Every bigot I’ve ever met has insisted they are not a bigot. They usually have a speech prepared, something very eloquent and verbose detailing all of the many objective and concrete reasons they are not a bigot, and they will deliver this speech right before saying something incredibly bigoted. The technical definition of bigotry is intolerance towards people with different opinions. The way I see it is a bigot is someone who is looking for an excuse to be a jerk.
I was nineteen when I started playing with the HMSC Tecumseh Naval Reserves band. I was a civilian member, to become an official member I had to go through basic training. The band was a good group of people and I had a lot of fun touring with them, we played at events all over the province, parades and legion halls etc. Months went by and I wasn’t hearing back from the recruiting office about basic, by the time things got sorted out it was too late to enroll.
The Tecumseh naval base is located smack in the middle of the prairies, why we have a naval base in a landlocked province is a long and boring story. What’s relevant is that they shared the base with an army reserve unit, the 746 Comm Squad, and their basic training was still accepting recruits. So I joined the comm squad, and initially it was a really positive experience. I was steadily mastering the act of presenting myself as a ‘normal’ human being. Of course a few cracks were still showing.
It was mostly little things, despite my efforts to present as tough and manly the reality is I’m pretty sensitive, my reaction to certain situations was enough to draw a few disapproving eyes. Another issue was my bunkmate, who was initially quite keen on the idea of comrades in arms, buddies watching out for each other through thick and thin. He asked me about all the women I had been with. I was twenty years old, tall and fit, and had never been with a woman. Needless to say his enthusiasm for camaraderie diminished with that revelation. He was never openly hostile, but definitely less friendly.
Most of the people I went through basic with were pretty great, though I did have a few vocal detractors among my peers. Our leaders were of course professional but I got the distinct impression that none of them thought much of me. People aside, basic (as it was called) was a lot of fun, particularly the field training, which was essentially camping but we got to carry rifles. When all was said and done I returned to Calgary with some new skills and a number of good friends.
It was because of those friends that I held off transferring to the navy reserves. I was still playing with the band, which practiced on Wednesday nights and a weekend gig every few weeks. The army reserves met on Thursday nights (I might be getting those backwards, but whatever) and went on weekend field exercises about three times a month. I was going to school full time, which meant that my free time was Monday and Tuesday night, sometimes I would have a Sunday evening off as well. It was exhausting.
My grades suffered, money was becoming an issue and my self-confidence was at an all time low. By November it became clear that I simply couldn’t keep up with both reserve units, so I submitted an application for transfer. I mentioned that I had a number of good friends and a few vocal detractors when I came back from basic. Well the scales shifted after I requested the transfer. Imagine if two rival sports team shared the same stadium, their locker rooms are within shouting distance of one another, and a player shows up one day wearing the ‘wrong’ jersey.
Discrimination is an insidious thing, people only do what they think they can get away with, they tell themselves their actions are warranted. There were a few things said to my face and quite a few more behind my back. When you hear the same comment from different people on different days you know you’re being talked about. Also I was given a fair amount of seemingly vindictive work detail, not because of the transfer of course, but for you know, ‘reasons’. Oh and the comm squad denied my transfer, something that is normally seen as a formality. They said I would have to resubmit the application and wait another few months.
This is about the time my life fell apart, I eventually dropped out of school and simply stopped going to either reserve unit (note that you can’t just stop going to the reserves, I had to go in and sign a form. They said they let me off easy, if they wanted to they could have pressed charges but anyway…). Some people are just jerks, they are looking for an excuse to be cruel, that doesn’t mean they aren’t on to something. The comments hurt, but worse it added to the mounting evidence that I was a failure, worthless. Wrong.
Obviously I was broken, and no amount of effort would make me normal. That was the only time I cut myself, and I gave some serious thought to suicide. The reason I didn’t was my family, I’ve read studies that indicate a supportive family drastically lowers the rates of suicide, and I have a good idea as to why.
If not for the love from my family and friends I don’t know if I would have made it this far. Discrimination is awful and unacceptable in any context, attempts to justify it are an even greater offense. Sometimes when I tell someone they are hurting me they stop, and may even apologize. Others have tried to tell me why I deserve it. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that their response says a lot more about them than it does about me.