Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is it that important?

BruceD from YBMT? posted this comment the other day that bears exploring:

Sometimes, I get the feeling that "being gay" is the most important thing in a gay person's life. Is it really that important?
I had to kinda smile, because when my friend Craig first came out to me, more than a dozen years ago, I had much the same reaction. And I think if the straight world and the GLBT world are ever going to understand each other, it's one of those questions that's worth talking about.

And I'll say publicly what I told Bruce in a brief email reply: the fact that my straight friends are reading, and questioning, and commenting means a great deal to me. So many times in my life, when I have come out, people have said, "Oh, you're gay," and immediately seemed to assume that they know what that meant because of what they've read or heard about "the lifestyle" (99% of which has no bearing on my life!). So Bruce, Penni, and others, the fact that you're reading, asking, and listening for answers, is a blessing.

As I wrote to Bruce, the short answer is that "being gay" is no more important to me than "being straight" is to him. The funny part about that, of course, is that sexuality, and how we relate to people in relationships, drives an awful lot of how we live - and so "being gay" or "being straight" is actually a fairly big part of our lives.

It's like the red thread in a Tartan-plaid fabric - if it wasn't there, you'd still have fabric, but it wouldn't be Tartan-plaid.

What a lot of straight folks don't see is that for homosexuals, the revelation that we are gay also puts us at odds with a significant portion of society - friends, family, church, social structures (though that percentage is diminishing every day). In that way, it's not the most important thing, but - at least to others - it can become "a" defining thing, if not "the" defining thing.

I can't tell you the number of heart-breaking stories that I have heard concerning people who were "sainted members of the church," or Eagle Scouts, or community leaders, who were discovered to be gay - and then shunned. Not because they were caught with their pants down, or discovered in some lewd and lascivious act. Either they came out to someone they trusted, or were seen in public doing something awful like holding hands with another man, and suddenly their world exploded. Thrown out of homes, shunned by family and friends. And so the fear of that, for many of us, makes "being gay" a big damn deal.

I think the heart of it for me, for many years, was the centrality of the question, "What would they do if they knew?" at the heart of every relationship. An example of this is my relationship with my boss, who is an African-American male and an active member of a Christian church. There is a tremendous prejudice against gays in those communities - to such an extent that many gay black men actually marry and live their gay lives "on the down-low" (about which you can read this brief but informative summary on Wikipedia).

So while I am "out" at the office, and don't hide my homosexuality from anyone, I don't find any reason to raise the issue around my boss, because I just don't want to deal with it. (Interestingly enough, the black women in the office found it quite the kick to tease brutha cool about the cute guys in the office....) But with the other 99% of my co-workers, it's no big deal.

So at least until one is both out and comfortable with it, a large part of "being gay" is finding "who is safe" and who ain't - and that does make "being gay" an important part of every relationship, whether the other person knows it or not.

I have to admit that coming back to my original "getting sober" AA community and coming-out to them held some dread at first. But in talking with other gay friends in AA, it's just a matter of mentioning it in passing, and not treating it as a big deal. (Especially in the recovery community, there is more of an emphasis on honesty rather than sexuality - so I don't anticipate much trouble there.)

There is also the issue of community. Every person I know likes to be with people like themselves, at least part of the time. A shared understanding, shared experiences, and common interests provide ways of bonding and making friends - and this is true regardless of culture or orientation or anything else. It's why there is such diversity in the Christian church - because you have people who gather together because of nationality, ethnic background, worship styles, you name it. People like to be with people like themselves....period.

So it's not surprising that GLBT folks seek out people who are GLBT. Especially when people have experienced significant rejection from their families, jobs, or communities, there is a sense of safety, acceptance and togetherness that comes from gay clubs, gay-friendly churches like the Metropolitan Community Church, and other organizations like it. It's one of the reasons I find such a blessing - there is a shared experience there that is a great blessing.

I'm not even going to try to address the old question, "Well, are you 'gay' first, or 'a Christian' first? Which is first, 'sex' or 'God'?" - because it's a dumb question. It's like asking, "When did you stop beating your wife?" It's not an either-or, or first-or-second question. You see, I am:
- white
- male
- Christian
- nearly 50
- divorced
- in recovery
- gay.
All those things are true, and none of them is "first." Any slice of me, in any direction, would find all of those ingredients.

And I'll say this, to wrap this up: the reason I'm coming out is not because I either have a boyfriend or a gay health problem. It's precisely because I want people to see that people can be "like Steve is," and be gay. People who love God, love life, and are solid members of a community and yet still live with inborn same-sex attraction. The more that gay people are "out," the more people will see what "gay" is, and not be so put-off by it. It's not wrong, it's just different.

So, that's a first shot, Bruce. I'm looking forward to my other gay readers chiming in and adding their own two cents (or more) worth. Thanks for asking, and again, thanks for listening.


  1. I remember after I had come out to my parents, my mother told me she could accept that I am gay, but she could not see how I could be proud of it. I explained that I am proud (in a humble sense?) of being myself -- which means I am proud to be male, educated, Catholic, American, gay and so on. I am proud of being gay because I am proud to be Michael and Michael is gay. Does that mean there are no ambiguities about my sexuality? Of course not! There are ambiguities about my being Catholic. (To be fair, my mother would not understand how I could possibly be proud of that, either.) These days there is ample ambigfuity about being proud to be an
    American. But again, these are all aspects of who I am.

    I agree with you that part of what makes being gay important is the discrimination we have experienced. Just as I feel somewhat uncomfortable by people who wrap themselves in the American flag, I get pretty defensive about America when outsiders start heaping abuse on the entire country because of the failures of some of its members -- even some of its national leaders. I love my church, although I certainly am ashamed by the actions (or inaction) of many of the American Catholic leaders during the pedophile crisis.

    I am who I am, and who I am needs no excuses. And, sweetie, that ain't Popeye singing.

  2. Sometimes, I get the feeling that "being gay" is the most important thing in a gay person's life. Is it really that important?

    I don't know if "being gay" is the most important thing in a gay person's life, but it is a very important thing for most of us, and not for the reasons you might think.

    "Gay" is more than sex or even sexual orientation. Just as is the case with "straight", "gay" is an orientation to life, permeating all aspects of our life --- how we think about ourselves, how others think about us, how we behave toward others, and even our expectations about what life will bring to us.

    "Gay" gives rise to a whole way of looking at and experiencing the world, a way of looking and experiencing that is much different than the way in which straights look at and experience the world. As examples, gays and lesbians who serve in the military must do so furtively, gays and lesbians must calibrate, hour to hour and day to day, how "out" to be in a whole range of situations, as Steve noted in his post, and it is only recently that gays and lesbians could even imagine settling down and getting married. The fact that we are gay, in this sense, is very basic to who we are, informing everything about us. In that -- the idea that "gay" is basic to who we are and what we experience -- is not limited to gays and lesbians; the same is true of straights.

    The difference is that gays and lesbians, because the world is often hostile and we need to be cautious, are aware of how much being gay permeates our experience. Staights aren't aware of how much being straight permeates their experience. Think about this for a moment -- are most straights even aware that when they wear a wedding band, or put pictures of their spouses and kids in their work cube, or casually talk about what they did over the weekend, they are advertising the fact that they are straight? Or hold hands or otherwise display affection in public?

    Then contrast that with the care with which most gays and lesbians would approach those simple acts? Will my co-workers object if I put a picture of my partner in my cube? Or talk about going to Pridefest over the weekend? And so on.

    Straights have no idea, being dominant in the culture, about how much they advertise being "straight", and how different the experience is for both gays and lesbians, on the one hand, and straights, on the other. Straights never have to think about when, how or what extent they should reveal themselves as straight -- straights advertise all the time and aren't even aware of it. Straights don't have to "come out" -- straights are out, period. Straights do not have to think about being straight or how to live in the world being straight; all of that is a cultural given. Gays do.

    Having said that, however, I've found that "being gay" can be nothing more than living as a gay man, never turning it on or off, but just being.

    The problem with withholding our "gay" nature from others is that we deprive everyone from whom we witthold our "gay" nature the opportunity to know us. Human beings cannot be know if we don't know them in the round, because each aspect of us informs and shapes the rest of us -- the idea that we can "compartmentalize" is ludicrous.

    I just am. It is the straights who think I'm "in their face". Me? I'm just living my life, living it according to the cultural rules that straights enjoy -- taking for myself the privilege of "being gay" without restraint, just as straights take the privilege of "being straight" without restraint -- and to hell with what anyone thinks. I don't worry about pronouns. I introduce Michaal as "Michael" or "my partner, Michael", depending on what feels right to me in the situation, not on my assexxment of what might seem "right" to the other person. I display the gay side of me, or don't, and I don't do it conciously anymore, making decisions. I just am. People can figure it out, or not, depending on what they want to see, and they can like it or not, depending on their own attitudes. I don't worry about it. It is uncomplicated and freeing.

    So, in that sense, "being gay" isn't the most important thing; it is everything. It is me.

  3. Hellomy friend.
    I found you from Bruce's Blog
    My name is Geo from Melting Paradigms Blog (
    So when you say:
    I am:

    - white
    - male
    - Christian
    - nearly 50
    - divorced
    - in recovery
    - gay.

    To me you are saying "I AM HUMAN"! All of us are one thing and that thing is a child of God! And yes as you say we are also the things you mentioned and more but human is what we ALL are and I for one am glad to have met you on this blog.


  4. Hi Steve and all,

    I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your thoughtful responses to my question. I guess since sexuality isn't that big a part of my life, I will probably just get bored if that's all you guys want to talk about. I'm not saying you shouldn't talk about it. I'm just saying I really don't care. I'm glad you all can have a sense of community through these events and organizations. It's a shame though that traditional christianity doesn't have enough grace to accept you despite any perceived flaws. I can tell you for certain, I have many flaws, and if church people knew me well enough, they would reject me too. So I know how it feels, and how you want community even if you have to make your own. I hope I would be accepted within your community, even though I am not homosexual. I think I would be. But, I wonder if you would reject me for other reasons, like my belief that God made peace with all mankind through the cross of Christ? That's not very well accepted in christian circles. They require an adherence to a particular belief system, or you cannot be a part of them. So, I left the institution and sought my own kind. I'm sure you know what I mean. It seems to me that religion only serves to separate, although I'm certain that the cross of Christ intended to only unify. It's a shame the church has missed the point of the cross, and instead, hold doctrine and dogma in higher esteem.

  5. Bruce, I really hope that sexuality is NOT the only thing I/we are going to talk about here. But, after all, the whole purpose of this blog is "to find a way to reconcile what I now know I am (my sexual orientation) with the faith I profess - no matter how unlikely or unBiblical that may seem."

    I - and GLBT Christians in general - are not in the business of rejecting anyone. So many of us have experienced that reject from others - although I certainly haven't, for the most part.

    The prayer I've heard in so many GLBT services is Jesus' own prayer from John 17 - "that they may all be one." Not gay or str8, or black or white, or Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist or what-have-you, but just God's kids. Period. Unfortunately, it's the rare church group that is willing to see past the two guys holding hands to the two souls, willing to commit to lives of faith.

    Again, it may seem boring at times - but you'll always be welcome here, Bruce. We each, in our own way, are on a journey to find our way to an authentic faith. It will be good to have you along for the ride...