As a white, gay man living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I take for granted the ease with which I move through the world. On my way back from Central America recently, I breezed through US Customs in a matter of minutes. And I publicly negotiate my same-gender loving relationship with my husband who is African-American with as much ease, rarely thinking twice about what anyone thinks about an interracial gay couple. I simply don’t have to.
Or so I think.
From time-to-time, it’s good—well, at least helpful—to be reminded that not everyone shares my worldview. Even if it’s jarring.
To wit, I was jolted out of my blissful ignorance recently as my husband and I prepared to nerd out at our second viewing of the last Star Wars movie. During the pre-preview round of commercials, an abbreviated version of Levi’s vivid “Circles” commercial fixated our attention.
Drenched in a canvas of diversity, bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors representing people of a variety of backgrounds, social locations, and faith traditions (to name a few) engaged themselves in the movement of dance within the space of community.
Then in rapid fire succession, Levi’s superimposed their mantra:
Levi’s is for Men, Women, Young, Old, Rich, Poor, Gay, Straight.
As I nudged my husband, grinning proudly, the man sitting immediately behind us with his family (he and another man on one end, children in the middle, wife/mother on the other end) snarled:
Oh. They snuck it in there.
His disdain settled on me and caused me to freeze in my seat. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of how closely to each other my husband and I were sitting (I always move the armrest between us) and how affectionate we had been with each other.
Initially, anger flushed into my cheeks; I don’t even remember what played for the next several minutes. I wanted to move to another row. I wanted to lean in closer to my husband like we always do during movies. I wanted to turn around and glare at him and channel “that look” my mother could give someone who had crossed her. I felt like launching into my best “WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, DEAL WITH IT” protest stance. And though I don’t wear clergy collars, I wished in that instance I had been wearing one so I could lean in and, after kissing my husband, turn and give him the gospel truth about God’s love for all people.
But I kept it together, furiously channeling my frustration into a series of snarky tweets before the film started. [My final triumphant tweet supposed what the man would think about the franchise “sneaking in” a same-gender kiss at the end of the movie.]
Before long, we were able to shake off the discomfort and enjoy the movie as a couple. But I could never fully escape what I perceived to be a glare upon the backs of our heads—one that radiated the ire of someone who thought we are somehow second class, disgusting, unwelcome to participate in the dance of society.
Over the last couple of days as I continued to think about this encounter, I redirected my frustration into awareness of toward two different but not unrelated realities.
I reflected that for a brief moment, the insulation of my privilege had been breached allowing me to feel a skosh of what so many others experience in their lives as a rule—not an exception. Folks who—because of some outward characteristic—are told or behaved toward as if they are less than or ‘other’. His impertinence had hurt my feelings but I myself experienced no harm, was not asked to leave the theater, was not publicly humiliated.
And I observed that far more than making me feel uncomfortable, this man’s sentiment was a reminder that all around me are people who feel differently from me about a variety of social and political issues. Even in the uber-progressive urban culture we live in—where progressive churches abound and “gay” is less shocking than the variety of folks’ hair color out here—pockets of some type of supremacy or another inspire people to value some lives and devalue others.
Being a member of an ultra-progressive faith tradition and one of not one but two gay pastors serving a suburban church has dulled me, somewhat, to the reality that not everyone out here on the blue coast accepts gay people, much less affirms our right to full and equal treatment in all segments of society. Nor does everyone share my view on white supremacy, racism, immigration, women’s rights, and so on.
I do not point this out to judge those who disagree with me (ok mostly) but rather to hold a mirror up to myself and remember:
I have not always believed what I believe:
About faith as liberation. About immigrants. And certainly not about gay people.
And the only reason I have learned what I have learned is because someone—lots of someones—met me where I was and patiently companioned me toward new understandings and a change of heart.
To be sure: there is indeed a time for calling out, for protesting injustice, for standing up for one’s self or another. My work, it seems, is to also hold space for those who do not see as I do, to be prepared to engage with my actions with firmness, yes, but also a good deal of grace and patience.
I was proud my husband and I were reflected in the spirit of that Levi’s commercial. And instead of being angry that the man behind us wanted us excluded from that dance, I feel compassion for him. For there in his footsteps I myself have walked—and occasionally still stumble. And the task, for me at least, is to hold the space between prejudice and love until one can make it to the other side liberated, embracing the goodness found within the diversity of humankind, bearing none ill-will for who they are or who they love.
For that is the world I believe we have always been destined to be, a worldview I believe faith compels us to live out.
That is the circle I hope we all can dance within.
 The interracial nature of our relationship is, sadly, a much bigger deal in the South where we’re both from.
 To do so without risk to my life is also a reality of the privilege I hold…but that’s another post.