It’s rough being a gay man in the US sometimes.
Depending on where you live, tolerance and acceptance can be elusive. In the heartland, where I live now, religious conservatives abound, which means hostilities can flair.
I’ve written before about how it feels to be the Other.
I got a couple hours of sleep Sunday morning. I woke to a knock on the door. A church lady was standing there with two covered plates. “We know your dad was at the hospital all night. We had a potluck dinner after services, so I thought I should bring some over.”
…then I went to open my own plate, which was still covered and sealed in cling wrap.I got it all loose, finally, and pried the cover off. It was dessert. For one.
That’s what it’s like, right there —
Finding out that your neighbors sent dinner for one to a household of two. That’s the feeling. That’s the reality. That’s what it means to be a member of a minority many people think it’s OK to shun. Doesn’t happen everywhere in the US, or even in most places.
That not what I’m saying.
I AM saying that if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, some people think and behave as if it’s OK to be mean, especially when children are involved. I’m also saying that those people are very often conservatively religious.
Please don’t think I’m trying to pick on religious people. Tons of mainline Protestant Christians are fully LGBTQ accepting and affirming. The vast majority of Jews and Catholics in the United States don’t agree with discriminating against members of gender and sexual minorities.
The sad reality, though, and one that I face personally quite often, is that evangelical and other conservative Protestants are brought up to treat me and people like me as immoral and dangerous.
I’m not writing about them today —
I want to tell a different story, about a different reality, a more loving way of living. I want to tell you a story about my former business partner Tim, a very conservative Christian, family man, loving human being, and serious believer in diversity and liberty.
Before I retired to write full time, Tim and I were tight. We worked long, hard, stressful days together as risk-taking entrepreneurs. We ran a business with razor-thin margins — where controlling costs, maximizing production, and tightly managing our workforce meant everything.
We were all but conjoined at the hip, or at least by mobile phone. Neither one of us was ever off work. If we were awake, we were plugged into the plant we owned.
When we could get away, it just seemed natural to keep spending time together. We could manage pretty effectively remotely, so why not head out to the Detroit river and do some walleye fishing? I could still work deals by phone, and he could still keep tabs on production.
As long as we were on the river, why not swing by the plant, keep an eye on shift change, then head back to his place and fry fish for the family?
Before we knew it, we weren’t just joined-at-the-hip business partners, we were close friends.
That was a problem —
Tim is a dyed-in-the-wool evangelical Christian, with a fire breathing preacher as a father. So, how could we connect? How would we relate? What could we possibly have in common besides our mutual desire to make a pile of money in a tough business and then cash out?
Humans are complicated critters. Tim knew I was gay and he went to some lengths to let me know that I didn’t need to hide that around him. I don’t know if he was emulating Jesus or just being himself, but he demonstrated many times that I could trust him and feel safe around him.
Then I found a boyfriend —
Tim was unwittingly responsible. He insisted on selling some office furniture we didn’t need. I hated the idea.
“Just shove all that garbage in the compactor,” I argued. “Our time has to be worth more than whatever we can get for it.” He disagreed and posted to Craigslist. Somebody offered a couple hundred bucks. I grumbled while Tim laughed at me.
The woman who came to load the junk into a pickup tried to sell me insurance. I grumbled even harder while Tim guffawed. I told her I was gay to get her off my back “I don’t have any use for that kind of insurance,” I protested.
A week later, I sat in her kitchen sipping surprisingly excellent South African zinfandel — waiting for her gay ‘bestie’ to show up. It took us about 4 days to become an official couple.
Isn’t life funny?
Three weeks later, Tim and his wife sat in that same kitchen with me waiting for a Texas Holdem party to start. Pretty soon, my new boyfriend Ben insinuated himself thoroughly into my life, and by extension into Tim’s.
Soon, my gay lover and I were hanging out with a very conservative evangelical Christian couple and their two small children.
Because sometimes the world is even more bizarre than Douglas Adams managed to imagine. Because sometimes people break molds and refuse to be stereotyped.
Because sometimes love wins.
Which brings me to the point of my story and the explanation for my subtitle. One day, Ben and I were sitting on Tim’s sofa, and his five-year-old walked up and looked me straight in the eye. With the honesty that only small children possess, he asked me a question:
“How come you and Ben are together all the time? You used to come over here all alone.”
I choked, and Ben looked like he wanted to jump up and run far away. Tim didn’t pause or miss a beat. He ruffed his son’s hair and answered very softly and matter of factly. “Oh, you know how sometimes people really love each other and they become boyfriend and girlfriend like your Aunt Sue and Tony? Well, Jim and Ben are the same way. Because guys can have boyfriends too.”
And that was all there was to it. The little boy just nodded, said something like, “Oh, OK,” and ran off to play.
The moment didn’t feel monumental —
Tim’s simple declamatory didn’t taste revolutionary. He batted away the grateful look I threw him, as if to say, “Isn’t that just obvious?”
It’s not obvious to many, though I wish it were. Tim was teaching his son something simple, but he was reaching down deep to do it. He was telling himself and his family something profound.
He was saying this —
People in our community have different value systems and ways of being. I may not share Jim’s values or agree with them for myself, but he’s my friend and neighbor, so I won’t judge him. I will accept him into my home and family.
I have the right to my beliefs, but so do Jim and Ben. We don’t have to agree in order to be friends. I don’t have to agree in order to teach my child to respect and accept Jim and Ben for who they are.
I will not use my religious beliefs as an excuse to dehumanize people, and I won’t teach my children to do it.
What a difference in attitude!
In this story, I’ve written about a conservative Christian who used her faith to judge and hurt. I’ve written about another who chose love and acceptance instead. I’ve written about a man who knows he lives in a pluralistic society, who decided to love his neighbors no matter their differences.
Think of the children? Here’s a thought —
If all of us taught our children respect the way Tim teaches it, we might not be such a divided nation today. We might be able to accept and love one another instead.
I’m optimistic, even while Donald Trump and his loud minority of haters dominate the American political landscape. I think Tim and people like him represent the real America — the future that beckons us if we work hard enough to bring it to be.
Love, friendship, and mutual respect offer so much more than hate and exclusion. My money’s on Tim.
Want to learn more about Tim and me and our unlikely friendship? Here’s a story about the transgender woman we met on a New Orleans business trip.