Saturday, November 19, 2016
For many years there wasn’t much in my life which made me proud. I was embarrassed my family was poor. I was embarrassed I was overweight. I was embarrassed I wasn’t handsome and I thought I looked like a cartoon or a teddy bear. I was embarrassed I didn’t have it all together when people assumed I did. I was embarrassed I was single, desperate for validation, obsessed with trying to achieve society’s definition of success. Most of all I was embarrassed to be gay. I never attended Pride as I believed actually being proud was a prerequisite.
Now, six weeks after my 46th birthday, I find myself suddenly proud of it all. Proud of me, proud to be me with all my experiences and failures, my background and roots. I am proud because I am a product of those experiences, those failures, those roots. I’m proud because all this made me different than I would have been otherwise.
My gayness, if you will, caused me to be more ambitious, sometimes misguided in my pursuits, but always striving to achieve whatever I felt was necessary. At first, it was to feel I deserved the tenuous love I felt with my family. Then it was to impress, to receive validation. By my late 30s it had just become who I was; my ambition was simply a part of me, to improve for the sake of continued growth, to be a better person, a better leader. I wanted simply to impact the world in a positive way, to be the passion I didn’t see.
I have never had an ego. However, I do have traits commonly misjudged as ego – stating my strengths aloud to people, hoping it would be believed if they (or I) heard it enough, striving to convince me and everyone else of my value through sheer force of will.
I was 29 when my mother died never having accepted my homosexuality. I was devastated as my mother was perhaps the most important person in my world. I have not talked about it much, it seems disrespectful. However, for the next 11 years, until I turned 40, it caused me to try to attempt to be straight and when that inevitably failed, to simply choose celibacy and solitude, believing I was unworthy of personal happiness. My father had the advantage of living long enough to accept me as I am although it has been slowly over the years. His comfort is that my gayness is almost theoretical at this point. I am still single at 46.
Also his opinion of me hasn’t mattered in such a long time. As the one constant bully during my formative years, I stopped caring what he thought long ago and it’s hard to truly care even now, when he tries to be a different person, often failing but still trying, though I really haven’t given him a chance like I probably should.
The other relationship my gayness impacted has been with God. If I had been born straight, I may have kept the same superficial Christianity as many of my fellow Evangelicals; attending church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, plus choir practice, teaching Sunday School, chaperoning youth events. Never really learning who God is; never questioning my opinions or actions, thinking “I’m not a bad person therefore nothing I do should be considered bad. Even when I think, say, do, vote in a certain way, I’m exhibiting Christian behavior solely because I think of myself as a Christian; my behavior should be beyond scrutiny.” I would have bent Jesus to match what I feel because I never studied enough to really know Him enough to understand and know what He would do. It’s Evangelical privilege and I would have likely had it, based on many self-professed Christians I have known throughout the 14 states I have lived in the last 46 years.
It’s lazy Christianity; the right to refuse to change to be more like Christ because calling myself, and believing I am, Christian simply requires adherence to a certain appearance, attendance, surface prayer, remembering as opposed to learning. My gayness compelled me to study because I had to know why God would make me gay if it were a sin. Why would He create someone solely to hate? He is not about hate; He is about love. To create someone just to make them perish for all eternity no matter their actions is capricious and hateful, two things God is not.
In my studies I also learned my view of God was skewed by my view of my father; that I was afraid of God like I was afraid of my father. Questions with strong Christians and conversations with other believers helped me understand the God Jesus knows. Dedication to learning more helped me realize it really is all about the greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the greatest commandments, all the law and scripture fall from these truths.
I am a proud Christian and gay man and I need to say this because of what has recently occurred. Thirty-seven days after I officially hit my late-mid-forties, a reality TV star and one of the most anti-LGBT politicians in a generation became our new leaders. Based on the rhetoric during the campaign and the activities since the election, it is more important than ever before to stand up; to be proud; to ensure my voice is heard not just by those who need to be reminded we are here and we are worthy but by those who need to know I am here so they feel less alone.
I will not be silent while rights are taken away. I will not sit idly by while actions are taken and laws enacted that are counter to real Christian and American values. I will be vocal so those who are disenfranchised and targeted know I am here to stand with them, to love them as God loves them, to fight for them. I want to be a living example of a successful, happy and proud Gay Christian not for me but for the younger me out there struggling. I will be who I needed when I was younger because I know exactly what it feels like to be alone in the world, to feel like a stranger in your own family, in your own house. To be embarrassed to be who God made you to be.
I must be bold because boldness is appropriate, boldness is necessary, boldness is required, boldness is the new mandate.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
With all this talk of red and blue states I am reminded of a time when a lack of information about color saved me death and dismemberment.
My first junior year in college, I was a Graphic Design major. I had two junior years due to my inability to decide on a major after unrelenting math classes forced me from my original intended major, Architecture. During this same year, I was also pledging a fraternity, which placed me fundamentally at odds with many of my fellow Art Students League members. Between project deadlines and the stress related to the all-encompassing belief that my fraternity brothers would suddenly realize I was a big gay nerd and vote me out, I didn’t get much sleep.
I enjoyed the dichotomy of fraternity and artiness all in one person, but I found there were times when I did not fit in with either. For the fraternity, it was the drinking, which I have never. For the Art Students, it was the basics like food, clothing, shelter, music and also drinking. With them there was a lot of tie-dyed, fibrous clothing (purchased from the local hippie emporium Belladonna), CDs of the sounds of whales mating and random talk about auras and chakras and other things seemingly hippie-adjacent. There were also a lot of black clothes, which I appreciated for its slimming effect but I wanted to be a little less funereal in my ensembles. Granted I did wear a burlap hoodie and had a pair of fake Birkenstocks in an attempt to blend, but my body secretly craved brightly colored fake Polo shirts. Everything I owned was fake as I had no money, people.
As I am willing to try most anything once, I readily agreed when asked, “Do you want to meditate in the Frazer Dorm parking lot?” Frazer dorm was the men’s dorm at my predominately female Mississippi University for Women. It sat at the back of the campus, about 20 feet from an active railroad track where a train came by and honked (do trains honk?) their horn at least every hour.
My memories are a bit hazy due to age, not drugs, but I remember sitting on gravel, trying to find my chakra with one eye open scanning for cars. I wanted to make sure I protected my black-clad friends sitting on the ground in the dark in a location frequented by young people mindlessly driving cars; distracted by the tunes of Jesus Jones and Book of Love since cell phones had not been invented at this particular point in history. Outside of “are we going to die tonight?”, the most pressing question was, “Are chakras to be found in a parking lot on a Mississippi college campus, about 10 miles from the Alabama state line?” It was unlikely as one of those searching was continuously struggling with random bits of gravel lodged in random bodily nooks and crannies previously unexplored.
I felt fairly certain I had not found any of the colors of the chakras. There are at least red and blue, to my memory. Unsure if I would recognize my chakra were I to stumble upon it, I asked, “What shade of blue is the blue chakra?” The response was a completely disappointing, “Blue.” We were art majors and we couldn’t specify the exact shade of blue. Really? I pressed on, “I know you said blue, but which shade? Cerulean? Lapis? Turquoise? Aqua? Tiffany? Robin’s Egg? Cornflower?”
They didn’t snort with derision, but there was a collective sigh as if I had just knocked them up or down a level. I’m still not sure how this works. Is it like a video game? One of the less annoyed ones answered, “It’s just blue. You’ll know when you’ve found it.”
Tired of sitting in gravel in the dark and starting to get hungry, I lied and said, “Oh. There it is. I found it. What a nice shade of blue.” You can think all art majors are laid-back, but the looks I received were among the looks you would get if you got caught using Miracle Whip in your chicken salad at a Baptist Women’s luncheon.
With the chakra search abandoned, I suggested a trip to Delchamp’s, the 24-hour grocery store where our intrinsic differences were never more evident than in our snack choices. They all chose fruit, yogurt or nuts. I chose chicken salad and used BBQ Crunch Tators (remember those?) as a spoon.
What can I say, y’all, I am a complex creature.