By Jef Catapang
The phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has always bothered me. First, because what does that even mean? Second, because yes, you can. The idea that homophobia is entrenched in visible minority/immigrant communities bothers me, even if it’s true, because it is also entrenched in other, whiter households. And the idea that homophobia can’t be rooted out from our cultures offends me, because it means that our cultures are dead and ancient, written down and stove-hardened.
When I say I was homophobic in my early Mississauga high school years, I mean it. I don’t mean I just cracked gay jokes, or that I thought disrobing in the boy’s change room was pretty awkward. I don’t mean that I was homophobic in the way many young straight males are when going through puberty and facing real-life sex for the first time—the kind of homophobia that peters out at “ick” and doesn’t ever really go further. I mean that the idea of gay people disgusted me and I didn’t want any around me. I mean that I avoided good people I used to be friends with. I mean that being gay seemed to me one of the worst things a person could possibly be.
What got me to change my views isn’t surprising: someone close to me came out of the closet and my love for them so dwarfed whatever hatred I had for gay people that my brain couldn’t ignore what its Asian math skills were computing. (Working at a Starbucks helped, too. If you can avoid making friends with gay people while working at a Starbucks, I’ll give you one hell of a giant cookie. May you get diabetes from it.) Did I still think the idea of two guys kissing was gross? Yes. Did it finally hit me how incredibly stupid it is to form opinions on an entire group of people simply because the thought of them having sex made me gag? Well, I realized that there’s a whole lot of people I don’t ever want to watch have sex, and I don’t hate them either. Like, you know, my parents.
My parents are old dogs, but they are learning new tricks every day. I’m going to concentrate on my father here, because it’s his example as “a man” that concerns me while on this topic. Watching my old-dog dad age is so incredibly valuable for me. In his retirement, he’s learned how to ballroom dance, kept up with computer technology and become a DJ. (True story.) I’ve also seen him learn and ask questions about everything from post-9/11 Islam to, yes, homosexuality. I’ve seen his opinions change.
Maybe it’s just me being young and idealistic, but I believe in giving people time and space to grow, because it’s the only way I’ve ever grown and it’s how I’ve seen others do the same. My parents grew up with a lot of nasty ‘isms, but to say that someone is ignorant and will stay ignorant just because they’re already “old” and they come from an “old world” is itself its own kind of ‘ism. They call it maturation because it takes time. That’s unfortunate maybe, but it’s also amazing in its own way. My parents are/were everything you think of when you think “minority parents.” What they aren’t, though—and what I never want to be—is ever standing still.
Not everyone will change, but I take it as truth that everyone can. I know because I’ve done it, and I plan to keep doing it, and you’ll never catch me saying it’s in spite of my background or upbringing. I’ve learned that sexuality can be pretty fluid. I’ve learned that a lot of other things, like culture, can be as well.
I’m not entirely sure I’ve nailed my feelings on this topic. I feel like maybe I’m not using the right words. Consider this a rough draft of something I’ll write a better version of later in life, when I’m something of an old dog myself.