Whenever homosexuality is discussed (which it must be until society comes to terms with it), some people reply, “In my day, these things existed but nobody spoke about them.” Suggested in this statement is the demand that people mustn’t discuss or name sexual issues today. As long as nobody speaks about it, it doesn’t disturb The Matrix.
Enough has been written about the wilful ignorance and tabooing that sexuality is shrouded in. Let us discuss instead the title statement, which began with, “In my day” because though it sounds like an innocent figure of speech, there are things it reveals about the person saying it, things we will expand on shortly. Of course, the slightly more accurate way of saying the same thing is “When I was younger than I am now” and not “In my day”. Here’s why:
When we claim to own any era, we are also claiming to own its moral norms, its way of being and everything else to do with it. This figure of speech betrays an intensely self-centred, self-referencing approach to interacting with people, a way that “talks to” and judges every other approach. “You ought to speak in this accent, because in my hometown that’s how people speak” is on the same level as, “In my day, we never talked about such things”, isn’t it?
You and I never made a day in our lives. We have never guided one sunrise, nor orchestrated a single sunset. We have never willed one clock to tick or tock. In the most literal sense, “In our day” is a lie. Is it not wrong, then, to use an expression that is only figuratively true to suppress a reality that is literally true? Some people are literally attracted to persons of the same sex and deserve to have that attraction vindicated as part of the human experience; “our day”, on the other hand, has no equal claim to literal trueness – it’s only a figure of speech. It’s a verbal sleight of hand, charging the listener a moral debt to politely observe the status quo with the one hand – a debt that doesn’t exist because “in our day” never existed – while cheating him of his dignity and authenticity with the other hand.
It’s not a fair trade.
The danger with believing that one’s way of being in-the-world is the way of being in the world, whether that way is blackness, whiteness, maleness, or femaleness – whatever it is – is that anyone who is not that way, has to be seen as inferior or somehow less significant in relation to the story of those who are in that way in the world. They become supporting characters rather than whole persons. It’s subtle, it’s inevitable, and we never catch ourselves doing it. It is the basis of all prejudice and it’s the reason history is a story of prejudice.
To the person who wishes I’d stayed in the closet like in “his day” – I’m out about being gay because I’m not the supporting cast in the story of anybody’s life.