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What happens when you try to suppress who you are? Many of us have had the experience since we needed to fit in, to please, to match an image in order to succeed. But what did we pay for our self-deception? Some became what they were projecting and now hardly remember who they were as children. A percentage will suffer early medical and/or emotional difficulties because being false can hollow a person out. Many will commit or endure violence.
The award-winning film THE POWER OF THE DOG presents a Western story that approximates the true-life of Thomas Savage, the author of the 1967 source book. The lead character Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is homosexual, but hides his yearnings beneath a cruel, macho, homophobic exterior. The lonelier he becomes, the meaner he grows. In contrast, his new sister-in-law’s son Peter (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) has been supported by the unconditional love of his mother, so he doesn’t feel compelled to hide. He suffers in silence as Phil leads the ranch hands in gleefully attacking him with insults and humiliations. However, Peter refuses to be a victim or to allow his mother to be destroyed.
Much of global society pretends gender differences beyond male and female are choices that demand to be prosecuted. And, as research discovered, much homophobia comes from denying one’s own uncomfortable tendencies out of fear. Likewise, hostility is heaped on those who seem to be different in other ways. The insecure huddle behind their facades of purity. The mainstream has been indoctrinated by emotional bullying to accept intolerance. No one wants to be rejected. Yet there are costs to be paid beyond violence and hatred. Not only do we limit our own possibilities, but we also force our society to lose benefits.
For one example, recently PBS hosted a documentary about FANNY, a highly successful 1970’s rock band that never made much money in spite of their talent because the members were female and Filipina. Two were lesbians. The others weren’t. Although they won overwhelming critical approval, the band members were vilified for being what one American man called “half-breeds.” To the delight of British audiences, their original songs often centered around feminist themes that challenged male ego. At one point their record company insisted they wear sexy clothes to market themselves as sex objects. The women moved to another label. The pressure was too much for the group and eventually exacerbated health issues as well as both artistic and personal problems. Currently, FANNY is doing their best to tour again in spite of their advanced ages, because modern audiences appreciate their great sound. The son of the drummer sits in for her as she recovers from a massive stroke.
Straight people can take a lesson from the persecution endured by so-called minorities. As we box and label others, we also box ourselves. We’ve squeezed into social identities that are more restrictive than corsets. The pandemic served to remind us that we’re more than what we do for a living. Although many are struggling to put the genie back in the bottle–forcing others to conform to their idea of what life should look like–others are realizing a burgeoning openness. Our true selves are multi-faceted. Like race, gender lines were cemented by fear and not biology. The old adage, “Don’t give too many options or the customer can’t decide,” is being tested. Will we allow our new choices–of ways to be or dress or earn a living–to seduce us into resenting those we perceive as being free? Are we so intimidated by our possibilities that we’ll hide behind old patterns? The pain of holding back the flood of change creates people who may go as far as murder or apathy about murder in their desperate struggle for control. And who will we be when no one is safe?