Why We Need to Engage Others to Learn to Understand Us

Engaging others to understand us and exerting our rights to be are two very different things. It’s not political – engaging is real. I have worked in HIV long enough to know what engaging means. People don’t understand gay people – they don’t. Just like a white person will never understand a black person and a man will never understand a woman. Should a black person exert their right over the white person or a woman exert their right over the man? Similarly, should a man exert his right over the woman or a white person exert their right over a black person? No. 

Unfortunately, people don’t understand gay people. They don’t and we have to help them learn. I went through more than 10 years of having to engaged my own family before they understood what being gay meant. Is it their fault that they couldn’t understand me? No, it’s not. Firstly, they are not gay. Secondly, they are influenced by what the media says. Can people be blamed because they don’t understand? No. Similarly, when someone cuts into our path, can I exert my right of way and tell him to get lost? No, because he/she might be in a rush, is rushing to an accident, and for whatever reason has to cut into my path. So, no exerting our right is very different from engaging, and really, understanding. If we insist that we should exert our right onto someone else, then we are being pushy and demanding and rude as well. Then we are not understanding someone else’s point of view, but only want others to understand our point of view. How does that make us different from the other person? It doesn’t. We are just like them – we think we are right.

Obviously, I think being gay is my right and I think it’s about returning my rights to me. But if everyone is as aware and not self-centred, life would have been smooth from the beginning of time. But no. And it’s not just them who are self-centred. We are too. When we talk about rights, we are talking about getting people to understand us as well, and for us to understand them as well. Rights fought by demanding it will be fraught with anger, and misunderstandings. Look at Myanmar. Aung san suu kyi has learnt that for change to happen in Myanmar, she has to work with the government. Some people think she is selling out herself. Is she? If she continues to fight head on with the government, it will only make things so much difficult to move. But when you can convince someone of your sincerity and you can help them to understand you, and work with them to effect change, things will change. Otherwise, the Christians will never understand the gays and the gays will never understand the Christians. It is not about your right against mine. It is about understanding one another to learn to respect one another. If we focus only on rights, then we are being ego-centric and we are not learning to be the better person at all.

If we show anger to those who make us feel angry, there is going to be no end to this. The Europeans learnt this at the end of World War Two and since then they have tried very, very hard to try to find a common solution to things and to try to find common ground – to understand one another so that they do not have to cause another upheaval. Unfortunately, they have not learnt to adapt this learning onto their relationships with other countries, such as the Middle East and have allowed their Eurocentric views to cloud them. The principles are the same – if we learn to understand another, and try to help the other to understand us, we can come to a common understanding, and we will learn to respect one another and eventually learn to accept one another. This is true for the world, and this is true for being gay. 

So, we can continue to want to be angry and fight. Or we can learn to be understanding, be respectful and through that, with our sincerity, convince someone of who we are and allow them to come towards accepting us, because we can then show them that we are so much better than who they think we are.

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