As you know if you read yesterday’s post, I’ve been asked by a nephew who is a leader in his evangelical church to answer some questions about my life in general, and gay marriage in particular. He asks a series of questions, and I will answer them one at a time to give him time to digest my answers. Here is his second question and my response:
2) Do you feel on the whole accepted or persecuted by your friends/family? Examples?
This is a huge question. I will take it in two parts: Family first, then friends.
FAMILY: On the whole, yes, I feel both accepted and persecuted by family. If I count my mother, siblings, their kids, and their spouses, I end up with nine who are entirely supportive and eight who are marginally supportive. When I say marginally, I mean they are polite and kind to our faces, then turn around and support anti-LGBT legislation to deny us the same civil rights they themselves enjoy.
Does that count as persecution? Hell, yes. Every vote to deny or strip LGBT people of civil rights encourages bigotry. Even if my evangelical Christian family members don’t act on their prejudice around us, their votes and voices in church encourage others to do so. And believe me, there are plenty of self-righteous bigots hiding behind their Bibles who are delighted to beat us with their beliefs.
Bear in mind, when I say ‘beat’ it’s only partially metaphoric. The stories of gay men being attacked, lesbians being raped, bi-sexuals excluded, transgendered people being killed, and far too many of us dying by bullycide* may not hit the mainstream media with great regularity, but they spread like wildfire among us. The Orlando Pulse Bar massacre caught the world’s attention only because of the sheer magnitude of death and destruction. It terrified everyone in the LGBT community (myself included) but not because it was new to us. Every single day that goes by, someone in our rainbow family dies because of bigotry translated into action. Hate crimes, by definition, are terrorist acts perpetrated to spread fear through an identified group.
It works. We spend too much time on guard, or even afraid. Some of us more so than others, and I’m one of them. I go to Pride festivals because it’s important: they exist to empower my rainbow family. But I’m hyper aware, ready to grab our kids and flee at the slightest sign of violence. We no longer go to gay bars, our long-standing safe places, maybe because we’re getting older and don’t drink, or maybe because of the increase in violence being experienced as backlash for the legalization of gay marriage and other civil rights legislation. Traf displays no fear, but when confronted she doesn’t hesitate to get up close and personal, fists closed in expectation of a fight. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it several times with my own eyes, once as she passed our grandbaby to my arms for safe keeping.
When our country and state, nearly simultaneously, decided to include Traf and me as full citizens with equal rights we wasted no time in getting married. Your sister was also getting married and I didn’t want to steal her thunder, so I designed invitations that recognized the distance involved and explained I understood people would probably not attend. Still, like every other human being on Earth, I wanted my family to celebrate with me now that I was finally getting a chance to marry the one person in my life with whom I’d ever truly settle down. With a light heart and expectations of their best wishes, I mailed the invitations to all my family members.
Mom waxed enthused over the phone; she truly loves Traf. One sister suggested briefly that she might come and then never mentioned it again. Otherwise, not one of my family members recognized our big day was coming.
On September 12, 2013 Traf and I were married in our home. Our granddaughter was the flower girl. Both of Traf’s daughters, their spouses, and all but one of our grandchildren attended; the other one was working out of state. Immediately following the service, we had a reception in the backyard (chased inside by rain) with our neighbors and friends. The only members from my side of the family who mailed cards of congratulations were my brother’s ex-wife (your mother) and current wife (he marries good people). Shortly after, your sister’s thank you card for the wedding present we’d sent arrived along with a photo of all my siblings, my mother, and you and your cousins attending her wedding. It stayed on the mantle over our fireplace through Thanksgiving.
I understand that my family’s seeming boycott of my wedding wasn’t deliberate persecution. It was neglect and indifference, which hurt just as much if not worse. It’s a lot like the knowledge that almost no one (Mom and one sister excepted) in my family has read a single one of my books, much less bragged about me being an award winning author. But enough about that; back to your question.
Yes, I feel persecuted by my evangelical Christian family members because they deny the reality of our lives and ignore our needs, perpetuating a system of abuse that threatens me and mine. It wounds me deeply, and because of that I’ve learned to expect hurt and disappointment. I still love them and keep the lines of communication open, but how can I trust them?
Friends are the family you choose for yourself. I don’t feel persecuted by them, because I do not choose to be around people who make me feel threatened.
However, I do have one friend that wasn’t always supportive. She’s in my writing group, and we had to find our way to an understanding.
I am completely out-of-the-closet, and refuse to hide my relationship with Traf. Now that we’re married, I proudly refer to her as my wife, but when I met R- we were caught in the limbo (a deliberately chosen word) of second-class citizenry. Still, I often spoke of Traf and watched everyone in our newly founded group for any signs of bigotry. One night, it happened.
We’d been writing together for hours, everyone encouraging one another with a set goal in mind. It was midnight and I was gathering my things together to go home. Out of the blue, R- asked me, “Why are all gays pedophiles?”
I stared at her, uncomprehending for a moment. When her words did penetrate, I answered, “R-, I am going to knock you down.” I made no move toward her, but neither did I back away.
“No, seriously,” she responded. “Why are all gays pedophiles?”
“I am going to knock you down,” I repeated, putting down my things and preparing to do battle. “Gays are not automatically pedophiles. I do not, I repeat, do not hurt children.”
“Oh,” she answered, seemingly surprised. “I didn’t mean you.* That’s what I was taught.”
I looked at her closely, and saw only confusion in her face, not anger or hatred, so I unclenched my fists and sat down. The other two women in the group looked vastly relieved, and we all settled into a long conversation about what it means to be LGBT. It turned out that R- had spent decades as a member of a proselytizing evangelical church and truly believed that every gay person is a pedophile. Luckily for our group, she really listened as I explained my reality. She asked questions that sometimes shocked me, but only because she’d seemed so rational up until then.
It occurred to me, not for the first time, that almost everyone who knows that I’m gay cannot help labeling me. It’s the first thing they think when I come to their minds: Genta, the lesbian…the homosexual…the ‘other’. The movie, On Golden Pond, first brought that home to me when Henry Fonda’s character refers to ‘the lesbians who live across the pond’ several times, and never uses their names. That’s all they were to him, ‘the lesbians’.
How would you like to identified…every…single…time as a sexual act? Whenever the word ‘homosexual’ is used to define us, it’s the ‘sexual’ part that titillates and remains in peoples’ psyches. I think that is why we, as individuals and a group, have adopted the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, to establish our identities as whole persons, rather than just a biological behavior.
Nephew, I challenge you: When you address your congregation use only the terms gay and lesbian to discuss us, but refer to straights continuously as ‘heterosexuals’. You’ll see people squirm, I guarantee it.
* To be clear, all LGBT members are subject to any of the horrors: attack/rape/exclusion/murder/and suicide.
* Too often, people categorize all LGBT folks as ‘other’. Since almost everyone knows someone who is LGBT, heterosexuals often excuse their friends/family members with the phrase, “I don’t mean you.” That gives them permission to continue their bigotry without having to deal with what it means/does to their friend/family member. Totally uncool.