If you had known me a number of years ago–and not seen me since–you might have been a little surprised when I let out a couple of yelps of delight this morning as I was watching CNN for their decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8. I would have been too. I was nice to everyone…that’s how I was raised. But had we ever engaged in a conversation about issues of sexuality, I would have turned a beautiful shade of red and asked if we couldn’t change the subject…and would not have ever imagined myself supporting the decisions that were made today (and wishing they had gone further).
So what changed?
It got personal.
My awareness–and my openness–began with issues totally unrelated to sexuality. During the height of the civil rights movement, a friend from college stayed with me over a break. I didn’t think anything about it, and my parents made her completely welcome…even though she was a different color than I am. (I discovered years later that they let the neighbors know that she was coming so that they could do all they could to ensure she had no problems.)
Then several years later, one of my brothers married “a nice Jewish girl”…and the rabbi and my dad (a Christian minister) shared in the ceremony. It was beautiful!
Then they had two girls…and as the girls grew up, they got old enough to celebrate their bat mitzvahs. Hmmm… We attended, of course! And my parents took part in the ceremony. Some of their Jewish relatives (at my oldest niece’s bat mitzvah) asked if we had had to have a discussion about attending–and I’ve been so grateful that my immediate reaction was “Of course not!” This was important to them…so why wouldn’t we attend?
Then other issues came along…issues of sexuality that stretched me further.
One of my cousins–someone who was always the life of the party–came out. Nothing else had changed about her…but all of a sudden I had to start reconciling who I knew what what I thought I had known…and I began to come down on the side of love…the commandment my faith had taught me was the most important.
I became involved in theatre activities and made friends who were LGBT…and who let me know that they had always known they were different. It was not a choice.
I remember the first time I heard someone say, “When did you decide to be straight?” And I realized I didn’t. It wasn’t a choice.
But then it became even more personal.
My baby brother came out. He was scared to tell us…scared of what our reactions would be. But my instinctive reaction was “You’re still my brother.”
He fell in love–and got married during the brief window in California when that was possible. We attended his wedding…and rejoiced with those who rejoiced with him and my brother-in-law. I’ve stayed with them since…and when someone talks about “the gay lifestyle” with horror, I wonder what they’re thinking. My brother and his husband cook…they swim in their pool…they walk their dog…they talk care of his mother…they garden…
And then it became even more personal than that.
My husband of almost 44 years finally found the courage to tell me that he is bisexual. He had always been faithful and he wanted to stay married. But he could no longer carry alone the secret that he was also attracted to men. He needed to be honest both with himself and with me and our family…no matter what the cost might be.
And what was the cost? An incredible freeing of the fears and chains that had bound him…an ability to be open…to believe that he truly was of worth…a new lightness and openness in our relationship with each other, as the wall that had been between us now came down.
Things change…at least they did for me…when I opened my eyes and ears and recognized that it wasn’t just “those” people. It was my brother, my cousin, my friends…
It got personal…and I’m so glad it did.