Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One of the Biggest Lessons in Life




A friend sent me this prescient message in an e-mail that I received from him this morning:

I think that one of the biggest lessons to learn in our lives is to be happy with who we are. We all spend so much time trying to be something or someone else and are never happy. When we can accept who we are and look at life through our own eyes, then life unfolds before us and we welcome the challenges and joys.

What a beautiful, life affirming message. This message has much more relevance to me than the “you are a sinner and you must be saved” message from my other friend and former classmate from my school days. My former schoolmate friend thinks that I should be attending church services in order to save my soul. I tell him that I cannot attend most Christian church services because they condemn homosexuality and since I am a homosexual, I am automatically discounted the moment I walk through those church doors.
My friend berates me by saying “Why do you always have to bring up the subject of homosexuality and play the martyr?” Apparently he believes in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in church as well as our military. In other words, stay in the closet. Keep your homosexuality a secret. Don’t upset the “good” folks in the pews. Play along. Then if you admit you are a sinner and pray for forgiveness, then maybe you will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Forty six years ago I broke down my self imposed closet door. It was the spring of 1963 and I decided to stop living a lie. I decided to stop substituting “she” for “he” when talking about relationships. I decided to stop sitting in church pews listening to preachers rant and rave about “fornicators, rapist, thieves, murders, and homosexuals” (notice how the bible thumpers always have a habit of lumping in homosexuals with the worst elements of society.) I told everyone; my family, my friends, my neighbors, that I was gay. Remember, this was before the Stonewall riots. This was before “Will and Grace.” This was before it was fashionable to be gay. I was stepping into Unknown Territory.

As a result of coming out, my Mother dispatched my brothers and father to “rescue me.” They appeared at my apartment and tried to physically take me to the hospital for the “cure.” Unbelievable as that sounds, that was the scene that chilly spring Saturday morning outside my apartment in Coatesville, PA. Both of my brothers pulling my by my arms outside while my father had his truck, motor running, waiting to rush me to the hospital. The scene played out that morning was bizarre, surreal, and out of this world.

They were unsuccessful in “rescuing” me. I resisted and they gave up. The struggle probably didn’t last more than fifteen minutes but it represented a irretrievable break with my former life of hiding, lying, fear, and guilt. I broke free in more ways than one. What followed were several years of estrangement from my family. Contact wasn’t made again until I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. By that time I had moved from Coatesville, PA and was living in Pennsauken, New Jersey with my “lover” (now called "life partner".) By the way, I am still living in sin with my "lover", 45 years later.

I accepted their invitation with one caveat; I would only come if I could bring Bill (my partner) with me. They reluctantly agreed. I don’t remember exactly how that first Thanksgiving Dinner went other than it was somewhat subdued (except for me of course, I was my usual ebullient self – I always had a hard time feeling guilty about being gay because to me it seemed so natural.) Over time Bill frequently accompanied me on visits to my parents and brothers. In fact, both my Mother and Father became quite friendly with Bill, once they discovered that he didn’t have horns growing out of his head.

Gradually, over time I would encounter people from my “previous life” who would look at me in askance when meeting me again with this new knowledge about my personal life. I encountered the usual comments like “I would never know that you were gay.” “You don’t look gay.” “You don’t talk gay.” Then I would get the well meaning folk who would give, what they would think anyway, the ultimate permission statement “Some of my best friends are gay.” These comments have continued on over the years. Perhaps my favorite was my cousin who, upon discovering I was gay (hide the kids!) said after a telling pause “Will and Grace is one of my favorite programs!” Oh, that’s wonderful. Straight people playing gay but you will never see two men kissing on that TV screen (here’s a flash, gay men kiss in real life if not in reel life.)

Straight homophobia comes in all forms and sizes. Some well meaning and some just mean spirited. I’ve experienced it all. What I am getting very, very tired of is people trying to “save” me. Save me from what? Myself? As my friend said this morning (who, by the way is gay but also was married and has two beautiful, straight children – so much for “catching” the gayness):

"….be happy with who we are. We all spend so much time trying to be something or someone else and are never happy. When we can accept who we are and look at life through our own eyes, then life unfolds before us and we welcome the challenges and joys."

I remember a few months ago watching Ted Haggard (looking haggard by the way) on Larry King Live with his wife trying to explain away his “sickness” of being gay. I felt no anger towards this former preacher of the gospel. I felt pity for this gay man who is ruining his life by trying to be something he isn’t. Watching him through the TV screen, I wanted to embrace him in my arms and say “It’s alright Ted, be who you are. Don’t try to be what others want you to be.” But, unfortunately Mr. Haggard seems resigned to living the rest of his life as others in his church hierarchy have determined. They have already passed judgment on him. He will live a life of misery and denial. How sad to live one’s life by the will of a group of self righteous, dogmatic, self-appointed experts of a man made church. I feel profound sadness for this man and his family. My heart goes out to him.

There was perhaps no better display of the ugliness of this self righteous, homophobic bigotry recently when a contestant at the Miss USA contest (Miss California) was asked her views on same sex marriages by one of the judges, Perez Hilton:

Hilton, who is openly gay, asked:

"Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalise same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit. Why or why not?"

"I think it's great Americans are able to choose one or the other,"
Prejeans answered. "We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.

"And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.

"No offence to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman."

This is a perfect example of the self righteous arrogance that many Christians, especially those on the right of the political spectrum, have. They don’t see it. My friend brags about his horse blinders that I accuse him of wearing. He says it keeps him “focused.” To me this is a form of mental cowardice. He is afraid of being exposed to other ideas because he is scared to death he might change his mind and his whole world would come crashing down around him.

After Carrie Prejeans didn’t win the crown of Miss USA, Miss California responded to the ensuing controversy by saying:

..........she knew instantly after answering the question that she would not win, "because I had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God".

Note the usage of “my God.” Is this the same God that gays like me are supposed to confess our sins? Is this the all inclusive God or the God just for a select few?

This young lady has every right to live her life convinced that “her God” only accepts “opposites” in marriage. However, she doesn't have the right to tell me how I should live my life no more than I have the right to tell her how to live her life. What she needs to do is drop her self righteous attitude that God is only on her side and accept the world as it is, full of diversity and different views. Miss California may have been beautiful on the outside but she showed her inner ugliness by her answer which casually dismisses the rights of same sex couples to marry and enjoy all the legal and financial benefits that straight couples now enjoy.

It wasn't all that long ago that another beauty queen, who was also a runner up for the big prize, (Miss America) had similar warped views of reality. Anita Bryant had a very successful singing career and a role as a spokeswoman for the orange juice growers association until she decided to show her true ugliness and go on a crusade to wipe out homosexuality from America.

However, times have changed since Anita's crusading days against the "scourge of homosexuality." Carrie Prejeans, Miss California, runner up to Miss USA need not worry about where her next job is coming from. Fox News will be calling soon.









4 comments:

  1. Kevin W.12:45 PM

    Miss CA lost because she gave a bad answer to a good question. It's not that she gave a politically incorrect answer, it's that she didn't give a dipolmatic answer - which is what you would expect of someone who represents the entire US. In fact, her views only represent half of that of CA, so she doesn't even represent CA.

    Whatever her personal beliefs are, she easily could've given the diplomatic answer of "to each his or her own". That's what might of put her over in order to win. Instead, her answer was basically that her so-called "family values" (of which her actual family, her sister and mother, doesn't share) excludes the many ways Americans structure their families.

    The last thing Miss CA is is a martyr. When I think of Christian martyrs, I think of Christ being the first and foremost. Then I think of Paul and members of the early church. Losing a beauty pagent because of divisive comments does not a Christian martyr make. Taking into account the suffering the early martyrs faced so that all of God's children would be liberated from violence, injustice, and division, a true Christian martyr would be someone who suffers for bringing people TOGETHER, not tearing gay families apart.

    But Ron, you must also remember that there are over 39,000 sects of Protestant belief found throughout the world. 27,000 different denominations are in America alone. No "Christian" has the right to claim that he or she represents the entire tradition. That's simply ludicrous and arrogant.

    The Christian tradition I belong to is working to correct its homophobia and making great strides towards full acceptance of LGBTs within the community of the church. Many mainline Protestant congregations are struggling with this issue and are slowly beginning to be inclusive. There is an "emergent" church that is developing out of the various mainline faiths that is inclusive of LGBTs and seeks to have a deeper and more loving relationship with God that reflects the practices of the early Christian community.

    For too long, gays have left the Christian tradition because they were abused by haters and bigots who hid behind a warped interpretation of Scripture. That's unfortunate, but times are changing. The way many of us commune with God and how the scripture fits into that is inclusive and respectful of difference. The Christian community is constantly changing because it is a living tradition, not a stale, dead, draconian one.

    There will always be the conservatives within the tradition, but they on this issue are becoming the minority. Whatever they choose to believe, the rest of us are choosing to be impartial, open, and compassionate examples of the spirit of Christ, to follow our Lord as he lived and to love one another as he commanded.

    Just know that regardless of what happens within the larger Christian tradition, there is a place for gays at God's table. God is love, not bigotry or hate. Anyone who tells you that God doesn't love you because you're gay, is simply speaking from the darkness of their own hearts and the sickness of their own minds.

    If you want to find a church that welcomes you as you are, contact me and I'll give you some suggestions.

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  2. Kevin,

    You are exactly right, Miss California didn't give a politically incorrect answer, she gave an ignorant answer when she said "in my family and my country and the way I was raised...." That is a very insulting and degrading comment to those of us who happened to be born gay and would like to enjoy the same civil rights and benefits of our straight brethren.

    Thanks for your advice on Christian churches that I could attend that would accept me "as I am." I've tried a few of those gay churches. I used to attend Dignity when I lived in Philadelphia. I stopped attending because I felt it was just venue for gays to cruise other gays. If I wanted to get picked up, I'll go to a gay bar.

    I've attended MCC services here in Rehoboth but it had an absentee pastor for most of the services who was more interested in taking sabbaticals to further his education than tending to his flock. This particular congregation has a large lesbian contingent. They kept to themselves. There were a few gay couples and they kept to themselves. All very nice people but to me, I felt like I came to the wrong party. Not inclusive at all even though they had the "group hug" at the beginning of the service.

    The best church I ever attended was one in Valley Forge, PA. A Reverend Pennington was the pastor. I don't know what his sexual orientation was (never gave it a thought actually) but he never, never screamed or went off on anti-gay tirades. He preached lessons of life and was accommodating to everyone; rich, poor, gay, straight, white, black. Sad to say I've never found a church like that since. I used to take my Mother to this service. She doesn't go to church either but she did like this church. Sad to say, Rev. Pennington died and I haven't seen his like since. They may be out there and maybe I haven't looked hard enough.

    I've been burned too many times with my recent visits to church only to be blindsided by anti-gay rhetoric. In today's climate, with all the hatred generated towards gays and lesbians, I don't think there is a church other than a gay orientated one that can conduct a Christian service.

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  3. Kevin,

    Your comment is very well written and explains how the Christian church is ever changing. I would send this comment to my friend who is trying to "save" me but he refuses to read anything that doesn't comply with his thought process. He tells me "Ron, don't waste your time sending me anything like that because I will delete it. You're wasting my time." See what I'm dealing with? As much as I hate to say it I believe I will have to leave this long time friend behind in my life. He brings me down. He is a negative influence in my life. Why continue?

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  4. A comment from my longtime friend Don McK.

    "One comment: I must have missed out but when did it become fashionable to be gay."

    My apologies Don. I got carried away. It is still not "fashionable" to be gay. "Will and Grace" was a fairy tale(no pun intended.) Real gays (and lesbians) are still disparaged and discounted as human beings. There have been a lot of changes in my lifetime but I doubt if I will ever see full equality before I die. Again, maybe this is why I identify with the song Susan Boyle sang "I dream a dream."

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