You can’t choose your parents, and you can’t always choose who you love. Ozy Frantz’s father is racist and homophobic, and yet somehow still loveable.
My father believes that bisexuals don’t exist, and that trans panic is a reasonable defense for murder. He has been known to say that he is OK with gay people, just not ones that “flaunt it” (this is inevitably accompanied by a lisp and limp-wristed gesture). I don’t even want to know his opinion on people who don’t identify as male or female or polyamorous people, which is part of the reason that at home I’m so far in the closet I’m getting friendly with the fur coats.
His opinions are not a whole lot better on things unrelated to queers. For instance, he has been known to say without irony that white men are the most oppressed in today’s society. He put me in a private high school because the local public high school had too many people who were “not to be racist or anything, but not really like you.”
And yet I love him.
I know this isn’t social justice orthodoxy. Social justice orthodoxy is, as Andrew Ti from Yo Is This Racist, would say, “Yo, you tell them they’re fucking racists and then you don’t talk to them. You really need someone that fucking awful in your life?” But the thing is…I kind of do.
I suppose I could justify it with the old explanation, “He’s from a different time.” Not only did he grow up in the ’50s, but my grandfather was breathtakingly racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic (his other sterling traits included being an abusive alcoholic with severe and basically untreated PTSD). The fact that my father supports gay marriage and affirmative action is enormous progress.
But justice isn’t graded on a curve. “A little less oppressive than it would otherwise be” isn’t enough. I mean, imagine if that were true! “I’m not going to freak out about drinking at the same water fountain, at least I’m not a slave!” “I’m not going to freak out about the racist justice system, at least I can drink at the same water fountain!” No. Our task is not done until the last bits of oppression have been expunged from the world.
For a very long time I did hate my father. I hated that if I told him the truth about who I was he’d freak out or, more likely, believe I was making it up for attention. I hated that almost every time I ended up talking about my political opinions we’d end up in a vicious argument. I hated that I couldn’t make him see all the things that were so obvious to me.
As I got older, though, I realized that for all his many faults my father is a good man. The same person who believes that trans panic is a reasonable defense was the person who drove across the state to be at my side after my suicide attempt. The same person who thinks white men are the most oppressed was the person who woke up at 4 a.m. for a decade so he could pick my sister and me up from school. You can’t disentangle the racism and the homophobia from the good person who loves me. They’re all together.
Even worse, my father is the reason I’m in social justice right now. He’s the one who taught me to value equality, freedom, and diversity, to stand up for what I believe in, and to care deeply about people who are not like me. He gave me books about strikes, taught me to recite the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment by the time I was in middle school, and told me that civil disobedience was, in fact, the duty of all citizens faced with an unjust law. The only reason I’m not an incredibly classist douchebag right now is because he taught me that no one chooses to be poor, and that jobs that pay shit are the worst jobs of all. But as I progressed in social justice I left him behind.
I think it would be easier if bigots were all nasty people. If in addition to being bigoted my father beat me or cheated on my mother or even mocked me when I declared my ambition to be a writer, I could just stop talking to him. But perhaps it is a weakness within me, a failure to be a perfect paladin of justice and equality, but I can’t. I argue with him when he says stupid patriarchal shit, I bite my tongue and stay in the closet, and I respect my father for what he taught me and what he has done even as I despise his opinions.
A few months ago my father declared that depression was an actual illness and most depressed people aren’t making it up. Baby steps.
Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary; and blogs at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?