Written by Dillan Trojan, (Wofford College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Kunming, Fall 2015
I sit across from an old woman in my friend’s apartment. I’m here to gather her opinions and the information she knows and believes. “How do I feel about those people, the homosexuals? Oh there’s no way we could ever accept that. They’re disgusting. That’s what we all think. It’s just disgusting.” The words come out as surely and steadily as if she had said this every day of her life, and I know she fully believes it. It’s like she looks at my progress as a human being in the last two years of my life and decided to spit in my face. And I couldn’t be happier. I wipe off her dirty words with grin – tell me more. Tell me why?
I love the research topic I chose for my semester in China because of how much it’s contributed to my personal growth. I’m studying the ‘current living situation of homosexuals in China’ and focused my research paper topic to “An Analysis of Homosexual Sex Culture in China,” which is a very interesting topic being a homosexual from a completely different social structure and cultural background. I’ve read some texts and a couple books to gather information on where their situation came from. This can give some more factual context to what it’s like to be gay in a very special country like China. As far as my general topic, the current state of things, I’ve chosen to get a good bit of that information from stories and from interviews from locals – gays, straights, and their dogs and cats – doesn’t matter. I’m so grateful for the amount of perspective that it gives me. I’m researching this topic, and at the same time, I’m taking a one-on-one class (literally constructed just for me) about Classical Chinese culture, philosophy, and literature. Combined with another in which we’ve spent a good amount of time discussing how China developed into the powerful nation it is now, I’m fascinated.
So when I began researching my topic, I was absolutely blown away by the information I was reading and getting from discussions with my very knowledgeable tutor. Blown away in a bad way – I couldn’t handle it. Why doesn’t everyone else understand me and see things like I do? I wasn’t educated enough to look beyond the facts I was presented, as terrible and sad as they may sometimes be. One of the first homosexual males I interviewed in China essentially told me “There’s nothing we can really do. There’s no way anything remotely close to the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. will happen, so the only thing to do is move away and never come back.” I was excitedly curious and wanted to know more about my topic and kept asking “what?” Now I’m asking “why?” and it’s so much more fulfilling.
All students in my program are required to find a research topic, do some surveys, and read up on the topic. But I’ve found that some students haven’t truly learned from their research, as they were only looking at the topic from their own point of view, trying to prove themselves right. When going into these sorts of projects, it’s incredibly important ask why things are the way they are, rather than fight something just because of the way it is.
My favorite interviews are those with average citizens that are totally against the idea of homosexuality. I learn the most from them because I get a new look at a perspective completely different from mine. Sure, a lot of these sorts of opinions come from a lack of education on the topic, as well as them inevitably representing a point in history in which culture is developing slowly.
I will spend all day opposing someone for forcing their culture and their beliefs on someone else – it doesn’t matter if I agree with them or not. However, I’ve come to the realization that fighting those that are uneducated, those that maybe not worldly, or have not had the opportunities or exposure that I’ve had is not at all constructive, and isn’t helping anyone. I want to help. I want to educate the world on issues that I believe are important. The first step is self-awareness, the next step is interpersonal awareness, and just acceptance. People are the way they are for a reason. If you want to change someone’s mind, you need to look at their personal background and see how they developed. If you want to change a culture, you have to look at its roots. Be grateful for being forward thinking, and again, use that forward thought constructively.
To a degree, my generation has kind of lost hold of the concept behind “everyone is entitled to their own opinion”. The world is full of racism, the world is full of hate, and the world is not accepting. Perfect. Everyone is still entitled to their awful opinions. I have a couple, and I’m sure you have some too. The greatest people were born out of diversity because it gave them purpose. However, what we do with that sense of purpose needs to be effective and we can’t just cry about having our feelings hurt anymore. Let’s educate ourselves, grow some thicker skin, and see how we can educate others and make some change. This is the whole purpose of entering an academic environment.
So I sat in front of a 65 year old Chinese woman who told she thinks the gays are disgusting, but I could take it. I wanted to know more. She doesn’t understand, she told me (because I cared to ask). She doesn’t understand why homosexuality exists or what it really means, so she just keeps introducing the handsome boys in her apartment complex to pretty girls – after all, they’re almost forty, the two of them need to marry someone.
It is fine, I’ve heard much more horrible things from other people. She was just a cute old woman that invited me to her apartment to hang out any time.
Hearing such a strong opinion would usually make me question myself, or get angry and want to educate them by force. There’s no better feeling than telling someone how much better you are than they are, right? Although she has no idea she was talking about me, it’s like she looked at my ‘lifestyle’ and my happiness and just spit right in my face. Awesome. I’m learning so much from you.