“Language shapes the way we think and determines what we can think about” ~ Benjamin Lee Whorf
Which one reflects how you’re feeling? How would you like to feel? How would you like others to see you?
Have you heard these three words bantered around, in relation to people’s sexuality and/or gender identity? Have you thought, “What’s the big fuss?” “Why are people getting so upset?”
There is considered to be a continuum of responses for LGBTIQA+ people ranging from the awful, up the wonderful. It’s the bit in the middle to top section that people can sometimes get a bit confused about if they are challenged.
Let’s consider the feelings and true meaning behind these words when we’re talking about human beings, people we love, care about, respect or simply walk by in the street.
The terms I’m referring to are, tolerance, acceptance and celebration.
Sometimes people can ‘innocently’ use the expressions such as, “I tolerate …” or “I accept …”. Obviously, accepting someone is much better than tolerating them, and often people are not conscious of the implications behind these words. Therefore they may not realise why people react the way they do. So let’s take a closer look.
Is it ok to ‘tolerate’ someone? I guess it’s better than hating someone than being outright rude, abusive or discriminatory towards someone, however, I’m not so sure it is considerate, respectful or kind. When I think about the word tolerate, the words, ‘put up with’ come to mind. It implies there is something wrong with a person, that you will give them the ‘privilege’ of tolerating them or their behaviour. You don’t agree with it or think it’s ok, you will simply tolerate it, because you feel like, or have been told that this is the right thing to do.
So when I put it like that it feels quite unpleasant. I don’t want to simply tolerate others and I certainly don’t want to be tolerated. Sure, we can’t be ‘besties’ with everyone. We are not always going to see eye to eye with others. We are all different and we all have different personalities, interests, values, beliefs, weaknesses and strengths. BUT life is short and time is precious and simply ‘tolerating’ people, for who they are, doesn’t feel like a great use of my energy.
I can’t tell you that you have to do more than tolerate people, however, my aim is to shine some light on why this term may not be well received by LGBTIQA+ people or their loved ones. I’m also hoping this article can give you some insight and shine the way to growth and connection with other humans who may be different from you.
Sooooo, acceptance is good, right? Hmmm, sure, it is certainly a step up from tolerance. Though, it may feel like it is still suggesting there is something wrong with a person that the rest of us want to or have to ‘accept’. When we say we accept something, we are saying that we will manage, we will learn to live with it, or yes it’s ok. For example, it could feel like you’re saying, “I accept that your gay”, but in your head “I don’t really like it”. Or I accept that you’re going to change your uni course, but I don’t really like it. Not really bad, but not too great either. Get the idea?
I absolutely understand that if a person is accepting of another person’s sexuality or gender identity, their intention is not to be harmful. And to be honest most people won’t feel too badly about it. Often they will be relieved and happy that you accept them. Unfortunately, that is more because the alternative, in their mind, is to be rejected, or worse. For many LGBTIQA+ people, when they are considering ‘coming out’ or ‘inviting others in’, the bar is quite low. The anticipation and/or fear will most likely be quite high.
Celebration!!! Now here is a delightful way to feel and talk about our loved ones. “I love and celebrate everything about my child/sibling/parent/aunt/uncle/cousin/grandparent/friend”. It still doesn’t mean you have to agree with them on every topic, but they are a whole person, with many different aspects to them and how delightful to love and celebrate them as a wonderful human being in your life. I’m not asking you to jump on a float at Mardi Gras, though you absolutely can if you want to, and I’m sure you’d have a load of fun. This is more about your thoughts and feelings and the way you speak about that person. Challenging the idea that there is something to be tolerated or accepted, but rather celebrating them as a whole being.
Our lives become much richer when we celebrate diversity and see and experience differences as strengths, rather than weaknesses and reasons to judge.
It is important to remember that language is a powerful tool to create safety, love, warmth, inclusion and beautiful connections as well as hurt, pain, sadness, rejection and disconnection. So choose your language wisely. Do it from the heart, and rather than seeing it as the ‘word police’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’, as I’ve heard some people refer to it, see it as your opportunity to keep the light burning inside another human. You have the chance to reassure them that they are loved, appreciated and celebrated, exactly how they are. I encourage you to embrace this opportunity with all your heart.
I’d love to hear from you… Pop a question or comment in the comments below.
If you’d like to join my private Facebook group, as a parent of an LGBT+ person, looking for extra support and connection with others working through similar changes in their lives, click here and we’d love to welcome you. This group is a private, safe and inclusive space. (Your membership and participation in the group cannot be seen by others, outside of the group.)