What makes one “real”?

I’ve just started re-reading Homosexual Saints–a collection of stories of GLBT (current and former) members of Community of Christ. One of the writers ended his story with a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit, and it struck me as being a question I can no longer ignore.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Within the last few years, I’ve come face-to-face with the reality of understanding who two people I love really are. They could no longer live as “mechanical” human beings; they had to be true to who they were–to risk that those around them loved them enough for them to be “Real.”

After many, many years of hiding themselves, they have openly acknowledged  their sexuality–a sexuality that is not readily accepted by society. What I have seen since then is the Real coming through. Loving them has brought me into another world, and I have come to know many people who are beautiful.

Unfortunately, there are others–including many in my faith tradition–who see them as ugly, because they don’t understand. They want my loved ones to change back to who they were so that they can be “real.” They want them to hide the inner core of themselves.

My loved ones don’t ask for everyone else to change. They aren’t on some kind of “recruiting” trip. They just want to be “Real.” Real does hurt sometimes, but if we are not Real–and if we don’t help others to become Real–then we are (as the Skin Horse knew) “only toys…[who will] never turn into anything else”–never become the human beings we were created to be.