|The Parable of the Skinny Brunette
has ever come out to anyone, especially to parents, has surely gone through
this scene: You say you're gay and somewhere in the middle if you're still
having a conversation, regardless of the volumne, the other person will say,
"I just don't understand."
That point, of course, an insect would have snagged by now. We already
*know* you don't understand. What is puzzling to us is *why* you don't
understand. Affection is not a difficult concept. Attraction is not a
difficult concept. Empathy is another matter. Shifts of perception require
some effort. It's not that these folks are stupid exactly. It's that there's
this "aha moment" that they've not allowed to happen, usually due to pure
laziness. This is not solid geometry, but it's close. It takes some mental
effort. It's as if there is this chasm between certain neurons in the
person's brain. He understands how he can be attracted to his wife, but he
can't make the mental leap to see how you might be. Or say this obtuse soul
is a woman. She can fathom why she sees Brad Pitt as the father of her
children, but can't understand why you as a lesbian would rather have Jodi
Foster parent yours. The combinations and permutations are endless, but you
get the picture.
In my travels, in presentations to college groups and others, I've used this
little parable to help people have a tiny aha. You are welcome to borrow the
First of all, the person you're talking to has to have an imagination in
order even to listen to parables. Otherwise, this and nearly all other
conversations with this soul will be less than useless. If the person will
shut up long enough to let you lead them through this, you begin your topic
sentence with, "Imagine a world where...." Watch the person carefully. If
the person's eyes glaze over this early in the process, it's probably best
just to attempt an escape unscathed. Intelligence is essential to
imagination, imagination is essential to empathy, and empathy is essential
to understanding. (See how this is sorta like solid geometry?)
Now then, here is the parable. With small changes of pronouns and examples,
this works with any reasonably intelligent person, but for the sake of
coherent syntax, lets say I'm talking to a straight man:
Me: Tell me one thing, preferably one physical thing, about a woman that is
an absolute yuck to you. Something that you just could not get past in order
to be attracted to her. Something that would just about make you hug the
Guy: Nothing. I like em all.
Me: Come on. There has to be something.
Guy: Ok. Skinny brunettes. My older sister is a skinny brunette and she used
to throw these teensie flower pots at my head when we were little. Sometimes
she didn't miss. (I think this may be part of the problem, but I don't say
this.) I love round, blond women. (He looks off in the distance, and I
realize that he does indeed have the ability to picture a limited number of
things in his mind. There's hope.)
Me: Then close your eyes and imagine a world where the entire female
population consists of skinny brunette women. All of them. As far as the eye
can see. At least in your country. Occasionally a girl will be born who is
blond, but her parents die her hair brunette the day they discover this
horror. Say she tends toward roundness when she grows into adolescence. Her
parents, the government, advertising, the church, her school, all her
friends are so insistent on skinny brunettes that the girl gets anorexic and
buys stock in Revlon.
Guy: This is kinda hard.
Me: I know this hurts, but help me out a little. You try with your entire
being to like skinny brunettes, but it's just not there. You even marry one.
For one thing, everything around you, all written history, everything on
television, everything all your life says there's no alternative, so you
believe it. And in any case, you can't *find* any alternatives because
you're not allowed to look. Everybody who's not naturally a skinny brunette
is hiding. Or has moved to another country. You know something is missing in
your life, but you just can't put your finger on it. Or you might have this
sneaking suspicion that round blonds exist. But you can't find them. Wanting
something you can't have takes a toll on your life, on your marriage. Your
wife can't help it that she's not round and blond, but she senses she can't
really get close you you and she doesn't know why. And you can't tell her
what the problem is. *If* you *know* what the problem is. Otherwise, you
spend most of your life in denial that you like round blonds. You feel
cheated. Your wife feels cheated. You don't particularly like your children
because they are both skinny and brunette. How do you feel? How does it feel
to be forced to live a lie inside a world that says your personal,
individual concept of what's attractive is sick, even evil?
Guy: Uh, not too good. I wanna go to Sweden.
Me: Exactly. Sweden is your equivalent of a gay bar.
At this point, I see a small, yet hopeful beam of light flicker somewhere
behind his eyes. It is true that people have a difficult time understanding
a new concept when they think it has no relevance in their lives. If they
have an inclination toward empathy, it's because they work at building this
complex structure of understanding. They will work at it if the universe
gives them some reason to expend the effort. Like a child they love. Or a
friend who cares enough to help them dig the foundation.
Affection is not a difficult concept.