Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The biggest of them all

Something's been bothering me.

This morning I was listening to the Stephanie Miller show (KTALK AM1150, for those of you who are Stephanie Miller virgins - as I was a short time ago) on my way to work and a gentleman called in who was just a bigot. I can't think of any other way to describe him. He ranted for several minutes (until he was mercifully cut off by Ms. Miller) about how the entire United States has no morals anymore because of the Hispanics, the blacks and the gays and lesbians. (The gentleman was unable to explain why "gays" and "lesbians" each needed their own category, which is just something I found amusing and is not at all pertinent at this moment.)

And after listening to him for a minute I thought, "man, I'm sure glad I've never actually met anyone like that."

After that wave of relief washed over me, I got to thinking. I really do genuinely believe that I haven't met anyone like that, but I certainly have walked into situations expecting people to behave like him. I don't mean to say that every person I know is totally accepting of everyone and their differences. (The song from Avenue Q has it about right, I think: Everyone's a little bit racist.) I admit that I find (some) racist jokes amusing, and, quite frankly, many gays often make easy targets for humor. The point is, I think that most (if not all) of the people I've met/consider friends judge individuals and not stereotypes. Let me rephrase that. They probably judge stereotypes up the yin yang (because, after all, that's what stereotypes are for), but they aren't very likely to say, "oh! You're black. We can't be friends." They'd rather get to know you and then think, "oh! You're an asshat. We can't be friends." (Which I find much more civil.)

Here's the problem I've been having (and how this particular topic relates to the general subject of this blog): every time I come out to someone, I immediately assume they're a homophobic bigot.

I was terrified to come out, and didn't for a long time. Even once I'd come to terms with and accepted the feelings I was having, I was still petrified to tell anyone. Even the thought of telling people I knew would be OK with it (e.g. my gay friends) was horrifying. The reason for my fear? I didn't know how they would react, and I was afraid they'd react badly (i.e. I assumed they were all bigots.)

I am quite certain that I am not the only one who's ever felt this way. I was so worried about it that I didn't actually tell the first person I came out to - he guessed and I didn't deny it. It was possibly the most passive aggressive coming out ever, and if I hadn't been locked in a car with him with 2 1/2 more hours of driving to go, I probably would have found a way to avoid the question and let him go on wondering. As I recall the conversation went something like this:

"So, are you two...together?"


"If you don't answer, I'm going to assume you are."

Longer silence.

"Well, that answers that question. I'm very excited for you two!" (Or something gushy like that. He was one of the gay friends I was telling you about. Wouldn't you think it would be easy to come out to someone you already knew was gay? Huh. Go figure.)

After that, it got easier. Very slowly. Every time I was presented with the opportunity to tell someone, I turned chicken and hoped that my girlfriend would take the lead and out me so I didn't have to say the words. The words were scary. I was convinced that if I said the words to people, they would flip out. It would be easier if they heard it from her. Of course, I made like I was the brave one and she needed the practice, but that was a load of hooey. I was mortified.

And I was scared because I was sure that every single person I knew was a bigot. I mean, I knew, with certainty, that they weren't, but I convinced myself that this was going to be their "bigot trigger," and even though they'd had no problem before, they were suddenly going to hate gays because of me. That's rational, right? How do you know you're racist if you've never met an African American? How do you know you're anti-Semitic if you've never met a Jew? How do you know you hate the gays if you don't know anyone who's gay? How do you know you don't like chocolate ice-cream if you've never tasted chocolate ice-cream?

So, every time I came out (directly or indirectly) I would steel myself for the hate that was about to be flung at me. Wanna know something? It never came. Not once. Not even my mother (who was clearly upset) had anything hateful to say. She was confused. Sure. Even a little disappointed (remember - in her mind I was no longer going to heaven with the rest of the family. Disappointment was to be expected.) But she didn't hate me. She didn't disown me. She still gave me "Santa Presents" for Christmas. She wasn't even ever mad at my girlfriend (that I could tell). She was, for a while, mad at Cedar City, partly because I think she was convinced that if I'd never moved there I wouldn't have "caught gay" and would have found a nice guy to marry, but that's neither here nor there.

Now, as I've said, it gets easier, but even though I came out over five years ago (which I know makes me a baby compared to some), I still feel a twinge of anxiety when I can tell the conversation is headed in a direction that is going to lead to the mention of my wife. I don't find in necessary to walk into a room and announce that I'm a lesbian (which I think would be over-doing it just a bit, don't you?) but I also have no intention of hiding who I am. The fact that I'm a married lesbian is no more a secret than the fact that I'm a woman (I wear my wedding ring with pride, after all.) It's just that, at some point, when meeting new people, they're bound to start asking innocuous personal questions ("Where are you from?" "How long have you been married?" "What's your husband's name?") at which point I feel my throat tighten and my body start into "fight or flight" mode before I can convince it that everything is going to be just fine if I'll relax and stop assuming that, by default, everyone hates the gays. The scariest thing I've done in a long time was attend my 10 year high school reunion because I was sure that all of my Mormon high school friends were all going to either a) leave or b) stone me when I showed up with my wife in tow. (Neither of which happened. What did happen was exactly what you would expect: A perfectly pleasant afternoon with some old friends who were just as gracious and friendly towards my wife as they were to all of the other non-Weber High spouses they were meeting for the first time.)

I consider myself a "glass is half-full" person, for the most part. It bugs the hell out of me that in this situation, I always assume the worst.

Why should I? Why should I be looking for any sign of disapproval, or watching for that quick eye widening indicating surprise? First of all, it shouldn't matter. I'm not ashamed of who I am and I'm certainly not ashamed of my wonderful, beautiful, brilliant wife. Second of all, the judgmental disapproval has never (as far as I can remember) been there. I've never said, "my wife and I," and had someone turn away in disgust. It has just never happened to me. Even people who've admitted to me to being homophobic have never behaved as though they were anything more than curious. I do occasionally hear, "you two are married? Good for you!" which I think is an odd reaction. I don't think it's something that would occur to anyone to say to a straight couple. (Note to everyone: we didn't get married to "stick it to the man." We got married because we were in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Just saying.)

So, I'd like to formally apologize to everyone I've ever met. I don't actually believe you're all homophobic bigots, it's just that my own insecurity gets the better of me. I truly do appreciate your friendships. Thank you, all of you, for continually proving to me that my cynicism is unfounded and misplaced. Thank you for judging me less harshly than I may have judged you in that fraction of a second. I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable with the way I threw the words "my wife" at you when my delivery could have been more casual and less accusatory. I will try to be better. I will try not to assume. I will try not to put words, or even just thoughts or ideas, into your mouths before you've had a chance to prove what a loving, accepting, benevolent person you are.

I guess, all along, it's been me who's been judgmental.