Okay, so as a challenge I spent 30 days in a row – every day of June 2011, wearing gay t-shirts – and no, it wasn’t a FASHION challenge, to come up with 30 different shirts that proclaimed that I’m gay and proud.
Instead, what I was going for was a social experiment.
I wanted to see what would happen, both externally and internally, if I refused the default white-straight-man privilege I walk around with and put it out there, on my shirt for everyone to see that I’m a member of a minority group.
Now my friend Jacqueline Woodson, who is a brilliant author and African American, doesn’t like the word “minority” and wants people to stop using it. She asks, “minority to whom? To what?” And in many ways she’s right. Perhaps the term “minority” has taken the place of "disenfranchised." We use "minority" to cover women, who are actually a majority numbers-wise, when we really mean a group denied access to social and economic power and equality for being who they are.
For most straight people, my being gay is not a visible characteristic, unless I’m holding my husband’s hand. And being a Dad, when I’m out in the world with our kid, most everyone assumes I’m straight (I get a lot of “mom’s day off?”)
So for a solid month I wanted to be OUT there, and just see how the world reacted. Here's what happened:
The Real World
Being a ‘hidden’ minority has this horribly awkward moment that I’ve experienced a number of times in my life where someone’s being really nice and then they reveal their prejudice to you, thinking that you share their feelings, not knowing you belong to the group they’re disparaging.
It’s happened with people not knowing I was Jewish, but most of all it’s happened with people not knowing I’m gay.
June 1, 2011 - Day One
On day one, There was a fifth grade boy who scowled at me when he read my “smile if you’re gay” shirt, but I think he just wanted to make sure I knew he wasn’t gay. Interestingly, the shirt didn’t say “smile only if you’re gay.” It was definitely the shirt that got the most reaction throughout the month.
And because of the t-shirts, it was a month of no accidental gay slurs, and no accidental oh-I-thought-you-were-straight moments. (The only meanness came from a tiny (less than 15) group of protesters at the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, and I (and most of the other hundreds of thousands of celebrants of Gay Pride) ignored them behind their fence, caged not just by police-erected steel wire but by their own hate.
Otherwise in the month, there were some socially awkward moments in conversations with straight adult acquaintances – who know I’m gay - when they would be talking with me and then notice my shirt, and then they’d sort of verbally stumble. But generally, people were gracious – and if they had any issues, they had the good grace to keep it to themselves.
And once I explained my "It's Okay To Be Takei" shirt, it was a big hit at the teacher and staff "Empowering Diversity" training session I did for an elementary school on day 14!
June 14, 2011 - Day fourteen
And on day 17, at the zoo with my kid, a woman come up to me, with her two kids just behind her, and asked about my Trevor project t-shirt since her nephew was also named "Trevor."
June 17, 2011 - Day seventeen
I was very self-conscious as I explained to her that the Trevor Project was a 24 hour a day crisis intervention hotline to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. How would she react? Would she be homophobic in front of my kid? I felt myself tensing up, but all she said was, "Oh, that's great." And then she walked away. A minute later she was back, wanting to introduce me to her friend that she was there at the zoo with, a man with a child the same age as hers. And it turns out he was another gay dad! A bit of serendipity, and a lesson about making assumptions, that I wouldn't have had if not for wearing that shirt!
And throughout the month, my friends were awesome, sending me t-shirts to add to my growing repertoire, and cheering me on. You all ROCK!
The Online World
I posted a photo of myself every day in each day’s shirt on twitter and facebook, and had lots of “likes’ and a few hundred comments – all supportive. Sure, these were from among my over 2,000 friends and followers, but that level of interest and encouragement was really surprising and gratifying. So thanks, everyone.
The Interior World of Me
I think this is where the most profound shift happened.
June 30, 2011 - Day thirty, and the final day of the challenge
I used to grab for my “legalize gay” shirt and hesitate, wondering if it would be awkward or too in-your-face-gay for what I might be doing that day. Where I might be going. And that self-censorship was troubling to me. Doing this project and wearing the out gay shirts every day became a habit. (Yes, just like MotherReader's and my annual Kidlitosphere Comment Challenge – 21 days of commenting more on blogs to make a new habit).
As the month went on, I stopped being so self-conscious and stopped thinking about what my shirts were saying as I went about my day, so that when my husband and kid and I went out to the movies on day 26 and I was wearing my “closets are for clothes” t-shirt and the usher kept smiling at us, and was extra-nice and chatty, I didn’t even connect it to my shirt until later.
But when I talked to my husband about it, I realized it was definitely the t-shirt.
June 26, 2011 - Day twenty-six
I think wearing the gay t-shirts on the outside helped me own who I am more on the inside, and helped me be more okay inside my own skin.
It made me more proud, and more confident as a Gay man.
And going forward, I’ll wear that every day of my life.
Thanks for sharing the journey,