Last weekend, my partner and I decided to do some reading at a city park near a downtown area where we both live. We chose to stop and do our reading on a cement stage area that was just in front of a four-story parking structure. As I’m typing this, I realize just how odd this scene probably looked.
The park area wasn’t overly busy that day, so it was easy to settle in and begin reading our books. About ten minutes into our concentration, a man walked past us and made his way up the parking structure stairs located just to our backs. A couple minutes went by, when the silence was broken by the man who had just passed by.
The man had climbed to the third story of the structure and was staring out at the park in front of us. I had this weird feeling of someone being behind me without my knowledge. You know, that creepy nerve feeling you get? He looked down at us and broke the silence by saying, “Gay.” I didn’t move my head much, but I definitely stopped reading my book and just stared at the page. I wondered if my partner had just heard the same thing I thought I had. A few seconds later I heard it again, “Gay!” This time I knew his comment (insult?) was real and it was directed at us. Clearly this man was looking to get a rise out of us or maybe just wanting to get attention.
Confusingly, that was really all the man did, save for informing us—his uninterested audience—that we could purchase weed from him. After another 20 minutes, we finished reading and made our way back into downtown.
For me, the offense of the situation took about ten minutes to sink in. As we walked away, the two of us processed what had happened back at the park. Oddly (and thankfully) I think this was the first time someone had said something homophobic to me since I was in high school! I mean, maybe he wasn’t exactly trying to be homophobic. Perhaps he was just stating the obvious: There were two gay men in front of him. Interestingly, it didn’t seem as obvious to me. On both occasions, after he said this at us, it took me a moment to stop looking around the park searching for another, more obvious-looking gay couple to feel pity for.
Gay is all they see
Hearing this man’s attempt at offense to us made me realize that often “Gay” is all some people want to see in me. I strongly doubt that a straight couple sitting in that same spot would have heard a man shout, “Straight!” at them.
I’ve experienced this a lot—people’s inability to see beyond my sexuality and give me more meaningful humanity. Many times, people really only desire to see the things that make them most uncomfortable. It’s as if people look at my partner and me struggling to see anything deeper in our humanity beyond the fact that we’re attracted to each other in every way.
Instead of wondering what my favorite music is, they attempt to wrap their head around the idea of how exactly gay sex works.
Instead of asking my partner and me to get dinner, they stare at us and wonder how we could consider ourselves “Christians” when we’re living “that lifestyle.”
Instead of wondering what we like to do for fun, they answer themselves with pre-conceived notions of what “gay people like to do.”
Instead of talk to me and continue to build relationship with me, they stand motionless or avoid me.
Instead of chuckle (or even roll their eyes) at the idea of two lovebirds reading together in a park, all they can utter is the phrase: “Gay.”
They have a very little conception of what "gay" is, let alone who I am.
Gay is all I can see
Now, surrounded in a society where my sexual orientation is all a person may notice about me, I’m finding that I have to fight the urge to look at myself as anything more than just a gay man.
I find myself resisting the idea that I can actually be more than the glaring sexuality that people can't seem to look past. Prior to coming out [publicly] I was able to realize my strengths and gifts. I saw that I had a deep heart for people and a budding ability to successfully lead an organization that changed peoples' lives. I saw myself deeply involved in Christian ministry surrounded by those who desired my well being on multiple levels (i.e. vocationally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually).
Then I came out. Now I have to fight just to recall much of what formerly seemed obvious to me.
For other gay people, they've been so labeled by others that they isolate themselves so deep within the gay community that they're unable to relate to straight people on any meaningful level at all. The mark of their sexuality has become the primary basis of which they can relate to the world around them. The main difference between them and another becomes the factor they use to avoid real connection. When they interact with straight people, it seems as if no part of them can relate because they have such vastly different sexualities!
Maybe We Should Look More Carefully
It’s quite sick really, all of this. We’re (i.e. humanity) pathetic on so many levels.
Those afraid of LGBTQ people hide from the sexuality of those different than their own. Alternatively, those lost in their sexuality hide behind their own sexuality to avoid any possibility for relationships. Maybe it’s not sick. Maybe it’s an attractively poisonous dance that leads to relational death. It's poetic.
The fact is, we’ve got to find better, more authentic ways to relate to one another. If sexuality is our sole basis for relational connection, we are selling ourselves way too short of the people God has given us.
Now, I’ll get apologetic for only a few of sentences because I can hear the retorts already coming my way. YES, sexuality is a great thing! Sexuality is something that can be acknowledged and celebrated because we learn so much from it. It often coats the way we see much of the world around us. However, and I’m back to earth now, it’s absolutely destructive to acknowledge sexuality at the expense of knowing the deeper, more full human that lives beyond a person's sexuality.
Sexuality is merely a part of who I am. It influences how I see my romantic relationship, it influences how I interact with other men and women; but don’t miss this: it is not the sum of my being.
Do LGBTQ people scare you? Or are you scared of being anything but LGBTQ?
I’m hesitant to offer practical advice, because I hope it’s obvious, but I’ll give these simple considerations:
- Acknowledge and celebrate someone’s sexuality, but realize his or her humanity before anything else.
- Seek genuine connection with those around you and stop being afraid of losing any identity that comes second to that which God give to us.
- Avoid isolation in any community. I assure you that it will only make you dull, uncompassionate, and narrow-minded.
- See a community that scares you or that you can't look past? Get to know someone that’s part of it! Seek to really understand them even if you have nothing in common with their communities.