I'm Gay. I Applaud Matt Damon for Becoming a Better Person | Opinion

"Leave Matt Damon alone!"

That was my recurring thought as I saw the unfolding furor over Matt Damon's recent interview with the Times in which the actor admitted he'd only recently stopped using a slur to refer to gay people.

"The word that my daughter calls the 'f-slur for a homosexual' was commonly used when I was a kid, with a different application," the actor said, explaining that he recently made a joke using the slur. His daughter, incensed, wrote a lengthy "treatise" (Matt's word) on why the word is offensive. After reading it, Damon told his daughter he would commit to "retire the f-slur!"

Twitter immediately exploded in condemnation. The tweets were fast and furious: "If Matt Damon's using homophobic slurs at the dinner table in 2021, you can't tell me he's not using racist slurs too." "holy god Matt Damon is dumb." "Matt Damon's daughter has inspired me to stop using the phrase Masshole Douche Canoe. Never too late for personal growth." "SUPER-annoyed with all of the folks bemoaning the "twitter mob" criticizing Matt Damon. There has been no real call for a boycott or any notable attempt to "cancel" him. It's okay to call a rich asshole an asshole. He'll be fine."

SUPER-annoyed with all of the folks bemoaning the "twitter mob" criticizing Matt Damon. There has been no real call for a boycott or any notable attempt to "cancel" him. It's okay to call a rich asshole an asshole. He'll be fine.

— Tom and Lorenzo (@tomandlorenzo) August 2, 2021

As a person who was frequently taunted for being gay as a kid growing up in Appalachia, who was himself called the "f-slur" too many times to count, you might be surprised to learn that I dissent. But to me, this is a story about someone changing for the better. Matt Damon said an offensive word. His daughter corrected him and explained why it is offensive. Matt Damon realized he was being hurtful and modified his behavior. That should be the end of that.

Of course, Twitter cannot accept a story about someone changing for the better without making sure he is thoroughly lashed in the process. Instead of admiring the is grace of changing one's mind and giving up hurtful language, the social justice mob dragged Damon over the proverbial coals, desperate to use this as evidence of his homophobia.

Matt Damon is not homophobic. But it is fair to ask how a Harvard-educated Hollywood actor could not know that the f-slur is, well, a slur.

The thing is, the answer is not outrageous. I remember desperately trying to explain to my straight male friends—who had been my friends for years, who had stood by me through thick and thin, and had even defended me from homophobia—why the word bothered me so much. Like Matt Damon, they weren't homophobic, either. But they struggled to see it as a slur.

Matt Damon at The Leisure Class premiere
Matt Damon attends the Project Greenlight Season 4 Winning Film premiere "The Leisure Class" presented by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adaptive Studios and HBO at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on August 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Of course, it is a slur. The word is hurtful and degrading. I despise it. And if Damon had doubled down on the homophobic slur after his daughter criticized him, if he had gotten defensive and recalcitrant, there would be ample room for outrage.

But that is not what happened. Instead, as Damon explains it, he received new information, realized that what he was saying is hurtful, and modified his behavior.

Matt Damon learned from his daughter and grew as a man. It's so saccharine that it could be a Disney Channel Original Movie. So why are people attacking him?

If we on the Left, including those of us in the gay community, are serious about making social progress and broadening acceptance and inclusion for LGBT people, Matt Damon should be lauded, not lambasted. He is the model of what we on the left should hope for: people becoming more inclusive and less offensive as they are exposed to new viewpoints and new ideas.

Instead of celebrating that and using him as a positive example of an old dog learning new tricks, many on the left have instead opted to be unforgiving jerks. "But how could he not know?" was the recurring question, along with "what other slurs is he using?"

If Matt Damon’s using homophobic slurs at the dinner table in 2021, you can’t tell me he’s not using racist slurs too.

Bet. https://t.co/LTqr2YkTwF

— Adrienne Lawrence (@AdrienneLaw) August 1, 2021

This is entirely the wrong approach. I do not want to live in a world where admitting a mistake and showing remorse leads to a moral indictment by a brigade of self-righteous scolds. There must be room for people to grow. We must extend grace and understanding, not contempt and indignation, to those who experience a change of heart. We must welcome progress, not derisively ask "What took you so long?"

That is not the way to win people over. If this is the kind of grief someone gets for admitting a mistake and trying to be better, why bother?

I appreciate Matt Damon's honesty. I want people to be kinder. I want people to listen when LGBT people say something is offensive. I want them to be open to changing their minds and their words and their behavior, not to get defensive or to dig in their heels. And when they do, I want them to be met with a modicum of understanding, not derided as bigots who took too long to see the light.

There is dignity and humanity in changing your mind. I want people everywhere to do what Matt Damon did. The Left should want that, too.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes about the intersection of identity, politics, and public policy based. He lives in Tennessee.

The views in this article are the writer's own.