I am gay. Those three words may have just changed your opinion of me. Actually, it probably wasn't even those three words; more like just that one word there at the end: gay. It's not easy to say (or write), but it's true. I am gay. All I ask is that you hear me out before you make a decision about what that means to you.
I've never been good at relationships. My family was always more like a bunch of roommates than anything resembling some Norman Rockwell fantasy. My dating life has always consisted of vague on-again, off-again "friendships with privileges."
And, of course, everything was made all the more difficult by the fact that I'm attracted to guys. Now, that's not a qualification for homosexuality alone; otherwise, every guy would be gay because every guy knows the difference between Tom Cruise and Tom Brokaw. I'm sexually attracted to guys.
It's an incredibly painful experience to be "in the closet," to laugh along with your friends at fag jokes, to use self-descriptive words like "gay" and "queer" as slurs, to wake from a sexual dream as if it were a nightmare and cry yourself back to sleep while begging God to make you straight, to be told from people you love (and to believe!) that the way you think of love is wrong.
That last one is the worst part. It's not something that heterosexuals can understand. A straight person cannot know what it's like to be told that you're not allowed to love. After all, without the ability to love, what makes you human?
And so I became inhuman, this walking act, this constant effort for normalcy. Everything I said and everything I did was out of fear. Every breath, every motion, was smothered in strategy, calculated. Did what I just say sound too gay? Am I acting too straight? Can I hug my friend? Is that guy checking me out? Does he somehow know? Being closeted requires this obsession with thought, with filtering every bit of minutia that crosses the mind.
Because I used to emcee one of N.C. State's Christian student organizations before deciding to step down, about 1,000 of you readers out there know that I am deeply spiritual. I became a Christian when I was 17, well after I knew I was gay. That's when the stress became endless, as infinite as God himself. Now let me explain something here: I believe in God and I know I'm gay. I also know nothing - nothing at all - is beyond God's love for me. And it's not like there's some overwhelming secret life of carnal pleasure that tricks me into thinking homosexuality is alright. Homosexuality isn't about sex; it's about love. Besides, being gay is anything but a life of pleasure. It's not some feel-good club drug; it's life. It's genuine. Sure, it has ups, but downs too. Speaking from personal experience, homosexuality is not a choice; it's who I am.
But it doesn't define me. It just enhances me. It's just another part of my personality. I'm not some queer poster-boy whose every interest is refined by and reflective of all gaykind.
All gaykind, by the way, is vast. I know gay fraternity brothers, gay teachers, gay Christians, gay Jews, gay blacks, gay engineers. It's not all sassy hairdressers with lisps and Streisand fetishes. It's beyond race, beyond social class, beyond age, beyond everything; it's just like straight culture, only gay. And just as this is not about sex, it's also not about attention. I am not asking you, reader, for special interest in me purely because I'm gay. That attitude reduces homosexuality to a sideshow gimmick and insults both of us. What I am asking you to consider are the issues gay awareness raises: does love have its limits? Are some forms of hatred still OK?
What I would like this column to do is serve as a stepping stone and a building block for communication. There has to be more to gay awareness than shouting "I'm here and I'm queer;" there has to be a follow-up discussion.
Unfortunately, I realize that, for many people, holding this column in their hands may be the closest contact they'll ever have with anything homosexual. And I understand that.
Straights shouldn't agree with gays out of some hands-across-America social obligation; and they shouldn't disagree with gays out of equally dogmatic influences. Outside of liberal and conservative tyrannies, straights should realize the futility of fighting off some perceived "gay invasion" and accept the inevitability of gay coexistence.
Today, the word "gay" has become a slang equivalent for dumb, stupid, idiotic and wrong. What other social group would allow that? What if "black" were synonymous with poor? Or "female" with incompetent? Or "Muslim" with evil? Communication with gays is not a cause; it's a necessity.
So, what brought me to this point? What made me decide to move from thinking I'm gay to saying I'm gay?
In the beginning of October, I made a friend in a straight-talking gay guy named Jason. I talked with him for hours. I could be honest with him in naked (figuratively) conversation. But feeling happy or nervous or real wasn't as important as the fact that I was feeling anything at all. I mean, I have to turn so much of myself off and become so dead just to live through each day that it was amazing just to feel anything at all. And this guy proved to me that I could love a man -- not just have sex with one, because that isn't love; I could actually love a man. More than being able to, I want to; I want to love and be loved by a man. That's how I know I'm gay.
I was lucky to have a good experience when I told the few people I did. I told my best friend, John, and he didn't freak out. My father said he loved me and gave me a hug; the campus director of my Christian organization did the same thing. I told friends. I told co-workers. I even told some teachers. There was always understanding and compassion and I am so grateful for that. But I'm not stupid. My mother, after all, reacted by asking my HIV status and suggesting psychiatric evaluation.
I know that I'm jeopardizing everything with this. Tomorrow, I could be dead, the next Matthew Shephard. I could lose my apartment. I could lose my friends. I could lose my job (a legal form of discrimination in North Carolina). Instead of being a student, I'll be a gay student, a gay friend, the gay columnist. The box in which others put me will be tailor-made to fit me, and on the outside it will have the phrase "not straight" stamped in big, red "A-Team" letters.
I'll lose the ability to marry, the ability to raise children, the freedom to love my partner anytime, anyplace. There are hundreds of gays at this university; when was the last time you saw one free enough to do something as little as hold hands with their partner in public? That is what I risk losing.
I'm willing to take those chances. It's finally, finally more important to me that I be honestly comfortable with who I am rather than falsely comfortable with who I'm not.
So, fine, I'm gay. But why this? Why this column? Well, opinions aren't always arguments -- Republicans vs. Democrats or Christians vs. Atheists. Sometimes (and hopefully more than sometimes) opinions aren't blind attacks on whatever fill-in-the-blank view opposes mine. Sometimes opinions are descriptive without being evaluative, offering a different perspective that can either be accepted or rejected.
The homophobia in this country is poorly named. It's not merely a fear; it's a rejection. People are made to feel deviant for expressing a human condition as basic as love. I started this column talking about what I am: gay. Now let me close by talking about what I'm not: ashamed. The time for shame has long since passed -- on both sides of the closet.
Richard would like to thank Jason, an amazing man who teaches more than he realizes, and Marie, whose tears convinced him to print this.