bring?” I didn’t get the job. Please don’t tell me I don’t know anything about gender discrimination.
When I was going through a number of difficult experiences simultaneously, some of which were fairly traumatic, and people who knew me well didn’t even try to understand and simply assumed I needed medication, I learned something about being treated differently.
When I discovered that my opinions and judgment about myself and my family were dismissed and ignored and that the people doing so found themselves totally justified because of my former mental health problems, I learned something about being treated as inferior.
When I finally got the kind of job I was looking for and found that a number of employees had opposed my hiring because I am a man and that I once again had to prove myself, I learned something more about gender discrimination.
When I finally separated from my wife and struggled futilely to get an equitable parenting plan and financial arrangement, even though I was no less a loving, nurturing parent to my children and in some ways more of one, I found that what people think is fair to do to a man is not the same as what they think is fair to do to a woman. I learned something else about gender discrimination.
I do not believe that my experiences are as somehow just as bad as those of everyone else and I do not wish to communicate that, but time and again, I have bumped into discrimination, prejudice and bias. Sometimes it has been small. Sometimes it has been wrenching, painful and life-changing. No, I do not understand what it is like to be a woman. I do not know what it is like to be gay. I don’t know what it is like to be black. I cannot say that I have experienced the same kinds of things as they have. I can only say that yes, I have an idea. And I don’t want anyone else to go through it.