Q. My nephew, who “came out,” recently told me that I am both biased and prejudiced. I absolutely am not; I love him anyway. What can I do to convince him that he is in error?

A. The short answer is: You might start by saying "I love you," rather than "I love you anyway."

The longer answer is, “In error” about what? In error that he is gay or in error that you are biased and prejudiced or in error that you love him anyway? As a member of the human species, most likely you are both biased and prejudiced. I believe every brain is (see my definitions below.) My question to you would be whether or not you have you taken time to figure out your brain’s bias and identify your learned prejudice(s). What you don’t know you don’t know is likely to come out subconsciously in your behaviors.

Have your behaviors toward your nephew changed in any way since he “came out?” Ask him to give you an example of what led him to arrive at his conclusion. His response, if he is willing to discuss, may provide you with a basis for altering some of your behaviors. If not, it may at least give you additional insight, which can be extremely valuable.

As far as trying to convince him that he is in error, I’d avoid that. To paraphrase a saying that my English father used to quote: a brain convinced against its will is of the same opinion still.

Bias can be described asthe brain's innate preference toward what is known and familiar. By this definition, every brain is biased. Perhaps the fastest determination a brain ever makes when confronted with something new is whether or not it is known and familiar. When I meet a creature for the first time my brain has already whizzed through a sequence of determinations such as:

  • Human or not human?
  • Male or female?
  • My race or not?
  • My culture and language or not?
  • Safe or dangerous?

You get the idea. Suppose you see a fork on the floor. Your brain will immediately try to identify the object and search for a label. “Ah, a fork.” If your brain had never seen a fork it might be unknown and unfamiliar to you. After that, what your brain has learned about the rules for forks will likely kick in (e.g., the fork should not be on the floor, it needs to be picked up so it doesn’t cause injury, it must be washed before it can be used in preparing or eating food). All things being equal, the brain feels more comfortable with the familiar. Therefore, it makes sense that you may be biased in favor of your own culture and language because it is known and familiar, and in favor of your own sexual orientation.

Prejudice, on the other hand, can be defined as a learned, preconceived opinion about someone or something, positive or negative. For example, I am prejudicedagainst wandering around alone at midnight in the heart of strange city or eating food prepared and offered by road-side venders in almost any country. I am prejudicedtoward certain types of favorite foods, music, books, travel, people who have a good sense of humor, and so on. Prejudices are often not only pervasive but also can be powerfully negative in race, culture, politics, religion, education, gender, and sexual orientation (to name just a few).