I’ll never forget the night I learned what it meant to be gay…
I was in the third grade, and we were living in a small, rural town in East Texas. That particular night I was laying on the floor watching The Love Boat. I’m pretty sure my Dad wouldn’t have let me watch it if he’d realized what it was… Growing up I regularly heard, “WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING?!” (“The New Mickey Mouse Club”) as the TV was turned off before I could even get out a reply.
Being raised in a Southern, conservative, Christian home, we never missed church—every Sunday AM, PM, and Wednesday PM, we were there, and it didn’t take long for me to learn to fear the wrath of God, my creator and “heavenly father” (and often, my “earthly father”, as well).
My earth-Dad was sitting in a recliner behind me reading his newspaper, and being the inquisitive 8 year old that I was—after hearing a new vocabulary word on TV, I asked him, “Daddy, what’s ‘homosexual’ mean?”
His response has been seared into my mind and memory ever since…
He dropped his newspaper to his lap, peered at me over his glasses, and went on to (vehemently) preach about how ‘homosexuals’ were sinners against God. He said they were evil, immoral, and doing the devil's work. Then, he told me how the world would be a better place if we could line-up all the homosexuals in the street and shoot them.
I don't know if my Dad even knew a gay person back then. I honestly don't think he had a clue what he was saying.. I think it was a reaction based on his environment and ingrained beliefs and unanswerable questions.
That night, I think he must've eventually provided enough of a technical definition amidst that fear-fueled rant for me to finally understand what ‘homosexual’ *actually* meant (in addition, of course, to learning every(limited)thing my dad believed—or rather, that he was taught to believe—about the evils of homosexuality).
In that very, key moment of my very, young life, I learned four very, critical things, simultaneously:
1. What a 'homosexual' was,
2. That *I* was, in fact, a homosexual (it was the only word/definition that I’d ever heard, in my eight short years, that came close to describing how I’d always felt about myself—aside from the “evil” part, of course),
3. That my Dad (and my God?) would hate me (and maybe even want to kill me?!) if he (they?) ever learned the REAL truth about me.
4. That I was unworthy of life (and love?)
And so began my long, arduous journey into (and out from) the proverbial closet.
Night after night, year after year, I tried to "pray away the gay"—I begged and pleaded with God to let me wake up tomorrow and be just like everyone else...
I desperately wanted to be "normal".
Since that pivotal night, sooo long ago, I’ve worn every letter in the LGBTQ acronym—mostly self-pro/claimed, but some of those labels were placed upon me by outside judgements of others and presumptions of society. Mostly, I’ve been out and proud, but other times—many times, I’ve been that terrified 8 year old, feeling both unworthy of life/love AND scared shitless of burning in hell for eternity (after being shot in the street, of course)—just for being ME—for being, at all.
Like many of us, I’ve had MANY thoughts and feelings weighing heavily on my heart and mind this week. And also, like so many of us, I haven’t quite known what (or when) to speak about those thoughts and feelings, but I also know that I must not be silent.
Silence moves no one to shift their beliefs, and inaction creates nothing but more of the same old shit.
It’s easy to get lost in anger, grief, frustration, helplessness, blame, shame, and fear. It’s easy to point fingers at the actions and beliefs of others that are misaligned with our own. It’s much more difficult, I think, to look THROUGH our hurt and pain and suffering towards the actual *change* that we want to see (and be) in this world and then, to take one tiny step in that direction… and another… and another…
Sometimes we can see the change—other times, we have no idea what "change" will look like.
Sometimes we know which tiny, brave step we might take next—other times, we’re just wandering, suffering, and saturated in that same old pain and fear.
I’ve already seen SO many who are bravely speaking up and choosing to be seen and heard, and it’s amazing to witness SO many beautiful stories of compassion and love that have been inspired and catalyzed by such a devastating act of hate. In that way, I think this undeniably heinous act has also gifted a vitally important service to this country and to the world... It’s helping us to open our hearts and our minds, and to understand a way of being in the world that we do NOT want to embody. It's also helping us know and see, very clearly, that love is a far better place from which to be and to act, than hate.
I don’t know much about politics or about gun laws or even about the motivations of this particular human being—who, I think, must have been hurting and suffering and afraid, WELL beyond the realms of my own comprehension.
I DO know that beneath all the hate, hurt, and suffering is a swirling, swarming energy of love, and slowly, the shadows of hate are fading into the light because our collective choice of LOVE is shining brighter than ever before…
I don’t know how long it will take, ultimately, for the light to dissolve the lingering darkness of hate and fear.
I DO know that we can’t stop loving each other—especially loving those of us who are the most hurt and lost and suffering. Because, though it may seem simple and trite, those who are the most difficult to love DO, certainly, need it the most.
I don’t always know how to do it, consistently—or even at all, sometimes.
I DO know that there are people/organizations that (seemingly) want to keep us in the dark, afraid, and only reacting from a place of fear.
I don’t know much about those agendas that are (seemingly) designed to keep us, as a species, divided and separated from each other, but I DO know that somehow we must learn to unite in LOVE and resist reacting from our fear and somehow release the urge or thought or idea that “we” must defeat “them”... When there’s only “we” or “them” it leaves no space for *US*.
I don’t know which step towards love to take next, but I DO know that right now, I must share this much…
Fear divides us and love unite us, and somehow we must stay the course towards love.
Personally, I love that, now, whenever we see the hate in our world, instead of dwelling and focusing on it, becoming lost in it and suffering from it, we can learn to use it to propel us forward, towards something new.
** I’d be remiss if I didn't address any impressions of my father as he was, then (and as he thought and believed, at that time)… It took me 26 more years to come out to him, and by then—he was a much different version of himself with a kinder, gentler, and more expanded perspective. Ultimately, he was one of my biggest supporters in transition—because he chose Love.