The Deepest Work of Civil Rights Happens Within
BY SCOTT KILOBY
I really don’t like the word homophobia because I don’t like labels generally – at least the kind that are used to put people in boxes. This is the same reason that I don’t walk around each day thinking of myself as gay. No thanks. Take your box somewhere else. Yes, for conventional purposes, I am gay. But the word is not what I am. Nor is the word “homophobic” what other people are who do not like or who fear gay people. But the word homophobia does, at least, speak to the fear underneath the issue. Phobia means fear.
Some of my gay and lesbian friends do not understand why I do not get upset or outraged when I see homophobia in the world. I used to get really upset. But my work in the last decade or so has been about meeting my own fear directly. I cannot fix others. It is not my job. Certainly, the discrimination and hate crimes against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community cannot be condoned in a civilized society. The laws are changing in favor of protection. And that is great. But the deeper issues cannot be changed fully by laws. Just as racism continues (largely out of fear) decades after the civil rights movement in the 60s, fear or ignorance around LGBT people will continue for a long time despite the recent changes in law.
The real work is not just on the side of those who fear or do not understand those in the LGBT community. It is also on the side of the LGBT community. Very few of my gay brothers and sisters actually investigate fully their own deficiency stories and internalized homophobia. Being gay or lesbian, we grew up in a world that contained many people who thought we were disgusting, sinful or just plain freaks. Many, or I should say, most of us in the LGBT internalized all of that. It’s similar to when young black children internalize the sense of being less worthy than white children (this was noted in the Brown v. Board of Education case – ending segregation). In my view, the real work in civil rights issues happens within. Until people see that they are not these stories of deficiences and until they let go of the internalized fear, we will never see the full acceptance of the LGBT community in society. How can society accept us if we do not accept ourselves first?
The same kind of work has to be done, of course, on the side of those who fear or who do not understand the LGBT community. Those who bullied me in grade school had very deep-seated stories of deficiency. I am aware that in their adult life, none of them sought out any kind of therapy or self-inquiry to uproot those stories of deficiency. It is very likely that they passed on these stories and fear to their children. This is generational in every sense. A Supreme Court decision will not – in and of itself – wake us up to what we really are. It will not do the inner work for us. It’s merely one step in the right direction, so that the laws protect people. But no law can protect either a gay kid, a homophobic person or a bully from the inner demons of fear and ignorance. In fact, waiting for the legal system to help all of us transform into a better and more civilized and loving society is like watching a snail crawl across the U.S. It will take a very, very long time. To the contrary, self-inquiry is much more efficient. It can transform old beliefs and heal old feelings very quickly.
I realize that suggesting that every human engage in self-inquiry is a bit futile. Many will simply not be open. And many don’t even know what self-inquiry is. I have linked to www.livinginquiries.com for those who want to know more about it. If you are a parent, find out what self-inquiry is, lest you pass on your own stories of deficiency and fear to your children. The power of self-inquiry is that it not only changes our way of relating to each other, but it investigates very directly how we feel about ourselves. Every bully, every preacher leading his congregation into hate, every gay kid across the nation who feels all alone, every man who feels “icky” around gay people can benefit from self-inquiry. We have inherited unworkable, rigid roles of what it means to be a man or a woman. We are carrying around all sorts of stories of deficiency (I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy, etc). We live largely in fear of people that are different. And most of this, in my view, has nothing to do with other people. Once we really discover self-love and freedom from these false identities and fear, society will transform itself, without the need for the law to step in. We may be a long way from that kind of thorough inner investigation, but it is worth writing a thousand facebook posts to encourage it to happen.
We don’t inquire into self for others. We don’t do it to fix a broken society. We don’t do it to end racism, homophobia or other societal issues. We don’t do it to gain rights under the law. We don’t do it to feel better. We do it because we want to know what is really true about who we are. We do it because something within us is tired of living the lie that we are separate, limited, deficient people in a world where we have to fight each other just because we don’t know ourselves and we are not yet willing to face the fear that drives the fighting. When you are investigating the very foundation of self, true self-love and acceptance is possible. And that is very contagious. It transforms every one of your relationships. It changes the world you see because the world you see is largely a projection of what you believe about yourself.