Why Progress Should be Praised

February 9, 2011 § 22 Comments

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on homophobic slangs and slurs.
To read part 1 click here
To read part 2 click here

You wouldn’t want to get beaten by some random homo,” my coach said, trying to invoke some form of energy from a teammate. Sitting on the center of an indoor track, we loosened up before our open 400 race. After 3 days of workouts we had both grown tired. 3 nights of restless sleep led to my unusually hazy mindset which forced me to question what I heard; eventually I grew certain. Upon further clarification my mouth began to hang agape and a feeling of perpetual free fall loomed in my stomach. 

I wasn’t offended as much as I was shocked by my coach’s usage. Having just written two posts about this exact thing, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the situation’s timeliness. It was a bitter moment, proving how relevant such things are to my everyday life.

Prior to the meet, I had debated what the third installment of an anti-homophobic slang series should be; now I honed in on an idea. A 5 step process of dealing with homophobia intertwined with my coach’s and my experience. It would allow me to laud my coach’s expected ease in acceptance and refusal to ever use such slang again. Surely it could be a positive example for all athletes and coaches. Fortunately, things did not pan out as well as expected – at least not at first. And through the experience I was reminded of the complexity of all situations and the greatness that lies in every small step towards progress. Sometimes we forget how even the first step towards acceptance can take the greatest amount of effort.

Before I continue, I want to clarify just how amazing my middle distance coach is. While he did slip up, his devotion to my teammates and me proves that he cares about us. None of my achievements would be possible without him and his unwavering support – the hours he spends every night planning workouts, his days lost to outdoor track meets, his late night pep-talks via text etc… If there’s one person on my team who is most accepting, it is him. This is why I have such a great respect for him, though my eye rolls at his jokes don’t always suggest it. I can say with certainty, he would never mean to offend one of his runners.

Step 1: Breathe.

The first step I would take more out of necessity than by choice: breathe. As I stood watching my coach, words failed to leave my mouth. One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths later I began to comprehend the situation and regain my composure. While we often want to react immediately in such situations, responding with a fonzie like poise is harder than it seems. Taking a few breaths to clear your mind can save you from responding offensively. The point of dealing with homophobic slangs should never be to get back at someone, but to further understanding and taking a breath is essential to this process.

Step 2: Examine the context.

Step two followed quickly after: examine the context. Some questions which I try to answer when observing such a scene – normally from a bystander perspective are: Who said what? How did he say it? To whom did he say it? Why did he say it? I admit it‘s easier said than done but the effort taken pays in large dividends. My coach was just trying to pump up my teammate, sure I couldn’t condemn him for that. He was just speaking my teammate’s language, not trying to be offensive. But I was put off. Realizing his intention did ease the perpetual free fall of my stomach and subsequently my mouth could finally close. This sort of understanding makes communication easier, and with a new mindset I decided to start a conversation with my coach…

3 days later. While I think an immediate response to such slang can be effective, my objective was to create progress – not equally put off my coach. Confronting him on his usage during a track meet surrounded by a mass of people is neither beneficial to him nor me and seems extremely counterproductive. Instead, I chose to wait till I could have a proper one on one conversation. These conversations are less offensive and intimidating and can be easier for both parties involved. This decision also allowed me to focus on my race – my reason for being at the track meet.

Step 3: Start a conversation.

After 3 days I texted my coach, asking if he was free for a chat. His name immediately popped up on my phone with a ringing symbol next to it. He was calling me. I admit to being nervous, not so much out of distress but because I wanted to talk to him in the right way – to not offend the coach I respected so much. At the same time I was excited, I was sure my coach would understand completely and jump alongside me.

We chatted about a basketball game, briefly about the previous meet, and then I asked him about his phrase. His immediate reaction was not what I expected – a short response saying he thought he said something else and an immediate topic switch. That was all. No “I’m sorry.” No “my bad.” Nada. And that is okay.

What my coach said clarified two things – the phrase he said to my teammate was negligible in his mind as it is in most people’s minds. He was using “locker room” speak and his lack of remembrance fortified my belief that he didn’t mean to be offensive. Furthermore, his reaction showed me he was offended but not because I was calling him out (I was politely asking him more or less). He was offended because he felt bad for putting off a teammate and that I truly appreciate.

Something I forget when talking to close friends and even coaches is that I can’t assume they’re immediate support – glorified by my imagination. While I knew my coach was anything but anti-gay, it was wrong for me to build up what his immediate reaction would be. The purpose of step 3 isn’t to have a conversation which accomplishes everything I could ever hope for – it is to start a conversation which over time will grow and can lead to further understanding for everyone.

Step 4: Give it time.

The one important part, perhaps the most important part, that I overlooked was the necessity of time needed to process our conversation. I doubt my coach had expected such a conversation, maybe he was shocked just like I was 3 days earlier. And while our phone conversation had not gone as well as expected – his text later that night surely made up for it.

He apologized for the comment, saying how he believed he did say “homo” and never meant to offend me, followed by his reassuring me that he’s not anti-gay. We texted more about the conversation and our track meet the next day until he began watching the super bowl. Perhaps all he needed was time. Isn’t that what we all need anyways? Before coming out I needed time to think. My parents need time to think still after 3 years. It doesn’t mean that progress wasn’t made. Immediate progress wasn’t made – true. But the conversation acts as a catalyst for further progress and that is how we should see it.

Step 5: Appreciate any progress made.

The next day at a track meet in NYC, my coach and I spent a good deal of time together – none of which was awkward. His conversation with all of us flowed easily and lacked any homo jokes or comments. Not that he usually peppers his speech with them, but it was nice to see none being used. Our 4×800 rewarded him with a broken meet record, new school record, and personal indoor prs for each of us. To say we were pleased is an understatement, as we all admitted how fortunate we are. We appreciated the opportunity to run well. The chance to run uninjured. The success which we had as a team.

In this same manner, we should appreciate any progress made when dealing with slurs and slang. While not as seemingly large as a new school record – each step should still feel like winning a medal at a race. Each step towards acceptance is progress and however small it may be we should be happy with it.

Ps. My coach is awesome.

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§ 22 Responses to Why Progress Should be Praised

  • [...] Craig's Gay Word Joining the journey towards equality, while spurring on conversation Skip to content HomeAboutContactUseful Sites ← Homophobic Slang and Slurs: Part 1 Why Progress Should be Praised → [...]

  • Jacob Woods says:

    That was advice on the epic scale of proportion. There were reasons why you waited for that third post so long. I am very glad you put it in this context. Great post and wow! Very motivating.

    You handled the situation perfectly. It was probably the best case scenario of conflict resolution I could have ever seen laid out.

    • Craig says:

      Thanks Jacob! As much as I wanted to post the 3rd part earlier, my desire to write the post correctly overpowered everything else – which I know you understand. Its a great feeling to see it go up. Expect a message tonight about this process and we can begin our debate on form!

  • David Lai says:

    I appreciate your willingness to talk to your coach – however unsettling the situation may have been – and that you are thankful and happy for every step of progress made. It is often forgotten that big changes can come from modest origins. With each step on the path towards acceptance, a subtle new perspective is formed; opinions change, morals strengthen, and people not only grow to accept, but also to appreciate and respect.

    Like you mentioned, time is needed for every subsequent step on the path. But, as Newton theorized, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. By helping your coach take one step, you may have set the pace for the rest to follow. Before you know it, his pace could accelerate past you and your teammates’ speed on the track!

    Keep up the great posts – you continue to amaze and stimulate my thoughts!

    • Craig says:

      “…could accelerate past you and your teammate’s speed on the track!” I hope so – and if that happens, we’re going to need to step up our training hahah! Thank you for the insightful comment David – I should have guessed you were a fan of Newton.

  • Kyle says:

    Great post, Craig! I really think that you’re number 3 (start a conversation) is spot on. I think a lot of times, after hearing a family member or friend make a disparaging remark, I just brush it off because I know that they’re not homophobic. But at the same time, it does offend me. I need to start more conversations with people close to me and let them know how their language is making me feel.

    • Craig says:

      Thank you Kyle and I know how it is – there’s definitely an internal push not to start “conflict” and confront family members about their usage. We know they love us, so why do we need to chase down every word that they use? But a polite conflict can allow for growth and is worth the potential friction.

  • Tim says:

    Hey Craig ,

    Cool blog by the way, found it this morning and i’m really happy I did!

    I played soccer in high school and played really well and decided to go away from home for college then decided to come back and go to school much closer to home (family issues but its all good now). So it gave me a chance to give back to my soccer team and started helping my coach who is retiring in a year or two. So now i get to stand next to him in a position of well…semi-authority, and now i get to here what he says about the the future of the team and some of the younger guys we have and its quit hilarious actually but one day on the sideline we were joking around about the kids and how the dress and carry themselves these days and he said “…just look at him, he looks like a faggot.”

    Yes, he was joking and i did laugh it off like it was nothing which is i have always done like it was blinking or breathing, but honestly it took me a really long time to pick up my jaw up off the floor after what i’ve heard.

    • Craig says:

      Thanks Tim – I’m glad you like the blog!

      I see you experienced the same shock I did – its almost unimaginable until you’re in that situation isn’t it? Thankfully my coach never meant it in malice and is one of the least homophobic people I now know. Still, I look forward to the day when no coach uses such slurs/slang offensively.

      It’s great to hear that you are enjoying what you love though, let me know how all this works out for you!

  • Barry says:

    I blog and write stories about bullying, teen suicide, coming out, etc. Presently one of my “pet projects” is a FB Cause to raise funds to support The Trevor Project, a 24/7 suicide hot line specifically for gay teens to call in times of need. After reading your stories and your excellent 5 point program on how to handle those “errant” homophobic statements thrown at us I have to commend you on your ability to handle the situations you talk about with such clarity, forethought, and especially…more emotional maturity than most of the ones who felt the need to use those kinds of remarks to begin with. My experience in life is that there are very few young people today who can empathize, rationalize, and reach such astounding and solid conclusions as you have regarding such a volatile subject. You are truly one in a million and I, along with many others, will be following you in the future as you become a shining light for the LBGTQ community and who knows what else. I’m placing a link to your page (with your permission) on my blog so people can read and follow your excellent advice and example of graciousness in the face of adversity. Thanks for being you, and thanks to your teammates for their support.

    • Craig says:

      You have my permission Barry, my full permission – and thank you for your kind words! I’ll be sure to pass your thanks on to my teammates tomorrow morning. While I may be one in a million now, I’m hoping this blog well help others find their own strength and clarity of thought.

      As for your cause, I would be happy to help out in anyway possible! The Trevor Project deserves as much support as I can give so if you have any ideas of how I can help, please feel free to email me with them!

  • Jacob Woods says:

    Tight! =)

  • Taylor says:

    This was absolutely wonderful to read. It’s so refreshing to read a blog about something that really matters. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  • Tim Bonham says:

    What is an “indoor prs”?

    • Craig says:

      Good question! An indoor pr is a personal record (pr) or best time for indoor track. Since I live in Pennsylvania we have both an indoor track season – where we race on a smaller indoor track as its too cold/snow to run outside, and an outdoor season which is run on a typical outdoor track. Currently we’re running indoor track but in a month once Nationals are done we’ll begin training for outdoor.

  • Kyle says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog and Im glad to know they’re are people out there who are okay with being who they are. I have reciently come out as a gay male at 22, and have found that most people dont seem to mind. I wish I had had the courage to come out and be myself while I was in highschool. This is a great thing your doing with this blog, and I hope it opens the doors for others who are dealing with the same issues. I am glad to see your couch eventually apologised, even if it was ‘locker speak’, it doesnt mean it cant have a negative impact on gay or bi individuals. Best of luck for the future.

    • Craig says:

      Thank you Kyle and congratulations!! Coming out at 22 is still much earlier than many of the people I know and I’m glad that you have been received so well thus far! Thankfully my coach did apologize and while I have yet to write about it, he and I have talked more about my sexuality and he has been extremely supportive. Hopefully sharing that story will help others as you mentioned – thank you for the comment!

  • Coach Brown says:

    You’re the man, Craig!

  • Sam says:

    Sorry, I commented on your other post already today but I’m new to this whole blogging thing and have been reading your top posts and they’re great! You speak and explain everything very intelligently and calmly- and this post stood out. Just the other day, my one friend (who knows I’m gay) said how a teacher we had last year referred to a Norwegian exchange student at our school by calling him “Norgay” (he has a nickname of “Norway”- the teacher is also one of his football coaches). He said this to his class. I got really mad, because I’m friends with the guy the teacher called “Norgay” and I just found it unacceptable. I started telling my friend how I would go up to the teacher’s classroom and tell the teacher it was unacceptable to say these things behind the guy’s back. Also he’s setting an example to his students that it’s OK to say these things when it’s not. Some of my anger faded by the time I went back to school, so I didn’t say anything. The thing is, I wasn’t there when he said it. I don’t know the context in which he said it, I don’t know if it’s a joke between him and the student (a not really funny joke though…) and maybe that didn’t even happen and my friends just heard a false rumor from the student that told her. I still feel the urge to just bring it up with the teacher, but it’ll be completely out of the blue and I have no desire to have an awkward conversation while other students may be in his class. It feels though like I’m letting myself, and other people who have to deal with this, down. But your post really helped me look at this situation calmly and with a clear head…though I still don’t know what to do. But anyways thank you so much for your blog- I really enjoy reading it! :)

    • Craig says:

      Don’t worry about it Sam, comment as much as you want to and I assure you I will get back eventually hahah. I’m glad you like the style of my writing and I can see why you would find the teacher’s homophobic remark as offensive. As you mentioned though, the context in which it took place is unknown to us and makes it difficult for us to judge. You could talk to more students within the class and attempt to figure out what was said – or there is always the option to talk to a counselor and just mention something. If it happens again it would be beneficial to have an account already on file saying that the teacher referred to a student as “Norgay.”

  • JC Sanborn says:

    For some reason this series popped up at the top despite not being your most recent post. It was interesting to go back and read it. I didn’t notice the date at first, so didn’t immediately recognize it as an old post, and my first thought was that Georgetown travels cheap! After I felt the ‘this seems familiar’ thing and checked the date, my second thought was, is history repeating itself with your Georgetown teammates? Are you having to teach your new teammates to be more aware of their choice of words?

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