On Being Gay: An Aberration Story
"We are who we are, and the more people can accept that fact, the better the world will be."
Aberration Nation is not about world peace, going green, or gay pride. It's not about healing all the ills that exist in our growing culture of materialism and instant gratification. It's about individual self-reflection and optimism. It's making lemonade out of lemons and smiling through our tears, knowing tears are part of package, and that tomorrow is a new day filled with opportunity and greater wisdom.
David is gay. Like many of us, he has come to understand and embrace his aberration with open arms. Like my own creativity and intellect and obsessiveness, it's part of who he is--not to be squelched, belittled, or misunderstood. When I was a little girl, I was taught that God knew every hair on my head even before I came into this vast world. If he created me and each strand of hair on my head, why would he inflict creativity upon me only to expect and watch me struggle to ignore it? Wasn't it my gift? Why would an unenlightened, average thinking, uncreative world expect me to be someone I cannot be?
Last week I watched a program on the History channel about alternate universes. While I wasn't convinced of their existence after an hour of listening to the multiple fascinating scientific theories, I was struck by the vastness and mystery of the universe. I wondered how some people can be so resolutely sure about the origins, purpose, and future of our world. It is faith, arrogance, or a lack of intelligence that drives these all-knowing faces toward an enigmatic light, and farther away from me?
David, on the other hand, remains beside me in all his earnestness and honesty. He is a hero. His words relay to us the simple truth of who he is. If you can suspend all preconceived notions and stereotypes, you'll also hear the singing heart of us all. The sound it makes is as vast and beautiful as the universe.
So you're gay. Can you explain to us what that means in your own words? As you likely know, some of us still don't get it.
Being gay is really no different than being straight, bi, whatever. It's simply a matter of who you're attracted to and who you fall in love with. It's hard to put a definition on it. When I first came out and realized who I was, the question I was asked most often was, "How do you know you're gay?" I'd always ask, "How do you know you're straight?" It's just a knowledge that you have deep down inside.
I am a man and I'm attracted to men. That's the fact that makes most people uncomfortable because it's seen as being wrong. So many people say it's wrong--the church, the government, in some cases the media--and I just don't understand that. The way I look at it, it's all a matter of who you love, and therefore so many people are saying the entire ideal of love is wrong. That makes me angry. The church preaches tolerance and love, but only by their standards. The government is supposed to be there to uphold our freedom, yet they won't let gays marry, so we're not entirely free. The media will run any number of shows (The Bachelor, Bachelorette, etc.) that basically mock the idea of marriage (I cannot even begin to think that these people can find true love in a couple of weeks on a TV show!), but since it's about heterosexual couples, it's OK. It can be very infuriating sometimes, but I accept that this is how the world is right now, and just move on.
I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who can argue the same points against gays, but this is my perception.
How old were you when you realized you were gay, and how did you handle it? It's tough for many heterosexuals to understand. Many people still believe that being gay is a choice. Did you chose or did it chose you?
On some level I always knew I was gay. However, I never knew anyone else who was gay; I had no frame of reference to understand what I was feeling. I remember being in middle and high school and being attracted to other guys at my school, but not understanding what I was feeling, I just put it off as jealousy. I was never athletic. I wasn't in the popular crowd, and so I just put these feelings off as longing to be like these other guys--not necessarily that I was attracted to them. It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I met anyone else who was gay. I remember the first time I was taken to a gay bar. It really opened my eyes to the fact that there were others out there like me. It was a real relief! I think it may be easier for young people today to come out, as being gay is more mainstream in the media and whatnot, but ten years ago, it still wasn't so easily accepted.
And no, there's no choice in the matter, just like there's no choice in being straight. The only choice that can be made is to not accept yourself, and therefore go the way others want you to go--the accepted way. I know people like that, and they are miserable. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing anyone can do for them. They need to accept themselves and be proud of who they are. When I first came out, I got that quite a bit from people too. They told me I was choosing to be the way I was trying to be. Trust me, at that time, if making a choice was involved, I would have chosen differently. My daily fear of not being accepted and wondering if I was going to be a disappointment to my family was too much to bear some days. But I couldn't lie to myself anymore, so I took that chance to choose to be true to myself. I've never looked back.
I was raised to feel that heterosexuality was a bad thing, that no sexuality--or at least hiding it--was best. It took me years to crawl past that message, and stop feeling guilty about what I wanted or what I had to express. Once you were open about your homosexual identity and/or life, how did your family and friends react? Was there anyone who refused to accept you?
I lucked out with regard to my friends and family. My true friends immediately accepted me. In fact, one friend told me how much happier I seemed as soon as I came out, that I had become the person I was supposed to be. The few people who didn't accept me faded from my life, either by their choice or mine. I didn't ask them to leave, but if they couldn't accept me and move on with me, there was no place left for them in my life. It was a selfish choice, but at the time, I needed people around me who were accepting; I didn't need anymore self-inflicted challenges like fighting with people to get them to accept me. So many of the friends that I've made since I came out are so much more family now. I wouldn't give them up for the world.
My immediate family wasn't surprised at all. My step-father at the time had some problems with it at first but finally accepted it. His father never came around to the idea of my being gay, so that made family functions tough, but eventually we just adopted our own version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and moved on. That family isn't a part of my family anymore (my mother divorced a couple of years ago), and so my family has openly accepted me. It isn't even a discussion anymore.
I did have one particularly bad experience at a previous work place. I was informed that I could file a sexual discrimination charges, but what would have been the point? I was already in the process of switching jobs, and it wasn't worth it to them or me to make an issue of it. The people in the wrong knew they were in the wrong, and that was enough for me.
Since our bodies, who we love, and how we need to be loved are such a major part of our identities, why do you think people are so opposed to individuality? Why do they want us to all be the same? Do you think it's simply a religious belief or something more?
At this point, I don't often run into people who don't accept me, but I know my limits. Would I go wandering into a straight biker bar announcing I'm gay? Absolutely not. I try to have as much respect for those around me as I want them to have for me, so if I'm going somewhere where I will be the minority and it would make those around me uncomfortable, I don't advertise myself as gay, but I don't go out of my way to hide it, either.
I think most people who want us all to be the same are ashamed of themselves in some deep way. If everyone could be like them, it would somehow release them of their shame. Individuality can be a very intimidating aspect to some people because it takes a lot of strength to be the person you're meant to be, regardless of what others think. Expressing individuality can come across as intimidation as opposed to individuality; it's almost like some people are challenged by the individuality of the next guy.
While this aberration or difference (from the mainstream) has surely not made certain parts of your life easier, could you be any other way without sacrificing a huge part of yourself?
I don't think I could be any other way. I would probably have to sacrifice every part of who I am right now if I was to change myself. I have a wonderful circle of friends around me that are more family than friends at this point.
I am who I am. Are there things that I would change about myself? Of course. I'd like to lose some weight. I'd like to improve my lot in life. But these are superficial things that anybody might want to change. But the innermost parts of me that are ME. I wouldn't change anything about myself now. I couldn't change it. I consider myself a good friend, good brother, good son; just a good person. I'm proud of myself for overcoming the challenges that have come my way over the years and still maintained MYSELF.
Have you found ways to calm the fears or discomfort you may notice in others at times, or do you ignore non-verbal cues or words that relay resistance to your life and who you are?
I just pay attention to people. I think the biggest thing I can do is make people understand that I'm no different than anybody else. There is this general idea that all gay men think about is sex, sex, sex. That is not true! We are not attracted to every single guy who comes our way. We are no different than anybody else. In general, I think most people have a hard time accepting me (or anyone who is gay) because they have preconceived notions. If they would just take time to ask questions and listen, most people would be surprised by how normal we are.
What is the best approach when we suspect or know someone is gay? Should we ignore that side of them? Should we ask -- or does that make us incredibly rude? Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to ignore the elephant on the table, and sometimes it feels uncomfortable NOT to ignore it. How do we best just get rid of it?
Just take the cues from the person and treat them like you would any other person. If they're comfortable enough with themselves, generally it will come up in conversation--but in incredibly normal ways. You might overhear a guy talking about his boyfriend, or a woman talking about her girlfriend. Take it in stride. Get to know the person for who they are, not who they are attracted to. And usually, at least in my experience, they will help you. I know I try to. I will always answer any question put forth to me about who and what I am because I'd rather people ask questions as opposed to making assumptions. I don't recommend opening a conversation with, "So, I think you're gay. Am I right?" Just talk to people and LISTEN! Listening is so important when you're talking to someone new. More than once, people have heard what they wanted to hear because they really weren't listening to me at all.
If you could say anything to the world about being gay, and have them really listen, what would it be?
I am not different from you. I'm attracted to men. Big deal. I still need to breathe the same air, I still need to sleep, eat, drink, do everything that normal, straight people need to do. Just because I have sex with the same sex doesn't make me strange or abnormal. Take me for who I am. I do that for you. You like to have sex with the opposite sex. Do I judge you for that? Hell no! We are who we are, and the more people can accept that fact, the better the world will be.
We've come a long way over the ten years since I've come out, but there is still room for growth. Would I change anything that has happened over these last ten years? Absolutely not, because there would be no guarantee that I would be where I am now, and I'm happy with where I am now. And I'm happy with me. And I'm happy with you. Has it always been easy? Nope, but I can bet everyone has had some sort of trouble along their path, and we are no different in the end.