I am gay.
I have been open about being gay for about a decade, and I have been accepting of my own homosexuality (by which I mean to say that I stopped trying to change it for Jesus) for about four years now.
I am a lot of other things as well. I am a writer, working on my first novel. I am a college graduate, who is very proud to call University of Texas at Austin my alma mater. I am a home owner (see recent blog posts) and a wanderer. I am a dabbler in Buddhism, and a practicing pagan of sorts. I am a gamer, and a world traveler, and a coffee drinker.
But I am also gay.
The issue which has come up for me, which I didn’t expect to hit me so hard, is the recent attempt by several friends and acquaintances to reassure me that my being gay just “doesn’t matter” to them, and that it doesn’t change the way they view me as a person.
It came up first in regards to someone else, a young man I had encountered who, by my estimation of his self-expression, is likely attracted to other men. His family, close friends of mine, when I made this observation, was very defensive, claiming that “it doesn’t matter” if he’s gay, it doesn’t change how we feel so why should we talk about it?!
It didn’t sit well with me, and I wasn’t sure why. It was a good thing that his family didn’t devalue him because he was likely a little light in the loafers right?
Then, a few days ago, George Takei (Lord and Master of Facebook) posted a blog entry about this very subject (http://www.allegiancemusical.com/blog-entry/i-dont-even-think-you-gay-well-you-should?upw). It was regarding the recent coming out of Jodi Foster in an award acceptance speech, and the relative non-reaction it received. In that blog, as I understand it, Mr. Takei says some things I have felt for a long time, but never spoken. He talks about the importance of the homosexual struggle for equality, and its effect on the people who have struggled in a society that doesn’t accept them as they are, and the importance of gay role models in today’s society. I was impressed and I reposted the article to my timeline.
I got a private message from a very good friend of mine shortly after that which read: “Not to be contrary, but it really doesn’t matter to me [that you’re gay], and it doesn’t change who you are to me.”
Let me take just one moment here to tell you about my friend, whom I will call simply Friend from now on. He is not someone I would consider close minded. He and I have differing political opinions, but we have helped one another on many projects, share a close circle of friends, and he has been supportive of all of my partners and my choices in life. I wanted to start out by conveying my esteem for him personally.
However, it stuck with me that he had never once told me that it didn’t matter to him that I was a Writer, or that I was a Wizard, or that I was Caucasian. The only characteristic he had ever “differentiated” from my identity was my sexual orientation. I know he didn’t mean it badly, but it itched, and then burned, and then downright began aching that he felt that was somehow appropriate.
During our ensuing conversation over the subject of Mr. Takei’s blog, he also raised some difficult points, and had some honest questions. Most of our interaction, however, flowed out of one general question: “Even if someone is clearly gay, why is it a problem to avoid the topic?”
What follows is my best attempt at a response to him, in letter form. Click more to read it.
The other day we had a conversation in which you assured me that it “didn’t matter” to you that I was gay. At the time, I told you that I understood, and I appreciated your reassurances. You then asked me some questions about why being gay is even a big deal anymore. You expressed your vision of the world in which being gay is about as important as your eye color, and you asked me if that isn’t what I wanted to see happen. You went on to raise the specter of reverse discrimination as well, and wondered if it was your responsibility to make someone, who happens to be gay, feel more specially celebrated for that trait anymore than other arbitrary traits which also shaped that person (like their talents or their achievements).
All of these were excellent points. I do want to see a world where homosexuality is no longer a subject of concern, much less discrimination. I don’t want you to feel that you have to be careful around me, or that I need you to be sure to give me my gold stars for gayness (although to be fair, I am gay, I love gold stars) every time we talk. And I certainly don’t want you to feel that my community is moving to a position where we expect to be treated better just because of our sexual orientation.
But after giving it some thought, and sitting with how much your words stung, when, on the surface, they shouldn’t have, I have come up with what I wanted to say. And I’m sorry that I didn’t have the words to say it to you more clearly then.
The reason it hurts me when you say “it doesn’t matter” to you that I’m gay, is that you are missing, at least with your words, what being gay means to me. Yes, I want to live in a world where a boy liking boys is no big deal, but the truth is that my parents never sent me to repairative therapy for having hazel eyes. I was never beaten up at school for having brown hair. I have never felt nervous that my employer might find out I enjoy Shakespeare and fire me for openly attending a live performance of one of his plays.
But I have experienced all of those things as a result of my sexual orientation.
In fact, I have suffered a lot, over the years, both internally and externally, for the fact that I happen to prefer the intimate company of other men.
And you know what? That suffering has done me a lot of good. I know today that I am a stronger person for having survived my teenage years. And more than that, I have a deep and abiding compassion for others who suffer like me, not just because of sexual orientation, but because of any difference society forces them to hide.
Even more than that, I value in myself a certain creativity, and love for beauty, as well as a melancholy spirit that had many people label me a dreamer when I was young. Knowing, as I do now, many other gay men, I know that this is quite common among others who also identify as gay. I don’t know where I stand on the issue of “genetics” but I will say that I seem to have a pretty normally gay personality, and I really like those things about me. And so do you. I know, because you’ve told me as much.
I could go on, but my point is that when you tell me being gay doesn’t matter, I know what you are trying to say is that you don’t care what I do with my penis. And most of the time, I meet you there, and I don’t even mind meeting you there. But I still have to meet you there. I have to move from my idea of who I am, over to your idea of who I am, to receive your love. And if you ask me why it is a leap I even have to make, I am going to try and answer you.
So when you ask me why avoiding the subject of someone’s sexual orientation is a big deal, I want you to know that alternative sexual or gender orientation in this country, in this time, is not just about what we like to do with our genitals and it is universally a “big deal” to those of us who live with it.
There is not a single living queer-identified person who has not experienced discrimination, inequality, and fear as a result of a personality characteristic they have no control over.
And as a result, you don’t know a single gay person who hasn’t been shaped by that experience deeply. I want, very desperately, for you to let that sink in. There is no single living queer person who has not been indelibly shaped by their orientation. All of us have a coming out story (or a closet story), and many of us don’t survive them. I don’t want to play the victim here, you know it isn’t my style, but it is important to me that you know that being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgendered isn’t just about me, but everyone like me, and the collective burden of our shared struggle.
Yes, one day there might exist a world where this isn’t true, but we don’t live there yet. And when you say it doesn’t matter, my gut reaction is “Fuck you, yes it does.”
You don’t get me without gay. You don’t get my compassion without my hurt, you don’t get me creativity without my worldview, and you don’t get my essence separated from my sexuality. Saying that my being gay doesn’t matter to you, is like saying the sugar doesn’t matter in the cookies you love. It not only matters, it is a vital part of what you love.
And what I want from you, as someone who loves me, is to value me because of the parts that make up me, not in spite of them. And further, I want to have the kind of intimacy with you where you know how important my sexuality has been in making me who I am, and where you have the opportunity to understand that when I identify as gay, I am owning a history, and a community, and a whole range of self-expressions, not simply a dating preference.
Lastly, what I really hope, is that if I can be vulnerable enough to share with you the hard truths I have learned about myself and the value of my sexual orientation in forming my sense of identity, that one day, when you happen upon someone who is also queer, you will remember that whether they know it or not, a big part of their amazingness comes from their experiences as a queer person. And when you say you love them and that you honestly suspect a big part of the reason is because of those experiences, you might shock the hell out of them, and give them a head start on that hard journey of self-acceptance that all of us human beings go through.
One day I hope that the phrase, “It doesn’t matter to me that you are gay, I love you for you” is sufficient.
But for now, if you have to differentiate my orientation from my identity at all, I think, “Darling, you’re a hot gay mess and I love you for it” is a much safer bet.
Love (with special emphasis on all the things that make you uniquely you),