Acceptance vs. Tolerance

I was raised in a home as the oldest sibling of four and a single mom.  My father left when I was six for reasons unknown to me, although I was aware of arguments and fights but not the specifics.  My mom started a long-term relationship with a man whom I consider my step-father.  He was in our lives for about eight years before he left as well.

During those years, even the early ones, I knew I was different, not in the way that makes you obviously stand out, but inside, where it is harder to notice those details.  There I was, six years old, with pig tails or braids, noticing the pretty little girl that sat behind me.  Growing up, I was taught that being gay was a sin and that you would be punished. Imagine my fear, utter horror, to learn that I was physically attracted to girls.  It was a dark secret that I held inside.  This secret that I held between God and I spilled out one day while my sister and I cleaned the bathroom.  She didn’t seem surprised as I, in tears, confessed my biggest fear, my deepest secret.  She accepted me and never treated me any different.

Many years passed before I told anyone else.  Being the oldest sibling comes with so much responsibility.  In my eyes, I was responsible for my two sisters and brother.  It was up to me to protect them and show them how to be a good strong person.  Eventually I came out to my two best friends who could care less if I was gay, straight or bi or any other color in between!

At this point in my life, I learned that I could not be any other way than who I was.  I learned that no one else made me but God and God made me exactly the way I am.  I am Puerto Rican, a woman, a lesbian…He made me with dark hair and cinnamon skin.  I cannot be any other way than this.  To me, learning to accept myself and let go of living in fear meant understanding that God creates us the way we are and knows that we can handle living just like we are if we just accept ourselves and love ourselves for who we are.

Once I realized this, a giant weight lifted off my shoulders and I was born a new freer person.  Only one roadblock stood in my way and that was my mom.  Unknowingly she spewed words that made me fear telling her about my being gay.  Many more years passed until the moment came when I had to tell her.  Every piece of me just had to come clean with my mom and I just couldn’t keep it locked up any more.  To this day, part of me feels like a part of her knew this day would come.  She did not accept me so readily as the others did.  I  knew that coming out to her meant coming out to my whole family and one by one I faced them.  I was facing them without the half mask I wore.  I was completely free.

It has been twenty years since I came out to my mom and I’ve categorized people into three groups in situations like this.  There are those who will not accept me, those who will accept me and those who will tolerate me.  The non-accepting people are obvious.  To me, acceptance happens without question, total, open-armed.  Tolerance is about dealing with the person because you want them in your life or for whatever reason.  Tolerance means not pushing that person away and allowing them to remain because you feel is what you need to do or have to do.

I made the differentiation when my mom decided to tolerate me.  She never stops reminding me that she tolerates my wife because she loves me.  She tells me that she “accepts” my wife because she loves me.  This, to me, is tolerance not acceptance.

I am blessed enough to have people in my life that accept me wholeheartedly: My sisters and brother, my grandmother, my aunts.  These people show me that I am me and that to them being married to a woman is part of what makes me me.  My mom on the other hand tells me that she loves me despite of who I choose to love.  This distinction is the difference between acceptance and tolerance.

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