How I almost failed P.E. class

Years ago when I was a student in a small Christian school, our physical education teacher (who happened to live less than a block away from campus), decided to put a gym in his garage so that the 7th-12th grade boys could work out. He filled the small space with donated weight-lifting equipment and exercise machines, and most of the guys were delighted to get to show off their machismo during the last hour of school a couple of days each week.

Me and my two best friends weren’t nearly so excited about the situation. We were the skinny and awkward outsiders who were more concerned with how our hair looked than whether our muscles bulged, and we typically dreaded P.E. class. Not only was the teacher a jerk most of the time, years of being called gay slurs by the older boys hadn’t helped our self-esteem or our desire to hang around and watch them show off for each other.

During our first class at this garage/gym, most of the guys went straight for the weight-lifting equipment and ignored the stationary bikes that were sitting in a row along the back wall. That made it perfectly convenient for the three of us to leave the others to their revelry, and do something that was out of the way and, frankly, not too physically-exhausting. So, we hopped on the bikes and began our usual back-and-forth banter about popular culture.

It wasn’t long before the teacher abruptly appeared in front of us and proclaimed loudly, “When you girls are done with the bikes, some of the guys would like to use them.”

The words stung.

After experiencing years of taunts like fag, queer, homo, and sissy, we were now being humiliated in front of some of those same perpetrators by the very person who was supposed to be our protector. And at a Christian school, no less.

After that incident, I began skipping P.E. class. I would either go to another teacher and claim to not feel good (which was true, in a way), or I would simply disappear into the school library until the day ended. I wound up with a D for what should have been an easy class – which stood out significantly against all of the A’s and B’s on the remainder of my report card.

We moved on from the incident. Two of us came out after high school; one still seems to be in the closet. I can’t remember if we ever even discussed what happened, but I suspect it scarred all of us in some way.

I sometimes see Mr. Teacher around town. He works at a local home improvement store, and he even speaks when I run into him. He probably has no recollection of what he said or how he acted, and he most certainly has no idea how his words can still bother me all these years later.

Impasse

I am done.

I no longer feel the need to change your mind, to make you see the truth, to convince you that some things are as obvious as the nose on your face.

Your bigotry is astounding, your religion is as flawed as your logic, you make my head hurt and my stomach turn.

I am tired. Twenty years of arguing and pleading my case has left me worn and weary. I can only imagine you are just as bored with those same talking points you have been using for so long, even though you keep throwing them like daggers in hopes they will stick in someone every once in a while.

I used to care what you think. About me. About people like me. About people completely unlike me who you insist are my bedfellows simply because we share the commonality of belief in human dignity and justice.

But I don’t care any more.

You are so hell-bent on hatred and bigotry that nothing could convince you to change your mind. You revel in your role as victim, and you nurture your prejudice under the umbrella of religious freedom.

You make me sick.

You read your book, say your prayers, and flood the internet with your attacks on the “least of these.” You say God made us all in his image in one breath, then damn us all to hell in the next. I can only hope there is no afterlife, because I can’t stand the thought of spending eternity with you.

So we have reached an impasse, as it were. I can’t change your mind any more than you can change my sexuality. The only thing I can change is whether or not I waste another minute of my life on you.

You are the past, but I am the future.

To thine own self be true

Much has been made recently of comments made by Russell Tovey, one of the stars of HBO’s gay-themed Looking. During an interview with the Guardian, he said the following:

I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.

While he has since called his statement “inarticulate,” it is easy to see why so many in the LGBT community found his remarks insensitive and outright homophobic. After all, how many of us grew up in similar circumstances where we often felt the need to hide our true nature from family members and friends in order to fit in with social expectations?

We live in a time when the effeminate male has become a bit of a pariah within the gay community. The standard for a desirable man is often described as “straight-acting,” and many guys are quick to point out they only want masculine, non-effeminate men. Because so many of us exhibit behavior that could be considered feminine, one has to wonder if this is symptomatic of self-loathing within the gay community.

I certainly wasn’t what one would consider a boyish child. Sure, I did my fair share of tree-climbing and the like, but I was just as comfortable playing Barbies with my sister or going shopping with a car full of women. As I got older, there were times when this kind of behavior was discouraged by adults, but most of the negativity I received as a child came from other kids. I absolutely despised being called a sissy. “Only girls play tambourines,” said one boy at church, much to my chagrin.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother practically encouraged my girlish behavior by saying I should have been born female. She even gave me, my sister, and our two girl cousins matching dolls and strollers for Christmas one year, explaining, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

Even though I tried to alter some of what I thought were undesirable traits as I grew older, I never was able to morph into the idealized concept of masculinity. As an adult male, I still have characteristics that most guys would consider feminine. I cry easily while watching television. I love dancing like a slut to Beyoncé music. I worry incessantly about how I look. I’m pretty sure I have at least two periods a month.

But really, why do we care so much more when female traits are exhibited by a man than when masculine traits are exhibited by a woman? I suppose our patriarchal society can’t help but attribute power and strength to masculinity while relegating anything feminine to the weak and defenseless. It does a huge disservice to women when gay men allow themselves to be brainwashed into such a misogynistic way of thinking.

Human beings are complicated, but I wish we could evolve beyond our imperfect expectations of what we think male/female and gay/straight should look like. I wish we all could just accept ourselves as unique and whole persons without pressuring ourselves to become something we can never be.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Don’t be surprised

Don’t be surprised when I bring up current events related to the LGBT community.

I read LGBT news because it covers issues that are important to me. I need to know about changing laws around marriage equality, and which Washington scumbag is currently attacking other members of my community for political gain. If one of those stories pisses me off enough, I am probably going to bring it up in our conversation. Where you might complain about the inflated costs of fuel, I will complain about how the Republican party still embraces gay conversion therapy.

Don’t be surprised if you hear me playing music by a gay artist.

When I hear that a pop singer has stepped out of the closet, I might purchase their album as a show of support for their bravery. I also might buy it just because I realize there are many others who won’t for all the wrong reasons.

Don’t be surprised if you see me watching a gay movie.

There aren’t many positive examples of same-sex relationships in mainstream Hollywood movies. Imagine growing up without seeing your crushes or romantic interests reflected on the big screen. When the entertainment industry offers me a chance to see LGBT relationships – good or bad – I jump at the chance to support their efforts. I once drove over two hours to get to the nearest theater that was showing Brokeback Mountain.

Don’t be surprised if I act defensive sometimes.

When you grow up knowing you are inherently different from almost everyone around you, it makes it downright impossible to not view yourself as an outsider. While that can deeply affect a person, it can also alter their perspective of the world around them. I see my own world through gay-tinted glasses, so to speak. Because I know the first thing that crosses someone’s mind when I walk in the room is “Brian’s gay,” everyone I encounter gets quickly judged. Any perceived hostility is almost immediately blamed on homophobia – regardless of whether that is the actual reason. It’s just the first thing my brain jumps to. Dealing with that on a day-in, day-out basis would make anyone cranky.

Don’t be surprised if I want to talk about my experience.

The easiest way to change a person’s opinion on something is through back-and-forth conversation. I have had countless people tell me that getting to know me has changed their views on gay rights. They never knew a gay person in real life, or they just never had the opportunity to talk with an openly-gay person before meeting me. Sometimes all it takes is learning that the person you thought you feared is pretty much just like you. The only way to learn that is through conversation. That is why I am more than happy to discuss my life experiences and sexuality with others. I know I am being provided with a chance to challenge or even alter their opinions.

Don’t be surprised if I act super-gay sometimes.

When I know you aren’t judging me and I know I can completely be myself, I might act really freaking gay. It’s just that I spend so much time repressing that part of myself for various reasons that knowing it won’t cause you to detest or attack me means I can really let my hair down. I might act silly. I might dance my butt off to some gay music by a gay artist. I might just really queen out. Just understand it means I trust you and I can really be myself.

And try not to act too surprised.

Everything we learned from the ‘Duck Dynasty’ fiasco in one sentence

Noah Michelson, the editor for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, summed up the brouhaha over Phil Robertson and A&E in one (extremely long) sentence.

You can say whatever you want, including that gay people are sinful and full of “murder, envy, strife, hatred” and are in the same league as those who enjoy being penetrated by barnyard animals and that black people were “happy” and were not “singing the blues” when Jim Crow laws ruled America, and as long as you later tack on “I love all of humanity” and I would “never incite or encourage hate” and throw around the word “tolerance,” and as long as there’s enough money and publicity swirling and more ready to be made, you will face absolutely no consequences and if anything you’ll be celebrated as a hero and lauded as an icon of freedom — some will even go so far as to call you the “Rosa Parks” of our generation — while the people you were talking about will still be vilified and will have to fight even harder against society’s belief that they are — even in the 21st century, even in a country that is not supposed to be ruled by religion or heartless, hateful zealots — at their very core all of those vile and (let it be said once and for all) patently untrue things that you said about them.

Ain’t that the truth!

Stop it!

My maternal grandmother suffered a stroke yesterday morning – just over 12 years since another stroke left her with short-term memory loss. She was transported to a local hospital and given a drug that will hopefully lessen the effects of the stroke, but so far things aren’t looking very good. She is having a hard time communicating (sometimes not at all), and the right side of her body has been affected.

Yesterday afternoon, after sitting in two different hospitals all day, my nerves were frazzled. I was also starving, since the call came early in the morning before I had a chance to eat anything. Several family members were gathered in the CCU waiting room, and to say there was a wide range of individuals would be an understatement. There were young and old, Pentecostal and Baptist, black and white, married and divorced, straight and gay, smokers and nonsmokers.

Although things are always a little awkward around my extended family because of the whole religion/gay thing, you can imagine my surprise when one of the women I thought was the least judgmental struck up the following conversation with me after a brief group discussion about Obama.

Her: I am very conservative.

Me: No! You are probably the least conservative person in this room.

Her: No, really. I am very conservative.

Me: What makes you conservative?

Her: I don’t believe in abortion.

Me: I consider myself to be pro-choice, but I would never have one if I were female. However, I believe a woman should have access to a safe abortion if she wants one.

Her: I also don’t agree with all the gay marriage stuff.

Me: Why?

Her: Because I think we need to follow God’s plan.

Me: Do you think people are born gay?

Her: Yes.

Me: Then why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry if God made them that way?

Her: We are all born into sin. There are many different sins, but the Bible says men will leave the natural use of a woman and turn to other men.

Me: But I didn’t do that. I wasn’t attracted to women before I was gay, so I didn’t leave women and turn to men.

Her: I know, but the Bible also says he will turn people over to a reprobate mind in the end times. Brian, I believe that if you would truly get saved, Jesus would change your mind.

Me: You actually think I would become attracted to women?

Her: I believe Jesus would change your mind.

And with that, I simply stopped talking. I also declined her invitation to join several of them for dinner.

Many years ago, Maya Angelou gave some excellent advice for people who feel like they are being attacked. She said people who cut you down are trying to “kill” you by tearing you apart bit by bit. She recommends that whenever you encounter a person trying to tear you down, you simply look at them and say “Stop it.” I think there could be great power in that, and I intend to start putting it to use.

Stop pretending

There is a story in the news almost every day about homophobia. People deny tips based solely on the assumption that the person serving them is gay. Homosexuals are beaten and killed in Russia and around the world. Protestors chant “God hates fags!” outside funeral services for members of our nation’s military.

Less news-worthy instances of homophobia affect me personally. After eight years together, there is still no legal recognition of my relationship. And after eight years, most of my family members still don’t acknowledge my partner. My immediate family, in many ways, is fractured.

What’s the common denominator? Religion.

I haven’t been to church in around nine months. While discussing that fact with a friend recently, I was finally able to verbalize my feelings on the matter. What it boils down to is that almost everything negative in my life is a result of religion.

Religion separates my family. Religious zealots threaten my safety and security. Religion makes my world a less welcoming place.

While I still believe in God, I have no desire to associate myself with a denomination. My church might preach equality for everyone, but the people driving by don’t automatically realize that. If I say, “I’m a Christian” or “I go to church,” I worry that many will assume I am just like the other bigots who go around bashing those who are different.

I don’t need religion to be moral. I don’t need church in order to go to heaven (if there is one.) What I need is for people who call themselves “Christian” to at least make an effort to live up to the name. Don’t pretend you love everyone when you are so clearly filled with hate.