There are basically two sorts of people who are upset about Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on ESPN after being drafted into the NFL. First, there are the sort who feels like his or her religious freedom is being infringed upon when they don’t feel the freedom to publicly proclaim their disgust and objection to homosexual displays of affection. These folks are upset, because they believe it’s unfair that they are called bigots when they say something bigoted…. because they claim that their bigotry is a “religious belief.” Many of these folks are the same ones who want businesses to have the right to refuse service (gay wedding cakes and all that) to people who don’t share their same beliefs (Incidentally, this is a point of view that could very easily result in store with signs that say, “No Jews Allowed”). I don’t have time to go into all the reasons why their argument is without merit.
Then, there are the sort who are very concerned about all this gayness being “shoved in our faces” (you can’t say “down our throats” on this particular issue)–These are the folks who are worried that if their kids discuss homosexuality or see same-sex couples showing each other affection on TV, it might turn them gay. Behind this very real concern is the belief that our sexual orientation is not based on who we are, but instead is based on what we see, what we do, or something as simple as a choice. The insistence that being gay is a choice is an important point for anti-gay people, because if it’s NOT a choice, it becomes very hard to tell the LGBT community they are doing something horribly wrong. The worry is that if their kids see a man kiss another man on TV, it might give their child the dangerous idea that being gay is normal and nothing to be ashamed of…. And we can’t have that.
I’m not sure when in my life it became so important to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t gay. I can remember being in about the fifth grade, and sitting on the bleachers watching the girls play basketball, and trying to decide how I was going to sit so that I would look the coolest/manliest/straightest (those things all kind of went together). There were cool ways to sit, and there were uncool ways to sit. I have always, for my whole life, been most comfortable sitting with my legs crossed (“Criss Cross Applesauce” if you work in elementary schools, “Indian Style” if you’re politically incorrect), but this was not an acceptable way to sit on the bleachers. If you sat with your legs crossed (one leg over the other in a “womanly” way), you were skewing a little gay. Legs spread, leaning over, elbows on your knees…. THAT’S how all the cool kids were doing it. I guess that in order for no one to mistake a middle-schooler for being gay, you needed to sit like you were on an imaginary toilet.
There were more of these little gay litmus tests around that time. When I played basketball, sometimes, as I got tired, my hand would hang limply at my wrist. As soon as I noticed I was doing it, I would make a fist and straighten my wrist–so no one would get the wrong impression. But really, there was more to it than just showing other people that I was straight–I felt like I needed to be vigilant with my young masculinity for the sake of my own straightness. And in my self-conscious little adolescent mind, something like a tired, limp wrist while playing basketball–left unaddressed–could be the the first domino in a line that could end up turning me gay. There was always that worry: That if any seemingly unmasculine mannerism wasn’t dealt with, I might end up wearing assless chaps in some parade. Never once did I think to ask myself the simple question: “Who are you attracted to?” I had always loved girls, fantasized about them, lusted after them…. But that simple fact wasn’t enough to put my mind at ease. The stakes were too high. I had to keep proving to myself and others that I was a man. And in that world (and in many young men’s worlds), being a man was defined as liking women, while ironically hating any action that might be construed as feminine.
Imagine, for a moment, if the expectation of growing into a young man was based on things like being a person of integrity, things like telling the truth when it wasn’t easy, things like being unselfish and putting other people first…. Imagine the trouble I might have avoided. Imagine the sort of man I might be today if, during adolescence, I had put the same amount of energy into growing my character as I put into letting the world know that I was into girls and not guys. All this energy spent on “throwing like boy” or NOT “throwing like a girl.” It’s interesting how much of the concept of “being a man” was based on hating things about women–Their emotions, their tears, their perceived weakness…. “Look at how I’m sitting! This is how a MAN sits, baby!!”
Through the following years, enlightenment came very slowly (as it often does), and it was usually accompanied by experience. In college, I questioned how some people’s physical bodies could be born with gender confusion, but we (Christians) insisted that homosexuality was a gay person’s choice. Then, add to that the life-altering experience of actually getting to know people who are gay. For a long while after that, I tried to separate a person’s homosexuality from (what I considered to be) the sin of ACTING on that homosexuality–You know, the whole “Love the sinner, hate the sin” thing. Finally SOMETHING CHANGED, and there I was, relinquishing my right to pass judgment on whether God actually condemns physical shows of affection between same-sex couples, and accepting and affirming a same-sex couple’s right to every bond the state OR THE CHURCH affords me and my wife.
Then last year, an editor from the Huffington Post contacts me to ask if they can share a blog post I had written about the whole Duck Dynasty brouhaha. I told him I would be honored. A few hours later, something I had written was up on the Huffington Post…. On their Gay Voices page! I admit, it was a little strange to see my post there. My wife asked me, “Do you think we should tell him that you’re not gay?” And from somewhere–I’m not sure where. I guess it was my mouth–I heard the words, “I don’t think it matters.” As I said those words, it felt like a Level Up in a video game. An Enlightenment Level Up. Uttering that one little sentence–and knowing that I actually meant it–felt like letting go of a fear I had been carrying around since before I could even put it into words. Part of a fear, at least….
It’s a fear that I carried with me even into fatherhood. A fear that discouraged letting my son put on one of his sisters’ dresses. A fear that made me play differently with my son than with my daughters. A fear that brought with it different expectations, and with those different expectations, different disappointments. If one of my daughters did something uncoordinated while playing sports, it was easily laughed off. But if my boy completely missed the ball while playing soccer, his lack of coordination was somehow perceived by me as an indictment of his masculinity…. and really, also an indictment of mine. Some of those old middle school lessons are still in there, and those ancient, errant beliefs still surface from time to time. And tragically, I’m tempted to treat my son like a tired wrist that needs to be straightened….
But luckily, parents are not the reason for a child’s homosexuality (which should be a good reason for people to relax about adoptions for same-sex couples). I’m not sure exactly how I would react if one of my kids came out to me, but knowing that I am not the reason behind my children’s sexual orientation is a very freeing thing. And it feels very peaceful knowing that if any of our kids came out to us, my wife and I would love and accept them without condition, and we would be filled with pride to be on the front row at that kid’s wedding. So if you’re worried about how to keep your kid from turning gay, don’t. You’ve got about as much control over it as you had over your own orientation–None. Adolescence is hard enough without the burden of being told (either with words or unspoken communication) that a person’s orientation is based on choices or actions he or she might make. Take that time that you would have spent trying to insure your child’s straightness, and teach your kid this lesson: Figure out who you are, and then go be the best possible version of you. It’s a way better use of your time.