Previous blog: Pride
Earlier this week, I ran across an op-ed by Jonathan Capehart on his Washington Post political blog (thanks @EqualityTexas) where he made a very interesting point about activism.
Move over, glitter bombs.The gays have found a new — and I would say more effective — way to make their point. They’re just being themselves.
The author’s theory is that gays’ best offense (and perhaps, defense) is to just live out our ordinary lives.
This isn’t the first time I’ve ever heard of living one’s life as a form of activism but it’s really just occuring to me that this is precisely what I’ve been doing for over 5 years.
About 2 years ago, I met a passel of activists—Adam Taylor, Phil Reese, and Michael Crawford, director of online programs at Freedom to Marry (also here)—who were in Dallas for an LGBT leadership conference. These men were not only out, but they were making it their vocation in life to lobby for and secure equal rights for all of us! Oh, how they inspired me!
Toward the end of our meal, Phil leaned over and told me:
We don’t really need more activists. People generally hate us. What we need is more people like you, living in ordinary America, just living your life, showing people that we’re no different than anyone else.
Up until that moment, I had somewhat trivialized—and increasingly loathed—my place in rural, conservative Texas. True, my coming out here was pretty high profile, having been very involved in my community, the schools, and a local church all my life, and divorcing a very good woman, “breaking up a family.” And, going for broke, I also engaged in a very visible interracial relationship, later followed by another. (I will never forget all the many gawkers at Kroger for the duration of my relationships.)
The urban gay friends I had thought it was silly to live in such a small (backwards) town and one aunt even openly feared for my safety here. Yet I never considered leaving; I wanted the boys to be able to continue in the same school they’d always gone to with their friends. My job was close. And my aging mother lives here. I thought, “if my kids could stick it out then so can I.”
So I got used to both the stares and the quick-lookaways from people who didn’t want to talk to me/us. I got used to the isolation—particularly in the months after I came out and again now that I’m single. And I just … live my life pretty much like anyone else. (Only with more fabulousness.)
After reading Capehart’s hypothesis Thursday morning on the way to work (prompting me to write much of this blog via my dictation app), I realized that I have been doing exactly what he and my activist friends.
I am relieved that many women and men in my community have not felt this way, welcoming me with encouragement (one not-related-to-my-church woman stopped me at Chili’s not long after I came out and told me to not duck my head when I met others’s glance, but to hold my head up high because I was a beautiful person) and open arms back into the world of parent volunteering and community life.
Despite being an openly gay male, I am allowed to remain a very active parent volunteer…
[the reason I say “allowed” is because sadly, people still ignorantly equate homosexuality with pedophilia. Even my old church—who had loved and supported me for over 2 decades—told the youth group parents upon my coming out, “he was not left alone with your children…and he’s always welcome back here if he repents but he won’t be allowed to work with the youth.” The school system never once openly engaged in such a witch hunt.]
…and am involved in three parent organizations, one of which I am the president of. I helped chaperone a group of 100 students on a trip to New York last year. I am a chief supporter of my son’s athletic team, lending my creativity and voice to the effort. And whether single or partnered, I have continued to shop at all the local stores, attend local sporting and community events, and dine in local restaurants–all as my status updates and check-ins so indicate.
I don’t carry a purse. (It’s called a murse or a man-bag.) Don’t wave my rainbow flag around town (though my holiday US flags always have a rainbow ribbon tied at the top). And I don’t stand on a street corner protesting with dramatic antics and megaphones.
(Though I have been tempted to stand on the square with this one:
Don’t get me wrong: I respect and value the work of all the activists, past and present, who have spoken up and taken a stand on behalf of equal rights for all—whether it be to end slavery, grant women voting rights, secure equal rights for people of all races, provide equal access to handicapped individuals, and acquire civil rights for all humans regardless of sexual preference. These men and women with their signs and strong voices and refusal to back down despite threats against them and jail time have brought awareness to the movement, attention to the persecution and inequity, and have bravely refused to be quiet.
But as I reflect on my “ordinary life,” I believe it has, if anything, eliminated one of the most prevalent causes of hate:
Homosexuality is not a choice but hate is. People aren’t born to hate; it is something they are taught. And fear breeds hate. I think many people don’t support equal civil rights (much as they did in the 60s), hiding behind the veil of religion because it makes their hate seem somehow like a holy war.
Until at least a couple years after I decided of my own volition to come out, I had never heard of Harvey Milk, or his call to action to a generation of gays, spoken when I was just 10 years old:
“I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects … I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”
I can say because I came out, there are some people who now know “a gay” and may have actually have changed their viewpoint about gays simply because now they know someone who is just an ordinary person like them (possibly with better hair haha) and find it hard to discriminate or even remember the reason they discriminated in the first place.
They have seen a gay shop, be involved in school programs, and cheer for their children at sporting events. They have seen an openly gay couple with children out in public, behaving just as any other family. They have seen a gay couple on a date, shop in the grocery store, attend sporting events to support their family, and probably also seen brief exchanges of affection—just like they might see from a heterosexual couple.
Now I don’t doubt that many people here still hate me for what I am and/or for disarming them and their hate-filled cause and religious hypocrisy. I know there are many who harbor resentment for the fallout associated with my coming out. And I still see looks of “faggot” in people’s eyes. But whom I sleep with is largely irrelevant to my place as an equal citizen of this country and member of this human race.
[Remember, heterosexuals, cheating on your wives and treating them disrespectfully is talked about much more frequently in your Bible than homosexuality. Need a forklift for that plank?!]
But I hope because of my activism,
- Someone, somewhere will be compassionate when a son or daughter comes out.
- A teenager will take a stand against someone bullying someone.
- A Christian will use his/her heart and vote for leaders who will work toward ending hate and inequality.
And I hope that just as Christ-believing people are moving away from churches with exclusive and narrow-minded doctrines into open and accepting church communities, that they will also abandon political parties that do not support equal rights for all citizens and no longer support candidates (like Texas governor Rick Perry) who try to get elected by whipping up fear and bullying minorities.
That said, I’m finding it harder to stay quiet and to openly confront someone who whispers behind my back “he’s rubbing his lifestyle in our faces.” Anyone who knows me knows I’m not at all shy about my beliefs. I’ve increasingly started calling some of my friends to task—much to their discomfort, for sure—for being friends with gays but not supporting candidates who support us. I realize politics and friendships are strained bedfellows at best, but I simply cannot let such contradictions go unchecked. I have full confidence that these friends will still extend a glass of wine with me even if we may have to make a truce to avoid certain conversations.
So, I agree: “living an ordinary life” may well be the new activism.
…living our lives right here among everyone, as we are granted the right to do by our country’s constitution…
…going to the polls…
…refusing to accept demonization by religious zealots.
Continuing to live as if we’re equal—even though the majority don’t see it that way—may be the lynch pin in this fight to be regarded as equals by the laws of this country.
And besides, count me out for the glitter bombs; that stuff is impossible to get rid of.
ur best post yet; ur a great writer caus i can visualize what ur saying; not as brave as you; but am coming out to more people
i appreciate your comment and compliment, GPW. i wish i could say i was brave; i think what i was doing was just surviving. it wasn’t premeditated, i didn’t give much thought to it at all (though it had consumed my entire life), and i didn’t make some big, bold pronouncement. but i know in my heart it was the only thing i could do to survive.
Sometimes, just surviving takes an instinctual bravery of which we are unaware. You are brave, Todd, not just in “coming out” or being who you are, but in every moment that you take in breath.
To a lot of people, it’s a scary world…each day is frightening and it would be so easy to wake up, peep out from under the blanket, look around, shiver and return to the safety of the bed. Whatever it is that you must face to survive…whatever it is that you must be stronger than…consciously or unconsciously, you prevail.
The greatest heroes are not those who “make some big, bold pronouncement” or who do grandiose feats of bravery. The greatest heroes are those who don’t think and just do…because they must. If they think of consequences, they just pass them by as they focus on what must be done. You need to survive as YOU…in our day, that’s bravery…and to know that in your heart “it was the only thing” you “could do to survive” without fanfare…well, that’s humility.
You are so inspiring and I so enjoy your writings. Thank you for being you.
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