It catches my eye, Time magazine’s photo spread accompanying a story on the uptick in wildlife populations across the United States. A whitetail deer is caught in the glare of the camera’s flash while standing in a Wisconsin motel room; a moose wanders through the greensward of an Anchorage, Alaska apartment complex; a wild turkey perches on a patio table in a Twin Cities suburb; an 11-foot alligator curls up in the doorway of a home in Florida.
Of these, the photograph that most unnerves me is the gator guardian. This is in part because I have had little exposure to large-toothed scaly reptiles. Of deer there are aplenty in Indiana (though I’ve yet to meet one face-to-grill); I’ve spent enough time in moose country to have been warned off them, know to let them alone and not get between a cow and her calf; I’ve chased a wild turkey on foot down a state highway north of Kokomo; but I’ve never met an alligator in the flesh, much less given thought to stepping out of my front door and onto one.
It’s the old story: we fear what we do not know. We in the Midwest are famously afraid of living in California because an earthquake will some day deposit the entire state with a mighty splash in the Pacific Ocean. When the subject comes up we comfort ourselves with apocryphal tales of Californians who are deathly afraid of Midwestern tornadoes, icy roads or snow. All to say we’re better off than those poor schmucks. For pity’s sake, they even go so far as to think we’re the schmucks. We know better, of course. Our fears are justified. Theirs are misplaced.
Instead of wildlife, what if Time magazine had run four pictures of human beings? Whose portraits might the editors have chosen to unnerve the reader? I imagine a good many of my neighbors, former friends and colleagues might be spooked by photographs of LGBT persons. Sure, we’ve come a ways in acceptance and tolerance, but not so very far. Last week our local paper carried a news item about a man who attacked two male college students because he believed they were gay.
What is it to be a self-identified LGBT or Queer student at Taylor University today? Via the grapevine I hear mixed messages. According to some reports there’s a certain level of acceptance, at least among some students. Other accounts say the intolerance is widespread, not so very different than when I was declared persona non grata by what passed for the Taylor community. As one who has come to terms with his gender variance, I sometimes smile to think how very frightening I am to the uninformed, the willfully ignorant, the hidebound religious. (I am scary, of course. I challenge their beliefs, their stereotypes, their neat little ordered views of the world.) Ooo-woo. Big scary me. Better to push me out, put me down, to assault me or anyone else who threatens the received wisdom that puts heterosexism at the center of the known universe.
Are you following me? There’s some truth to what I’m saying—but do you hear it? There’s also a strong whiff of “For pity’s sake, at least I’m better off than those poor schmucks who are crazy enough to be afraid of me.” Damn. There are days I wish my world were as cut-and-dried, as us-and-them as I once made it out to be. It’s not. It never was. Never will be.
The fact remains, I’ll never be altogether free of the fear of the unknown. Until after I die, if then. What about you? Whom could the photo editors choose to feature if they were looking for people who would come across as scary to you?
Something to think about.