The rocky road from Awareness to Acceptance
In this article I'm going to try to put acceptance in some sort of context, in the hope that it will help us achieve positive outcomes as a community. Using quotes from the gay community as an example, I’ll try to illustrate how the attitudes of society might evolve over time.
Let’s start at the beginning of our journey to acceptance with ignorance.
What you don’t know can’t hurt you!
Ignorance, and its undistinguished partner, denial, is our starting point. If you are not aware that something exists then you have nothing to accept, and no reason to learn about it. If we look back over any contemporary issue such as gay rights, immigration, or the use of asbestos we find a time when sections of society were just not aware that the issue existed. And often those who had heard about the issue would deny it affected them.
The journey of educating society about gender diversity has to move people from ignorance by creating awareness.
In our contemporary society awareness is nurtured through stories on the internet, in print media, and on television. In this way someone can become aware of gender diversity by viewing trans themed stories in the media.
We can also become aware by being personally directly exposed to an issue for instance by personally encountering a gender non-conforming person by the freezer cabinet in Woolworths, or knowing someone who comes out.
Finally we can become aware of facts by absorbing information from documentaries and serious commentary. Knowledge about something can develop into understanding.
When someone is touched by the seeds of awareness they will become aware of other examples of gender diversity around them. We have all experienced a heightened awareness of a particular model of car that occurs after we have purchased one ourselves.
Although awareness certainly leads to more awareness, it would be a mistake to assume that this automatically leads to acceptance. There is a long journey from becoming aware of more men walking down the street holding hands, to accepting that gay marriage is justified.
Our journey to the acceptance of gender diversity starts with awareness, and the recent publicity about transgender stories has sown the seeds. But what might grow out from this new found awareness? I’d like to suggest three possible outcomes: Rejection, Tolerance and Acceptance.
If there is no compulsion or desire to embrace a negative or uncomfortable situation, then awareness will often lead to rejection. Rejection can also be the result of bigotry, a hardening of preconceived attitudes often re-enforced by religion and other belief structures.
According to Wikipedia, Toleration is the practice of deliberately putting up with, allowing or permitting something of which one disapproves. Toleration includes behaviours that we might sometimes describe as conditional or begrudging acceptance.
The motivation to tolerate something may stem from an underlying sense of fairness, a desire to avoid change, or perhaps a feeling that the issue is not important. In a relationship one partner may tolerate the other’s behaviour, but this carries with it no approval or support. That which is tolerated is often the subject of criticism and insults.
The road to positive acceptance is littered with attempts to force others to change their attitudes; by blackmail, by coercion, or worst of all by legislation. The outcome is frequently little better than a begrudging acceptance, and at worse total rejection.
Acceptance goes significantly beyond just tolerating something. Acceptance is a conscious assent to the reality of a situation and recognises something (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, or stop it happening. At its best, such behaviour is unconditional and freely offered.
Many of us look to a time when there will be wider acceptance of gender diversity in society. Such acceptance would value people for who they are without judging them against norms of others. It would be characterised by positive support and encouragement.
Like rejection and tolerance, acceptance can be a consequence of increased awareness. The circumstances that lead to this particular outcome are not widely understood. It is probable that acceptance is more likely when the change or situation is presented positively, in a way that mitigates fears. But there are other factors at play such as the influence of love, faith, or deeply held personal values. More significantly, it may also depend on the extent to which the situation or behaviour is understood.
Greater awareness can lead to unwanted rejection, unsupportive toleration, or to acceptance. One factor that might influence the outcome is the degree to which the public understands what they are aware of. Education might have a significant role in encouraging awareness to grow into acceptance.
Understanding is how we think about something and develop concepts to comprehend it. Understanding requires knowledge, but it goes beyond facts. Knowledge alone cannot lead us to observe and interpret our surroundings. The acid test for understanding is rather simple; if a person says they understand something, then they should be able to explain to others what it is that is understood.
In the context of seeking acceptance, understanding someone helps deal with unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations in a positive way. When you understand another person then you can relate to them and to what is going on inside them.
It is possible to tolerate or accept someone without understanding them. We all experience some fear when we encounter things we don’t understand, so acceptance without understanding rests on an impressive lack of prejudice and a live-and-let-live attitude toward life.
In the absence of understanding it is of course much easier to reject and seek the comfort of bigotry.
Conversely understanding does not guarantee acceptance.
The path from ignorance to a sympathetic acceptance of gender diversity starts with awareness. But what happens after that is less certain. It is a rocky road!
Historically we have found ourselves tolerated by some, rejected by many, and only accepted by a few.
The media is currently showing much greater interest in gender, resulting in an increase in awareness. Ensuring that this awareness flows through to acceptance may rest on informing the public understanding of gender.
Unfortunately few of us are able to explain what we understand about our gender, and our differing explanations reflect our own diversity. But without clear consistent understanding can we reasonably expect society to move to accept us?
This post is in my public blog if you want to share it outside TgR