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The Parable of the Skinny Brunette
Everyone who 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 concept.

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 porcelain bus.

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.


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