We think we’re so liberal.

5 Sep

Oh, we’ve progressed, we say. The diversity apparent in our society is undeniable. Individuals and groups deviating from the “norm” pop up, and they’re here to stay. We’re cool; we accept them. You see, we’re not like those conservative people.

Just look at how society has progressed:

Homosexuality was once classified as a mental disorder. Now gay and lesbian organizations have been established, people are even rallying for same-sex marriages.

In the past, women weren’t allowed education or professional careers. Now we have women graduating from universities and women as CEOs.

Before, Blacks and Whites couldn’t marry. Now interracial marriages are a dime a dozen.

And look at how you and I have progressed:

We accept homosexuals.

We have a female colleague/classmate, and we accept her.

We accept interracial couples.

Such social acceptance! So much progress, really! Good on us!


Yet how deep is our ‘liberal’ thought? How deep is this ‘acceptance’ ingrained into ourselves?

Let’s take the example of gay men.

– We are walking on the street and see two men holding hands, and we point out to our friends, “Look! A gay couple!”

– We walk past an immaculately groomed man, moving his hands expressively as he speaks on the phone, and we share a knowing glance with our friends and whisper, “Gay?”

– “Gay” becomes an inherent, defining trait of an individual, we can’t seem to avoid mentioning. “Oh, yeah my friend Kyle loves this shop too. By the way, Kyle is gay…” And again, there’s that silent, knowing look shared between your friend and yourself – it’s the ever-so-slightly mocking moment shared by us “normal people”, that comes with placing them in a specifically different category.

– A celebrity “comes out”, and it becomes an international affair – “Duh, Ricky Martin was gay all this time, it’s about time he finally came out of the closet!”

When do we go, “Look, a straight couple”?

When do we look at any man and signal to our friends, asking if they agree that he’s straight?

When do we say, “Oh you should meet my friend Tom, he loves that band too! Oh, and did you know that he’s straight?”

When do we go, “OMG Brad Pitt is straight, and he’s in a heterosexual relationship with a woman!” Why does this piece information about the same issue (i.e. sexuality) not require the same amount of the attention? Why didn’t Brad Pitt have to “come out” as straight?

How on earth has “gay” become a defining trait?!

If us liberals truly accept them, why are we the ones making such statements which emphasise their “difference”?

How is this aspect of their identity different from them having the identity of a carrot-eater? If we don’t typically mention details like “My friend John loves that colour too! And he eats carrots, but I don’t”, why is the difference of sexuality deserving of an extra mention?

Deep inside, beyond what we claim we believe, many of us still have ingrained beliefs that such deviations from traditional social norms are wrong. The constant indication of difference is a light, maybe even unconscious, sanction to those individuals and groups who can’t be “normal”. After all, we aren’t them, and we can’t know what they are truly thinking or up to, so we feel it’s probably best that we maintain a regularity in society, by sticking to and reproducing what we are familiar with, so that we continue belonging to the secure confines of our group – the majority, the “normal”.

Have a think about it. What are your first reactions when you encounter the following?

– A 55-year-old man and an 18-year-old girl kissing on a park bench.

– A man dressed as a woman.

– A 45-year-old man commenting that a 14-year-old boy is very good looking and mature for his age, joking that he wishes he were older.

– A woman with long blonde hair with 7-inch transparent platform heels, and a short body-hugging dress with a plunging neckline, standing at a street corner.

They are “them”, and you say “ok”, and return to your familiar confines of belonging in the accepted and safe group.

We judge more than we care to admit we do. We make automatic associations, which we might not even consciously notice.

We do think we’re so liberal. Maybe we should examine that.


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