Being Out, Looking In

I have this friend -I’ll refer to him as ‘God‘ for now- whom I’ve known for a very long time, about twenty years. We met in college and became very good friends, even though we have a very ‘Odd Couple’ aesthetic at times. He’s quite lassez faire about many things whereas I’m a little more tightly wound. ‘God’ has a taste for the dramatic whereas I’m much more reserved. Yet, for all of our differences, we stil are very similar in many ways and I can honestly say that ‘God’ is my best friend (somewhere Bill Maher’s head is spinning).

‘God’ is also quite gay and was my first true introduction to homosexuals and the gay lifestyle. I didn’t know this about him at first. ‘God’ was not closeted but did not advertise his lifestyle either. For those in the know, there were signs, but I didn’t know until he told me, around 2 years after we first met. Since then I’ve met perhaps two of his boyfriends but went clubbing with him extensively for two years, as a ‘friend of the family’. Over the years, I’d never really given it much thought. I knew he was gay but it was just another aspect of who he was, like his taste in truly crappy movies (Master of Disquise? COME ON!) and refusal to eat vegetables of any kind. Ultimately, it was important to me only because I knew that it was important to ‘God’.

Around two years ago, ‘God’ suffered a mini-stroke caused by a blood clot in one of his legs. It did not impair him mentally (well, not any more than he already was: he LIKES Master of Disquise after all!) but it did physically disable him to a large degree. He’s a big guy -somewhere between 300 and 400 lbs- so it limted his physical mobility greatly. He is in near constant pain and is prescribed a melange of blood thinners and pain killers. He cannot stand or sit for extended periods of time and this has prevented him from being able to have a career or social life of any kind. As such, he is now living a meagre existence, relying on government subsistence.

On Sunday, July 22nd of this year, I woke up to an email from ‘God’. In it, he stated that he intended to shut down lines of communication with family and friends and would stop eating, drinking or taking any of his medications. Essentially he was committing suicide by inaction, by not nourishing or medicating himself. In the email, he spoke at length about his disability and his loneliness. My wife and I agreed that I needed to go see him immediately.

When I arrived, ‘God’ was chagrined but ultimately very pleased to see me. As it was, two more of his friends had also come to see him upon receiving the email. As a group, we sat and talked for several hours. In many ways, it felt like a wake, sharing our mutual histories and commemorating the times we’d shared with ‘God’. While all of us indicated that we were there to comfort ‘God’ and supported whatever decision he made, I think we all were hoping he would reconsider his plans. In the end, he did and is doing well today. However, during a private conversation I had with him, he explained to me more about why he was making his decision to allow himself to die and the revelation both shamed me in my ignorance and discomfitted me.

The primary reason that ‘God’ was allowing himself to die was because he was lonely. He lamented that he longed for the type of friendship, love and companionship I shared with my wife. His disability and resulting lack of self-worth had played a significant part in preventing him from reaching out and finding someone to share his life with, but the far greater obstacle was his family and the current attitude towards homosexuals in America today.

I was stunned, although clearly not surprised. The plight of Gay Americans is not secret. The institutionalized bigotry and hatred is barely disquised in our society, but I’d always thought about it in a very abstract way. My ignorance was not in failing to realize that the inequality exists, but in never considering what that truly meant. As a heterosexual white male, I’ve never truly experienced any form of concentrated discrimination. Intellectually, I can concieve of what facing that would mean, but not ever feel the true weight of it in my heart.

Especially troubling was his family. ‘God’ has been openly gay to his family for several years. His mother ostensibly supports his lifestyle, but neither his biological father nor his step-father mask their dissappoval. His step-father at least has the good grace to temper his disapproval with genuine love and affection for ‘God’. The sad thing is that although his mother supports his decisions, she does not defend him to her husband.  This is disingenuous: you cannot partially support someone’s life path. You are either an advocate for their freedom to live life in the way they feel compelled to live it or you are simply tolerating something you can never accept. The two are not the same. If you love someone and support someone, you defend them without reservation or resignation.

This is the problem with the discussion about gay rights today (or Civil Rights in the 60s and gender equality in the 20s); all people are completely equal or they are not equal at all. There is no margin for difference here. Those of a progressive mindset can no longer be satisfied with parceling out individual freedoms; we must work to ensure that everyone has the same rights, rights guaranteed under our Consitution: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Gay Americans are not looking to invalidate your religious beliefs, they are not trying to destroy your institutions or end your way of life. Gay people can be equal and gay and you can still be just as elitist and exclusionary as you want. These people just want to share in the same sense of family and partnership that heretosexual citizens enjoy: the right to see a hospitalized love one, the right to create a future with one another, the right to shared ownership and parenthood, the right to love whomever you want. They want the right to do all of these things and have these rights be recognized as equal, inviolable and inalienable.

I have long been aware of the injustice that ‘God’ faces on a daily basis, especially in such a backward, hypocritical state as Oklahoma. I could see what he faced, but I was always examining the situation, never experiencing it. It wasn’t that I didn’t empathize or desire to feel anything, it simply never had any emotional weight nor was placed in an emotional content. But in my discussion with ‘God’, I understood exactly what he faced every day: he was OUT, but always looking in, never being able to truly join the rest of us.. the straight Americans.  My previous marriage was a loveless marriage.  My wife was an adulteress and I felt trapped and alone, thousands of miles from home and unable to seemingly unable to escape my situation.  I felt hopeless and I know how soul-crushing that was for me.  Yet, that is nothing compared to what ‘God’ must feel on a daily basis.

People need to shed their bigotry and biases. Gay people are not evil, they are not corrupt. Embracing Gay Americans is not tantamount to embracing pedophilia or bestiality. These are not the same; this is a fallacious and ignorant comparison. Embracing Gay Americans does not invalidate or dilute any of your freedoms: your marriage will still be just as valid and as meaningful, your religion will still provide you with inspiration, you can still believe exactly what you want to (even if that makes you a bigot and a imbecile).

We can no longer allow an misinterpreted religious message to dictate our political decisions. That is a Constitutional directive: the separation of political leadership and religious oversight. We are free to hold whatever faith we wish, but we must legislate devoid of religious dogma or extremist fear. We must recognize that allowing individuals to pursue happiness is not the same as protecting their right to do so. We must recognize that all these people want to do is to stop looking through the window and seeing the rest of us living joyful lives and to come inside and join us.

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