When I was growing up “gay” meant happy, and homosexual people were dykes and sissies. Though they were described as “funny” there was no humor in the plight of people on the wrong side of the sexual track. We live in a world of binaries—Black or White, Gay or Straight etc. with no room for anything in between. And what I’ve also learned over the years is that these divisions also denote the degree of acceptability and define what is considered the norm.
I confess: I didn't know much about gay people. There were no struggling or openly gay people in my family, and if I had any gay friends, I didn’t know it. So, what I knew about homosexuality was from a distance. There was my childhood friend's flamboyant uncle with the blonde Afro who taught us how to really twirl a sparkler on the 4th of July holiday. He would grab a lighted sparkler and twirl it while gyrating his hips, and he would tell us, “You twist it this way and you twist it that way.” He was funny—really! Then there were the whispered rumors of the gay boys in high school. Homosexuals existed on the fringes of my heterosexual life, so I never really gave much thought to what it meant to be anything other than straight in a culture steeped in homophobia.
In college, all of that changed. The head of the journalism department at my school was gay. I remember snickering at the scarves that he tied around his neck and speculating about his sexuality. It had nothing to do with him as a person, but everything to do with my narrow perspective. One day he invited some speakers to one of our classes to talk to us about gay and lesbian rights. I remember this young White woman sharing her story with us. She said that when she came out to her parents they disowned her. This woman--who I didn’t know—changed my life. I am from a close-knit family, and I could not imagine cutting myself off from any of them because of their sexuality.
As long as gay people stay in the closet, straight people don’t care. But as soon as the door opens and they step out or are forced out, we have a problem. Straight people's problem with gay people is what they do sexually. Straight people want to be voyeurs in the lives of gay people, but we want to believe there’s something wrong with them; I’m confused. When it is revealed that a famous person is gay, it’s still news. And when a gay person does something for the first time, it’s news. Why? Gay people have been around since the beginning of time, and we’re still acting like any sexuality other than heterosexuality is brand new.
Lately, I keep finding myself engaging in conversations about homosexuality that are getting under my skin. I met a guy online and we were talking about youth, and the conversation meandered its way around to their sexuality, and he said he would not accept his child telling him he or she was gay. I told him that in my experience as a teacher of adolescents, I didn’t see as a choice. He, a student of theology, told me that he could show it to me in scripture, and I told him not to bother. We never made it out on a date because he said I was feisty—a trait that men find undesirable. (That’s another post!)
The family of a gay man in Tampa, Florida had his funeral abruptly canceled when the minister of the hosting church found out that the man was gay. The minister of the church preaches against homosexuality. The recent hoopla around, Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay football player is ridiculous. The stories of rampant homophobia still exist in the 21st century, and that’s our shame.
I’m tired of Christians trying to prove to me that gay people are on the express elevator to hell. From my limited understanding of the Bible, if it’s sin that sends us to hell, I know a whole bunch a people waiting for the same elevator, and they’re not gay. Gay people did not fall out of the sky; they were not created in a lab experiment. They are our family and friends. They are our co-workers and neighbors. They belong to us.
In the book Sexual Healing one of the characters is trying to explain his changing sexuality to his ex-wife, and he says sexuality is fluid. That has stayed with me over the years. We evolve as people, but we think sexuality is stagnant. How is that? I’ve never had so sex so good that it would make me turn away from my family or my church or anything else of major importance in my life. So, when that woman talked about being disowned by her family, I knew that sexuality is so much bigger than sex!
I don’t know why people are gay any more than I know why they’re Black or brown or tall or short. It’s just a part of who they are. I knew then that if I ever learned that someone I loved was gay, I wouldn’t love them any less. And I don’t. Gay people are no longer on the fringes of my life, but an integral part of my circle of life. Being straight doesn’t give me the right to tell anyone who to love or how to love. Heterosexism and privilege are real, so to help me keep mine in check, I try and remember these five points:
1. What two consenting adults do is none of my business.
2. I don't need to speculate on anyone's sexuality. If I don't wonder who's straight, why do I need to know who’s gay?
3. Gay and pedophiles are not one in the same. There are plenty of heterosexual perverts harming children.
4. Gay people are not people who were hurt in straight relationships. If that were the case, there wouldn't be in heteretosexual people left in the world.
5. If homosexuality is a flaw of some sort, who among us is flawless?
Religious conviction is not a justification for the mistreatment of anyone. Treating people with dignity and respect is ALWAYS the right thing to do.