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Tolerance vs. Support

With June being Pride Month, I could not pass up the opportunity to write something in the category of Human Sexuality. I began to browse through some family journals and found a topic that I was instantly captured by. Tolerance Versus Support: Perceptions of Residential Community Climate Among LGB Parents.* The writers of this article surveyed 55 lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual parent couples about if they perceived their communities to be tolerant or supportive of their lifestyle. 

Those parents who classified their community as supportive (n=17) tended to be located in areas with legal support and broad social acceptance. There was more opportunity to participate in LGB-focused social and political activity as well as more exposure to other LGB families. 

While reading through this well written article, I could not move past the thought of tolerance versus support. I wanted to learn more about that concept through the eyes of those in the LGBTQ+ community, and I was not disappointed. I conducted my own minor survey to get a more personalized idea of the concept, and am excited to share some of those findings with you now. 

Of course, I can not get started without the cliche dictionary definitions of tolerance and support. 

Tolerate- allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

Support- bear all or part of the weight of; hold up.

As pointed out by nearly all participants in my survey, tolerance has more of a negative connotation. Whereas the definition of support includes the idea of adversity. To hold up or bear the weight of gives an inspiring push towards joining together to be united against adversity. Sometimes those cliche dictionary definitions are actually pretty enlightening…

I will list some of the questions that were answered throughout my survey, as well as some responses and personal thoughts or insights from myself. Only a few insights will be shared from each category. I am happy to say I received some incredible feedback and am so excited to share with my readers!

 

Participants in the survey described their sexuality in the following categories: (further definitions added for clarification)

Lesbian- homosexual woman

Gay- homosexual man

Bi-sexual- sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender; attracted to both men and women

Transgender- denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex

Queer- denoting or relating to a sexual or gender identity that does not correspond to established ideas of sexuality and gender, especially heterosexual norms

Pan-sexual- not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity

Sexually bi-sexual- sexually attracted to both genders

Romantically heterosexual-  romantically attracted to a single gender

Demi-romantic- only experiences romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection beforehand

Asexual- without sexual feelings or associations

 

Ages of participants range from 24-37

 

What do you feel is the difference between tolerance and support?

~Tolerance is all around us. We tolerate what we don’t believe we cannot understand. It is coexistence with someone/thing that shares space and places with us. Support is going beyond coexisting, it is genuine interaction, positive interactions. Support is showing human kindness at its core, where one can live so differently from you but you are openly connecting and sharing experiences beyond simple niceties.

~Tolerance is the bare minimum level of respect that I expect from my colleagues and peers. Tolerance is similar to apathy, in my experience. We tolerate things that we have no particular investment in, like squeaky door hinges or mosquito bites. If we think about it or pay attention to it, we may wish it to be gone or different, but we don’t care enough to do anything about it.

~To be supported is to know that the people around me care about my well being and want me to be around. A person who supports me loves me as I am. A person who supports me is a person who believes that my bisexuality is an integral part of me and has no desire for me to change myself.

~Support seeks to make a change for the better. 

~My family is tolerant of me being gay. They say they want me to be happy but they don’t accept that it is okay for someone to be gay or even believe that I am gay. They feel that it is a fad, or something I can control. If they supported me they would support everyone who is gay and outwardly show me love and interest in who I am dating.

~Tolerance is simply holding your tongue and shutting your mouth. Support is using that mouth to make a difference.

~When someone supports an LGBT+ person, they advocate for them and they stick up for them when others slander them or joke about them (among other things.) When someone only tolerates an LGBT+ person, they accept that the person is who they are, but they wish that something could be done about it to change it, and they don’t really stick up for them when necessary.

~Tolerance is eating your vegetables because you must. Support is eating your vegetables because you want to.

 

Through the responses that were given, an overwhelming feeling I received was that a vast majority of LGBTQ+ have been in a way tolerated in a hurtful way during their life. As human beings, we crave support, love, and acceptance for who we are to be successful. The differences between one human being to another are infinite, and sexuality is just one of the many pieces to who we are. My eyes were personally more opened to some of the negative feedback other people have gotten for just being happy with who they are. 

 

Explain your experience in coming out to family and friends:

~It’s been really hard. Part of my family is tolerant and part is supportive of me. I came out in an email because I knew my family would judge me and some of them said ‘I love you, but…’ statements.

~When I told my parents at the age of 11, it was considered to be a phase and I got in a lot of trouble for it. I was constantly asked if i still had feelings for men. Since I was the kid who couldn’t help but be honest to a fault. I would tell the truth and be punished more for it. Eventually it became easier to lie. When they found out again when I was in high school that I was in a secret relationship with a boy, I was taken out of school and forced to do online schooling.

~I was ‘outed’ to my mom at 16 before I was ready to talk. She kicked me out and her boyfriend laughed at me. My father on the other hand always told me whatever made me happy ‘tickles me titty pink’. He never judged me or got upset.

~Very accepting, I got lucky. But at first I did get a lot of inappropriate questions from straight being about being a lesbian and sex and whatnot.

~I haven’t officially come out. I try not to treat my attractions, sexual fantasies, or tendencies as anything abnormal. And since I personally do not date people of the same sex, what I choose to do in the privacy of my own bedroom doesn’t feel like anyone’s business but my own. I feel my friends would be very accepting. I try to surround myself with those kinds of people. My family, however, is less likely to be accepting. Some would be okay with it, but most would be vehemently against it. This has been made clear by generalized comments against those in the LGBTQIA+ community and watching it happen to a family member who is FTM Trans.

~I’m in the closet. 

~Some people have been confused, some interested and having asked questions genuinely wanting to learn, but for the most part everyone has been happy for me, proud that I was brave enough to be myself

 

Personally, no one has ever specifically ‘come out’ to me. I had an amazing friend of mine in high school (who participated in this study as well) and I sometimes wondered what his sexual orientation was, but it never stood in the way of our friendship. He came out as gay/queer when he was 17, and it was more of a natural transition for me. Now he had spoken up about that part of his life, and he was exactly the same person and incredible friend he had been before. Nothing had changed except his confidence in himself. 

 

Explain initial reactions from family and friends:

~My family has always been supportive of me. The only thing they want is for me to have healthy, loving relationships regardless of whether my partner is a man or woman. While I’ve never had issues with anybody being outright rude or disapproving, I have been told that I’m just confused or that I would grow out of it. Sometimes I’ve been told that I’m likely to be unfaithful in a relationship because I’m attracted to more than one gender, which can be insulting.

~With my family, I didn’t get a positive reaction. I was punished a lot for being honest, taken out of school, and kept away from anyone that would be supportive of me being gay. When I came out to my friends as an adult they were so supportive and loving. They actually respected me more when I was honest with myself and with them. All of them knew deep down but chose to believe what I said until I told them otherwise.

~Support from all my friends. Instantly support. One side of my family was fine. Other side wanted no part till I was married to my wife.

~Husband was not so much shocked, just puzzled. Now he understands that I’m choosing him for HIM- not what is between his legs.

~Some were surprised, but most of the responses I got were “Good for you for being brave enough to be yourself”

 

It is fascinating to me that still today after so much progression and acceptance of human beings and their many differences that so many people are still struggling to admit to who they are. 

 

In what ways have you felt most supportive?

~My family has always made a point of letting me know that my partner can be any gender as long as the relationship is respectful and genuine. My boyfriend has also been very supportive and knows that my sexual orientation doesn’t change just because I’m dating him rather than a woman. He trusts my character and knows my loyalty to him is not related to his gender.

~My friends are chosen family. They love and accept me for who I am regardless of who I choose to be with. The best part is that it doesn’t matter to them who I am attracted to or whom I choose to be with. They treat me how I treat them; with kindness and respect.

~Simple things, when a conversation revolves around everyone’s straightness and someone pulls me in by mentioning my preference or relationship to make my experience relevant to the conversation.

~Friends instantly using the correct pronouns and my new name, defending me to others

~Pride events. My parents celebrate Pride with me every year, I have an Aunt that took me to my first Pride event years ago and since then Pride has become my favorite holiday. I spent it with those I love, it is nothing but support and love.

~Just how no one has treated me any differently. Took my girlfriend into the group, same as any of my 25 other crappy boyfriends. 

~My best friend punched someone in the face once for calling me a f*g. That was nice.

 

Some of the smallest things can mean the most when it comes to support. It is not necessary to make a giant gesture. Just the typical kindness you would expect from others, regardless of who they are. 

 

Explain experiences (if any) where your lifestyle was tolerated instead of supported:

~I have not always felt supported in the workplace. When I was an EMT, many of my coworkers had misconceptions about bisexuality and sometimes I heard things from them that made me wonder if they secretly thought there was something wrong with me. I have heard comments like “women only act interested in other women to draw attention to themselves” or “someone who says they’re bisexual just doesn’t want to admit they’re a slut.” Sometimes I feel ostracized within the LGBTQ community for not being “gay enough” or taking the easy way out whenever I date a man.

~My mom and a few brothers just tolerate me being gay. They never ask about relationships. When I told them I was dating a girl they didn’t respond to me, but had I told them I was dating a boy they would have been so happy and excited to know more information.

~Once my mother came around she would try and take me shopping – I think she tolerated my lifestyle because no matter how much I protested looking at dresses she still tried to force me (and did force me on one occasion).

~Every time my family, for example, makes a comment about gay individuals and how they think it’s unnatural, but insists they’d be supportive no matter what our choices are when I ask them if they’d say the same about a family member if one of us were to come out. It often feels like forced tolerance because we’re blood and they claim to want what’s best for us, but harbor resentment against our choices.

~I would say that my parents know that I am living as a gay man but they choose not to acknowledge it. They live in ignorance when it comes to my sexuality. While this doesn’t necessarily hurt me, it does cause them to miss out on sharing and bonding they could have with me if they were more than just tolerant of the idea that I could “still be gay”.

~At work tends to be the most difficult place to get full acceptance, even in a more progressive and open workplace.

~Well, most people don’t know, but I live in a very conservative area and I don’t feel comfortable coming out.

 

It was pointed out to me that the term ‘lifestyle’ is more tolerance than support. This was not my intention whatsoever. Lifestyle can incorporate so many aspects of who someone is and how they lead their lives. I want to express how grateful I am to all the participants of this study for being so open and vulnerable about what struggles they may have been through. 

 

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to express?

~I just wish people weren’t judged solely on sexuality but by their sense of character. Rarely does anyone bring up a straight man’s character by who he is intimate with. They base it off of how he interacts and treats others. They base his sense of character on how he conducts himself in day to day life. I wish the same could be said for all of LGBTQ community. We are all people who could be celebrating each other’s successes.

~Even if I never act on my fantasies or desires to be sexually involved with people of my own gender, the curiosity and attraction still remains and it always has. I’ve accepted this as just part of who I am even prior to labeling it. I think it’s important to recognize that while some treat the community like a fad, others mean it quite seriously even if they don’t have the opportunity or courage to explore that part of themselves. Everyone deserves equal validation and I for one will always be a huge proponent for the rights of the community, as well as offering what knowledge and experience I have to help others like me and in my position. I also hope to continue growing and learning from those who understand it better than I do. That’s what a community is for, after all.

 

I absolutely loved all of the incredible and eye opening responses I received with this survey. Being able to educate ourselves helps to understand another perspective, therefore promoting the desire to love and appreciate each other. My hope for this article is to provide some personal examples of how tolerance and support have either negatively or positively affected the lives of LGBTQ+. Of course, tolerance and support stretches so much further than sexuality. Think of the drivers around you on the freeway, the people in line at the supermarket, the people who pass you on the street. Do you support or tolerate them? With learning about them and their lives, are you more willing to be supportive?

 

*Oswald, R. F., Routon, J. M., McGuire, J. K. and Holman, E. G. (2018), Tolerance Versus Support: Perceptions of Residential Community Climate Among LGB Parents. Fam Relat, 67: 41-54. doi:10.1111/fare.12292

 

Photo Credit: Emily Wilson Photography

 

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