Saturday, June 13, 2009

Moving Beyond Tolerance

Mere tolerance is not enough

When Kevin Smith directed Chasing Amy in 1997, his career had fallen on hard times.

His first movie, Clerks, had become a critically-acclaimed indie-cult hit. But the follow-up, Mallrats recieved a tepid response from critics, tickets sold poorly at the box-office, and it would take years for his film to find its audience.

If not for the presence of the iconic Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), it may never have had.

But Chasing Amy did more than simply revive Smith's flagging career. It imparted an important message for those preoccupied with the nature of the identity politics at the heart of relations between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

In the film, Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) is a rising star in the comic book industry, courtesy of his popular Adventures of Bluntman and Chronic series. HIs partner in crime is Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), a spastic inker resentful of those who look down on his profession as "tracing".

McNeil has a tenuous relationship with the women in his life. When he meets Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) he becomes instantly smitten with her. But this is a problem.

Alyssa, as it turns out, is a lesbian. Or at the very least bisexual.

McNeil embarks upon an awkward friendship with Alyssa in which he hammers out his own attitudes toward not merely homosexuality, but human sexuality in general. The relationship eventually blossoms into a romance, but eventually crashes and burns on the revelation that Alyssa had participated in some extremely "interesting" sex acts during high school.

The film eventually concludes that McNeil may not have really known and loved Alyssa for who -- or what -- she truly is. He sought out to change her, and then, having accomplished this task, became insensed when the illusory Alyssa he thought he had created turned out to be just that: an illusion.

McNeil was prepared to accept Alyssa's bisexuality, but never really accepted it. And therein lies the rub.

Many Canadians believe they can prove their tolerance for homosexuals by supporting token political causes like same-sex marriage. But tolerance alone isn't enough.

First off, the notion of tolerance has a dark undertone to it: that something may be wrong (in the numerous senses of the word) and should merely be tolerated or endured. It doesn't translate into any deeper acceptance of the individuals whom one is tolerating.

When many cities hold their annual Gay Pride festivities -- as Edmonton did today -- one can draw the distinction between acceptance and tolerance. Those who accept gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trannsexuals for who they are can be seen at these events (at the very least at the parade). Those who don't fully accept homosexuals are likely at home, merely tolerating them.

Perhaps they tolerate the presence of the LGBT crowd in their community. But given the opportunity, perhaps they would want to change them.

That is not acceptance. It's barely even tolerance. In producing a just society for Canada's LGBT community, Canadians must move beyond mere tolerance and accept the LGBT community for who they are.

It doesn't necessarily mean that one should show up to their local gay pride events. But it's a good symbolic start.

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