Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gay Debate's Hate Needn't Be Returned


Ironically, until my family moved to the Bible Belt, I'd never heard of it.  Granted, we moved down to Texas from New York the summer before I entered junior high school, which can be a pretty tumultuous time for most kids, so I'd have learned about it sooner or later, regardless of where I lived.

I was wimpy, non-athletic, sexually naive, somewhat effeminate, and quite quiet.  Actually, with the exception of that last one, I'm the same way today.  Only today, I realize what a liability not being macho can be, especially here in Texas.  Back then, however, I had no idea that kids in my seventh grade class were sleeping around and having sex parties.  Hadn't a clue.  I only learned about it after college, when a former classmate of mine joined the church I attended after he'd dedicated his life to Christ.

He'd been one of the aloof, cool kids who never had time to taunt me.  Years later, when he introduced himself to me, I was stunned he knew who I was.  After we became friends, he asked if I knew why our classmates treated me so horribly.  And they did - they were brutal towards me.  They called me a gay faggot incessantly, taunting their perception of my inferior sexuality on a daily basis.  Having never heard of homosexuality before, or that being "gay" didn't just mean being happy, I didn't understand why they picked on me so.  I was from New York State, and everybody here seemed to hate Yankees, but the "Yankee, go home" ribbing we transplants received from the locals never carried the vitriol those gay faggot barbs did.

So when this newfound friend and former classmate asked me about those painful, awful days, I asked him to tell me.  My parents had told me it was mostly just part of the middle school angst many kids have to endure.  But apparently, in our school, at least, sex was the big pastime.  Not drugs, or smoking, or alcohol, but sex.  And since I was never at any of their sex parties, and since none of the girls were talking about my sexual prowess, everybody assumed that I was gay.  It apparently never dawned on anybody that I wasn't at their sex parties because I didn't know about them, or that my parents had instilled such a strong morality in me that I wouldn't have participated even if I did.

Perhaps that explains why I've never been repulsed by the gay label, like so many other people are.  Having been slandered by malcontents with such bigotry when I was young helps me understand today what gay people in our society have to endure.  One person's sin doesn't justify somebody else's.

I started working in retail during high school, after the gay taunting had stopped, and my oppressors were more anxious about getting into the right college.  I was struck again by the hate gays experience in our society when, one day, a gay window dresser at our company didn't show up with the rest of the crew.  He'd been beaten almost to death near his apartment in Dallas, attacked because he was walking along a street in the city's gay district, Oak Lawn.  I was horrified - I had no idea that the hatred and mockery to which I was subjected in junior high could manifest itself in such physical brutality in the "real" world.

During graduate school, when I was interviewed for a summer internship with the City of New York, the man who would be my boss for those three months asked me point-blank if I was gay.  Of course, that is an illegal question for an employer to ask an employee, but he asked me anyway, because I think he thought I was.  When I told him I wasn't, he told me that he'd asked the question because he was, as were many men in the department, and he wanted to see if I'd recoil at the prospect of working with them.  I think the fact that I wasn't flustered by the question or his explanation for asking it helped get me the internship.

And sure enough, there were some real flamers there - and yes, I can use the term.  And you know what?  They were some of the funniest, smartest, and warmest people I met that summer.  They were also hard to peg sociopolitically.  For example, my boss was helping to organize an anti-Catholic, pro-choice demonstration one weekend, and canvassed for volunteers after a staff meeting.  He asked one of the managers to participate, but the guy balked.

"I can't protest that," he exclaimed.  "I'm pro-life!"

My boss was genuinely shocked.  "You can't be pro-life," he shot back, dumbfounded.  "You're gay!"

"Yes, I'm gay," the manager retorted, "but I'm also Catholic, and I believe abortion is murder."

I sat at my desk and smirked.

When I started this blog, I had no intention of spending much time discussing sexuality of any kind.  I'm not particularly comfortable discussing the topic in any of its forms.  I have my own beliefs regarding sexuality that are founded in the Gospel of Christ, and I have a good understanding of what's sin and what isn't in this department.  Plus, I think our society already talks, writes, jokes, argues, and fantasizes too much about sex and sexuality.  We've perverted it into something God never intended it to be, but then again, perhaps we're just public about our perversions, instead of more publicly modest societies in ancient times.

I may have intended to stay above the fray, and discuss more pertinent issues.  Yet mine seems to have been too unrealistic an assumption, because suddenly, it seems as though a homosexual agenda is crashing through American society, demanding changes to the ways we address non-traditional sexual lifestyles.  Both gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws have exploded onto the political stage like an early summer thunderstorm in Texas, and just like a Lone Star downpour, things are moving swiftly and ominously.

Within the past several months, I've found myself writing more and more about the homosexual issues that command more and more attention in our national discourse.  I have friends who are gay, and I try to write in a way that wouldn't offend them, but still conveys the truths about sexuality that I believe God intended when He created sexuality to begin with.  I'm also led, more often than I like, back to those black, crushing days in junior high school when I was bullied with aspersions on my sexuality, or my lack of it.  For years, I would not permit myself to relive those memories.  Not necessarily because those kids thought I was gay, or called me by ugly, sexualized terms.  If I had been fat then, I'd likely have been ridiculed for that instead.  No, I've realized, with the benefit of hindsight, that those kids simply loved to hate people who were different than they were.

Many of us evangelicals seem to love to hate people who are different from us.  Or at least, we find some sort of affirmation for our own viewpoints by holding people who don't share them in contempt.  We assume there's some sort of dispensation in the Scriptures somewhere that gives us permission to be cruel towards people who base their lifestyle on a sin.  And a sexual one at that.  Yet how often do you and I lust after a beautiful person in our mind?  Do you think it comes close to the number of times gay people sin sexually?  We've allowed Hollywood and pop culture to acclimate ourselves to the notion that heterosexual adultery is normal, and we think novels like The Scarlet Letter reflect a more primitive, legalistic time.  It's pretty much only same-sex sex that incites our contempt these days.

Not that some gay-rights advocates are treating us evangelicals these days any better than I was treated in junior high school.  We get accused of bigotry and intolerance by people who apparently never look in the mirror.  Except that sometimes, they're right.  And when they are, we believers in Christ need to remember that with grace, mercy, and truth on our side, we have an obligation to model the Fruit of the Spirit, instead of matching vitriol for vitriol.

This battle, after all, is still the Lord's.  And it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.  Let us find comfort and encouragement in the reality that we are the Lord's too.

And in so doing, perhaps we'll discover some of our opponents becoming His as well.

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