One of the hardest things to handle when I lived in the South was when people were nice to me, but they never really accepted me because either they knew I was gay or perceived I was gay. They would hug me when I saw them. They’d ask about my day or my life and mean it. They would welcome me over for dinner and make sure I got more than enough to eat. They’d laugh with me (though often you could sense they were laughing at you). However, no matter how nice or kind they acted, they never accepted me. I remember one time I mentioned that I thought a guy was attractive (this was amongst a group that I was out to), and the husband of a friend of mine said, “I don’t have a problem with you being gay, I just don’t want to hear about it.”
It’s hardest when they are kind because then when they are not kind it cuts more deeply. When they ask about your life but then you see the tense jaw and the pursed lips as you answer. Even when you are telling about something that is incredibly important to you or that you are passionate about, they have a hard time actually feigning interest. You can see their tension if it goes against what they deem appropriate, proper, and/or Christian. They might respond with a “that’s nice” but you know they are thinking it’s anything but nice. Then, the next time they ask about your life you are more careful. You tell the sanitized version. You leave some stuff out. I did this a lot. When I felt someone’s judgement of me or was told I told too much (that they did not want to hear), then I’d censor myself around them from that point onward. It kills you a little bit each time it happens, each time you have to censor yourself. It wears away at you when they are nice because it’s harder to say, “Your behavior hurt me.” They will almost always say they didn’t mean to hurt you; they were just sharing their beliefs. Often, they will claim that you are being too sensitive.
Later on, when they realized that they missed a big part of your life, they might even call you dishonest. They will say you left too much out, that you deceived them. They will say that you are the one who shut them out of your life. They will never realize that they are the ones who set the boundaries on the acceptable conversation and behavior with their non-verbal gestures, with their snide comments back, with their clear disapproval. They will say that you hurt them, or you made them feel excluded. They tell you they love you and want to be in your life. Then we often try again to let them into our lives, but we get the same response, and it hurts even more this time. They will often claim you were the one who caused the rift. You weren’t respecting their feelings or beliefs. They will claim that you weren’t willing to compromise. Even though, for years, you were the only one to always compromise and kept your mouth shut and acted the way they wanted you to act. I have spent nearly forty years denying myself happiness because I spent so much of my life hiding parts of myself from my family.
Maybe you are someone who sits alone on a holiday or misses out on a family gathering because you simply cannot bear to go and hear people force you to be someone you are not for one more holiday. You cannot bear to smile even though you want to be weeping. You cannot bear to keep so much of yourself hidden. You become the one who is alone, and you feel like you are punishing yourself, when it is they who are punishing you. Maybe you know you did the right thing to save your sanity, but it still feels like you are the one being punished. For many of us, we realize that whenever we meet someone new, it’s their voice you hear in your head telling you that you aren’t worthy of love. But it’s a subtle voice with kind tones. This is benevolent homophobia. In racism, it’s akin to paternalism. People in positions of power restrict the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates' supposed best interest. The same is true of homophobia, they want to save us from ourselves by imposing their twisted beliefs of what they believe the Bible says to force us to conform to their twisted morality. Some people do this with “kindness,” but it is veiled hatred, and we cannot pretend it’s not.