Proximity brings a different dimension. You can assess this simply by using “it’s okay…”, rating on a 1 to 5 Likert scale for acceptance level. For example, accepting the existence of gay persons in society means that “it’s okay that gay people exist in our social fabric.” And so on, “it’s okay for a friend to be gay.”
Then comes Depth of Acceptance.
For closer levels, here’s where many of us get sorely disappointed.
It is also a reason why coming out is an ongoing process.
Most of us think that once our friends and parents express acceptance “it’s okay to be gay; we still love you and hang out with you and listen to your woes” means that the skies are cleared and we can live happily ever after. Well, that would be nice… but usually is not the case.
Many times, acceptance is superficial. I define superficial acceptance as a pretense that everything is fine, but when you ain’t around, they voice their disapproval. Or giving lip service that it’s fine, but not showing tangible acceptance. These friends are the least likely to defend your sexuality in the face of denigration. For family, it can be like “it’s okay you are gay as long as you don’t have a girlfriend/remain celibate”. This is also the stance of many homophobic churches who claim to be “gay-accepting”. “Oh, don’t be a parent, gay people are broken souls who cannot nurture the next generation…”
Greater acceptance comes about when friends genuinely welcome your partner into gatherings, show no discrimination among friends… These are usually the people who have taken on the identity of being fair-minded and advocate of equal rights. These are friends who will attend your wedding. However, they have not explored the nuances of their belief system. Aversive discrimination exist in this group i.e. unconscious discrimination.
Aversive discrimination means that in clear-cut situations, these people will act in favor of equal rights; but when situations are ambiguous, they may not act so because of underlying biases. For example, in the case of racism, a study was done on whites, to determine helping behavior towards a black man in the presence or without the presence of other people. The results: when the white participant is alone, helping behavior is the same for a white man in need of help or a black man in need of help. But when the white participant is among confederates, helping behavior fell to less than half when it’s a black man in need of help, but remains the same, when it’s a white man who’s in need of help. This shows that aversive discrimination has real effects on survival of discriminated groups- help when you need it most.
For friends and family, there’s an additional factor to tilt this- the bond. So most of us can still count on people who have superficial or greater acceptance to be here for us in tough times [issues that are not related to your sexuality that is].
Complete acceptance of a gay person is not just receiving her/him into your presence or co-existence. It’s not sexuality-harmony i.e. as long as people of different sexual orientations are living together in peace, that’s good enough. It’s the ability to be in the shoes of a gay person, to love completely and treat the person like anyone else. It takes strong empathy, the capacity to think out of rigid structures [to realize alternative realities] and the courage to go again the grain [even just mentally disagreeing]. Without any one of these 3 attributes, it’s almost impossible to have complete acceptance.
Complete acceptance seems elusive but it’s what many of us hanker after. Sometimes we grieve when people close to us promised us acceptance and then we found out it wasn’t quite “complete acceptance”… just a lesser version of it. I believe in fighting for equal rights and privileges for gay people- this is what complete acceptance means at societal level. Because rights is about the value of the human being; it’s about respect. But when it comes to closer levels like family and friends, complete acceptance becomes something more precious… because it’s voluntary effort on their part.
So the answer to “Anj, have you experienced acceptance with respect to your sexuality?” is:
Yes, to varying degrees.
Though i must say that i have yet to meet a straight person whom i have 100% confidence possesses complete acceptance of my sexuality. Nonetheless, it’s not casted in stone. Things will get better.