The Search for Empathy
It’s not everyone’s dream to make an impact on history. Those of us who wish to build something that will outlive us have a hard time seeing that. It’s easy to see, once thought about for a few moments, that some people just want to live their lives to the fullest, be that doing nothing to impact history or do something grand quietly, and then go quietly into death having known that they did what they wanted and that’s all that they wanted.
Those of us who fear death want nothing more than to let our names live on beyond us, so we’re not forgotten. I myself want to build a queer musem because I believe it is necessary and yet, equally as important, so that I’ve done something with my life that will out live me. These two things live inside of me, coexisting yet opposing. All humans are like that, walking contradictions, it’s hard not to be.
We can be anything and everything and yet nothing at all. We are presidents and low wage workers, we want to do good by sometimes doing wrong. We are both a means to an end and an end to the means. Important cogs that live meaningless lives. This duality is normal, human, something we can’t help even if we wanted to.
As such, we have a hard time seeing other people as contradictions through our own problems. We often see people as either one thing or another, never both. We are either that kid from math class or that queer kid.
This website seeks to ease that hard line. To show that people can be queer and something else entirely. For those in the community, this isn’t such a hard thing to teach because they will relate to one historical figure or another, look up to them and see themselves and what they could be.
But what about those outside of the community? Why should they care? Will telling them that their favorite historical figure is gay change everything for them or is it just another neat fact about them? Will it shed a positive or negative light?
Who is this website for? Who am I trying to reach?
I’m reaching out to the young queer who might not know it yet. I’m reaching out to the old queer whose known for years and loves it and themselves. I’m reaching out for the queer whose hiding away, desprite to know that they’re not alone. I’m reaching for the queer in the closet and is dead set on staying in there.
But I’m also reaching for the non-queer whose accepting. I’m reaching for the non-queer whose questioning. I’m reaching for the non-queer whose not accepting. I’m reaching for the hard crowd.
Why? Well, history isn’t just one sided. As much as there were queer people, there are non-queer people. People who interacted with queers and came away with some sort of feeling, good or bad. Because reaching for that crowd is hard, and I want to do the hard thing, no matter how scary it might be.
I want to educate everyone. Not just the queers, but also the non-queers who may never understand but who can come to accept.
It’s often said that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to have empathy. Not sympathy, empathy. I want to raise the level of empathy people have for one another because even one queer can be nasty to another.
We are not alone in this world, we must interact with each other. We must work together no matter the background and beliefs we hold. Non-queers are going to interact with queers, that’s just how statistics work. Ignorance can make us think otherwise, but empathy really allows us to know.
Know that we’re not the only person in the world. That people don’t just stop existing once they leave our sight. Someone, somewhere, is always doing something that makes the world go around.
Perhaps that’s my argument, that there’s little empathy in the world for queers and I want to raise it. Maybe it’s accepting that there always will be contradictions in this community and the only way to bridge that gap is to teach people about each side and how neither is wrong.
To build empathy is not an easy task. It requires great skill and a lot of patients. But, in the end, to be understood, no matter the contradictions, is the goal of most humans on this planet.
How do you build empathy? How do you get across to someone stuck in their ways that there is more to the world than just their view point? How do you get people to see that hurting others, indirectly or not, is a bad thing?
Wealthy Americans boast about their lack of empathy. They talk about their wealth and place in society as if getting there didn't hurt many, many people and staying there didn’t continue an endless cycle of oppression.
Wealthy Americans aren’t the only ones affected by these views. Lower class Americans see it much the same. They didn’t work hard enough, they didn’t do the right things. They didn’t invest the right way and in the right things.
And this can be universal, from every race, creed, and existence. When you grow up with these expectations for how life should go, they become ingrained in the mind and when they are not achieved, guilt becomes a default emotion.
I came from an upper middle class family. My mother came from a lower class family and my father rode on the ‘American Dream’ for years and years, never realizing that the American Dream he was living was one paid for by ancestral (European) wealth. There was no ‘American Dream’ for my family, on either side.
My mother’s family was poor when they got here and they were poor when she met my father. My father’s family was wealthy when they got here and they were wealthy when he met my mother. But there’s this difference between them besides all that.
Empathy. My mother is full of it. She understands that people can be bad and good and different all at once. She may have been the first to say “it would be easier if you were just gay” when I came out as transgender but she was the first in the family to say “That’s my son.”
My father still uses my dead name and pronouns, almost innocently. Like he’s forgotten. Like it’s trivial. It’s not that he completely lacks empathy. He gets it right sometimes and others not. He understands some wrongs in the world but he’s blind to their prevalence.
He believes in the ‘American Dream’. A dream that never really existed in the first place, save for a chosen few. He believes that racism isn’t as big a problem as it used to be. He believes its easy to be queer.
As I said, he does not lack empathy, he can feel for people, once he gets to know them and even then, he’s blind in some aspects. No, it’s a lack of awareness in his empathy. Awareness that there are things that he will never experience because he came from a wealthy, white, European family.
I always found it odd, his belief that he was a part of the American Dream when his grandfather came to America with servants. That wealthy European money paid for his college and the schooling of all of his siblings. There never was an American Dream for him. They were wealthy when they came. They were wealthy when they stayed. And, he is wealthy now.
He and I get into arguments over this. He claims I lived the American Dream as I sit here struggling to make ends meet. My grandfather paid part of my tuition, he says as if I’m not acutely aware. He fails to see that, that is no American Dream.
My mother, on the other hand, always knew how to pinch pennies. When her family arrived in America, they had nothing but the land they settled on and they made something of it. However, not entirely to their benefit. There was never a point in her family history (and she’s done extensive studying into this history) in which they were wealthy. They were always lower class.
And that translates to something interesting. When my parents met, my father had gotten himself into all kinds of debt with his previous wife. If it wasn’t for my mother’s life up until that moment, they would still be in debt.
My father, despite having big, bucks as a child, never really learned how to deal with money. My mother talks to him about money all of the time, but she’s the one making the final decision.
And yet, having been poor, he still believes in the American Dream. That one can pull themselves up by their boot straps and make something of themselves.
But, he had the same job, just poor money management. He still had that higher education my mother would never see. He still had a high paying job, he was still working, yet they were in debt. Debt he didn’t create for himself. There are details I’m leaving out, of course, but the debt was not his own. He personally did nothing to create it, but he was forced under it regardless, and yet, he still believes that ‘pulling himself up by the bootstraps’ was what got him out of it.
It wasn’t his job. It was my mother saving every penny where she could. My mother who spent her life like this, scrounging for money and food and attention. That’s not the ‘American Dream’ we’re taught and it’s not the one I supposedly had.
He has no empathy for me in terms of money. He doesn’t see that the minimum wage isn’t high enough. He doesn’t see that I’m struggling because no one cares about the lower class.
I have no idea how to make him see it either. How do I change a lifetime of belief? How do I convince him that he has never had the ‘American Dream’ and neither have I? That his wife never did either?
There were choices that were made, and there were things completely out of our control. I landed where I am because of things I could not, can not, and never will be able to completely control. A crashing economy, a startling lack of empathy from those at the top, and, most of all, a mental disorder no one could have predicted.
Maybe I could have been better off had the situation been better. Had I not been forced into the lower class by these things beyond me and you would think he would understand that, having been placed under huge amounts of debt due to no fault of his own and yet, he doesn’t.
The only thing we can understand about each other is history and even that is at odds. I can see him squirm when I mention queer history. He’s unfamiliar with it and it's a forgien concept to him in many ways. He does not hate queers, to be clear, but he clearly is not comfortable with them.
How do I get him to see things from my perspective? How do I make him see that this ‘American Dream’ that he had was nothing more than European wealth? How do I make him see how it hurts?
He is not a bad parent, let me make that clear, just a clueless one. He doesn’t want to hear that he’s wrong in many ways and that’s true for a lot of people. It is like talking to a brick wall when I try to explain my world to him.
He is invested in my life and yet not. I am his child whom he does love, but yet I have taken a path he cannot follow nor understand. He’s accepted it, begrudgingly, and because my mother would kill him if he didn’t. Yet, there is this disconnect between us that neither of us know how to reconnect.
I’ve seen it his way. I grew up his way. I grew up with money and the knowledge that hard work gets you to where you’re going. Yet, I am being failed by things he cannot see and I cannot seem to magically make appear for him.
How do I bridge this gap? How do I increase his empathy? If I talk, will he listen? Perhaps we need to have a full out argument (something my mother is desperately trying to avoid because it scares her and for that I cannot blame her). Maybe we really need to have a conversation but it cannot be one sided.
He cannot tell me I am wrong because I know I am not. And I cannot tell him he is wrong because he knows he is not. We need to meet in the middle but if one side is unwilling, how can the conversation even begin?
I can do everything I can, and I can’t do it all. I cannot fully answer this question and I don’t think any single person can. It does take a village, after all.
I can, however, make information more accessible. I can give people an experience that will stick with them, that they’ll think about, that they’ll try to wrap their mind around. And maybe, that will change some minds, build some empathy.
Maybe I won’t be able to really get through to my father. Maybe I can’t change how he sees me or the world we live in. But I can try. I can give over the information as much as I can, in the little ways to avoid an argument and start a conversation. Maybe that’s all I can do, and maybe, hopefully, that can be enough.