Discrimination is carried like a virus, spreading through a crowd and infecting the masses before anyone knows what hit them. Just like the cold or the flu, there is more than one strain of the D virus. Yet each strain has one thing in common, it infects the part of the brain that controls a person’s judgment. Whether it be because a person is fat, black, female, gay, handicapped, or old, the virus infects all the same. It exploits the nastiest parts of a person and shows just how cruel a human can be.
Discrimination is far from sophisticated. In fact, complexity is the antithesis of this vile bug, as it disdains the idea of education, understanding, and the ability to convey empathy. No, the virus is actually quite stupid. It plays on people’s fear of the unknown and that everlasting obsession with superiority.
In the last several years, the gay movement has enjoyed several tremendous and long-sought victories on the national stage. Gay men and women can serve openly in the military, the sitting U.S. president publicly endorsed gay marriage, and four states voted against a statewide ban on same-sex marriage, a first in state legislative history. Yet, when an open and honest discussion is held that deals with one of the gay community’s vulnerabilities (what it means to have HIV today), we notice a spike in infection rates of the D virus, and it appears to be a particularly nasty strain.
As gay men, we learned from the best of them when it comes to condemning a group of people for being different. Living through discrimination over the past several decades has refined our skills and made our tongues razor sharp. Now, instead of working as a collective whole — supporting each other and working to strengthen the vulnerabilities we possess — we cast vituperative criticism on those who might fail to be the perfect example of the shiny, smiling figures on top of a wedding cake.
We scrutinize each other for being too feminine, too fat, too self-obsessed, too poor, or too pretentious. We denounce the party boys, tease the homebodies, and degrade the gym bunnies. The gay community has been whittled down into so many subgroups and sub-subgroups so much that you can often find a gaggle of gays discussing and even arguing over which category they may or may not fall into. We laugh about who’s headed to daddy-dom, who is an abstemious twink, and who should just retire their halfhearted attempt at manscaping and accept that they are a big ol’ bear. Each of these “categories” holds a specific spot in the hierarchy of gay culture. This process of labeling, division and rank has led to a tenuous immune system, so it’s no wonder so many gay men have come down with the D virus.
We discriminate against other gay men for fear that the heterosexual society understands that we aren’t “that” kind of gay. Whether it be feminine, promiscuous, or (gasp) HIV-positive, we want to make sure that, on the big game day, we get to play on our own team, separate from “those” gays.
The truth is, there is little that separates us, regardless of physical traits or late-night habits. We see a piece of ourselves in the ones we judge, and we project our fear of being discriminated against. But as we continue to fight for acceptance outside of the gay community, the presence of discrimination and segregation only weakens our immune system and further impedes our cause.
I remember the moment I was first exposed to the D virus. It was in the sixth grade during recess. My classmates were beginning to notice the surface differences that would continue to define our social status throughout the continuation of our public education. I was outgoing, friendly, and popular. I had many friends, both girls and boys, and even a girlfriend every now and then. But a few of the boys, who I had spent the last several years playing soccer with and celebrating each’s other birthdays, started picking up on the differences between us. One day we were all laughing together and shooting spit wads; the next day I was a “fag” getting shoved around in the bathroom and excluded from the lunch table.
This new phenomenon only worsened. The boys turned into teenagers and the insults became more pointed. We all know how bad it can get, so I won’t elaborate.