Toward the end of high school and early college, I began an admiration of Gandhi. I had a dim memory of my dad having watched the movie, which was very long, and ended with him being shot. As a teenager, the concept of Satyagraha, non-violent resistance to injustice, was appealing to me, as I believed in non-violence, pacifism, but not in acquiescing to evil. I had posters from Apple’s Think Different campaign on my walls at home, with black and white portraits of Gandhi, Jim Henson, Dian Fossey, and Miles Davis.
I stopped talking about Gandhi when my roommate, Pranav, told me that Indians hated Gandhi because of Partition, and that he was responsible for countless deaths as a result. I was embarrassed, I felt like a cultural appropriator.
I dropped the pacifism some time after 9/11; one of my religion professors made a comment about how “it’s all well and good to use non-violent resistance against the British, who could be shamed into doing the right thing, but it’s different with truly evil people, like the Nazis.”
Our Chaplain did not hold this viewpoint, and conducted demonstrations, like having students lay on the jaywalk as if dead, with fake blood, one in the American flag. The anti-war protest seemed insulting in light of 9/11, and unmanly. I felt uncomfortable with it. My ultra-conservative friend Bob went to the student with the flag and told him the American flag should never touch the ground.
I wanted to be a part of the left-wing groups on campus, but I didn’t really fit in. They were art majors, they spent all their time together in Small Living Units. Their clothes were more ragged, more thrift store inspired, more safety pins and handmade accents. There was a girl I liked, Lisa, with short hair and left wing views, who seemed to like me. Because of her, I showed up to NARAL’s screening of The Ciderhouse Rules at the House of Peace and Justice. I was the only guy there. The movie affected me, and I decided I would be pro-choice, because pro-life seemed pro-conformity, and I was against that. Before the 2000 presidential election, I helped put coat hangers everywhere on campus, with a xeroxed picture of a fetus from an illegal abortion. The point seemed to be that George W. Bush’s election would take away safe abortion rights, and we would return to the days of back-alley abortions.
We chalked the walk, using sidewalk chalk on the main campus thoroughfare; Pranav really enjoyed when I wrote “George Bush doesn’t have a vagina!”
I went with Lisa and a group of people one Friday night, and we watched Chasing Amy with a group of people, and ended up at Sigma House, where my brother Eric was rush chair. While we were at the party, one of the guys, John, asked if he could kiss me. I said no, got embarrassed, and went home. The message I got from the night was, Lisa wasn’t into me, but thought I might be gay, and John wanted to take the opportunity to see if he could get me. I felt like an idiot.
I was pretty homophobic back then, as were most of the guys. Macklemore summed it up, “gay was synonymous with the lesser.” People thought I was gay because I was small and thin, I smiled a lot, I played music, and wasn’t really aggressive.
There was a wedding in New Mexico I attended with my brothers Eric and Craig. Eric and I got to know the string quartet who played at the ceremony, and after the wedding, we went back to their hotel and got in the pool with them. The violist who I thought was really attractive was hanging on me, hugging and kissing me. I told her I wasn’t into premarital sex. She got pissed and stayed away from me for the rest of the night, even after I apologized. Eric thought this was great, and told everyone in Sigma about how I turned down this girl, and how it was proof I was gay. I think it was his own jealousy of me, which is one of his prime motivators still.
When I started seeing Concetta, Eric’s girlfriend Cora told her and an elevator full of girls how great it was that we were spending time together. “He was doing all this stuff, like running, and meditating, and giving away his stuff! We thought he was gay!” I didn’t hear this story for a couple years after Concetta and I were together, but it still seems shitty to me.
My feelings on homosexuality evolved over time. Craig came out to us a few years after I graduated, and we all tried to be supportive. I voted in support of gay marriage in 2004, which pissed Concetta off, because her family was really conservative. I think it was probably in 2008 or 2009 when I really got over my homophobia.
Last year, I was on LSD at a music festival, and I had a breakthrough on the issue. I was watching people, one of the guys who was wearing eye makeup, tight shorts, and angel wings. My mind told me he was gay, and then he went up to a beautiful woman and kissed her, and they held hands and held each other, and I realized they were together. I asked myself, “why did I think he was gay?” The answer came, “because he’s beautiful.” And I thought about that for awhile. I thought to myself, “maybe that’s what people having been saying all these years when they called me gay, maybe it’s a guy’s way of saying that another guy is beautiful, and he makes him feel confusing feelings.”
I eventually joined Sigma with my brother. The more I did with the fraternity, the less time I spent with the arts groups. I got further and further away from the left wing activities as time in college went on.
My social and political philosophy class, I think I offended the professor when I asked her guest if she was blaming the victim when she was describing America’s sins as precipitating 9/11. The professor came to me afterward and asked me about it, and I made some lame defense about how I was just doing like Socrates, and trying to get conversation going. I felt like I let her down. I did an independent study with her my senior year, on the banality of evil as seen in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem; I got a B on it, and probably should have tied it into Abu Ghraib, which was going on at the time. I’m good at missing the obvious.
This is kind of what college is purported to be about. Self acceptance, and thereby the acceptance of others, by way of self-examination.
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