Warning to Parents and some Church Goers: This post contains some of my thoughts on homosexuality, religion and politics. As my senses of humor, irony, and spirituality may not be consistent with your views, you may find the content objectionable; I’m entirely comfortable with that. This blog is for my children and grandchildren; it may not be for you, or yours. Read at your own risk.
It’s March 2014: It feels like we are moving backwards in time. In the past few months the media landscape has been littered with one story after another pitting God and government at odds with homosexuality. From Putin in Sochi and Liz Cheyney in Wyoming, in the state legislature of Arizona and out of the closet of the NFL, this gay thing has dominated the airwaves.
As a father and a grandfather, it is essential for me to share my experience and views on events and ideas not as a means to control or dominate their thinking, but rather to provide a reference point for them to develop their own sense of social decorum. I consider this a demonstration of personal leadership. I don’t expect my children and grandchildren to think like I do, but I do want them to have the benefit of reading my perspective. They deserve that. After all, silence is the voice of complicity.
I am rebellious by nature. When Caity and I were getting our first tattoos together, I had a rough design I called “My Cancer Story”. As part of my cancer experience, I had become open to a wide range of healing modalities I most likely would have not considered otherwise. A dominant feature was a “healing rainbow”. This was gently questioned by the tattoo artist.
“You know…the rainbow means different things to different people?”
I responded with my Hawaii roots/spiritual healing/cancer story. He nodded his head, and then glanced at Caity.
She said, “Daddy, I think what he’s saying is the rainbow is a sign of Gay Pride, and some people may think you’re Gay if you have that on your shoulder.”
I was quiet; marveling at how my 16 year-old princess had grown up. In the same moment I felt shamed by my ignorance, I felt proud that my daughter could teach me.
“Hah!” I burst out laughing, turning to the ink man, “There is no f—ing way that’s coming off the design now!”
As with most social issues, I generally lack the patience to endure long academic and theoretical pontifications on what should be considered “normal” or “proper” by society. Particularly in a country that was founded on the fundamental principles that protect individual rights. I always prefer to go to my own personal experience so I can “feel what I have felt”.
I had my first “gay encounter” in the early 70’s. Hitchhiking home from the beach in Kailua, I caught a ride from a man whom I recall was in his 40’s. After a couple of miles and some light conversation the driver put his hand on my knee. I was shocked and scared. When traffic slowed along Kalaheo Avenue, I jumped out of the car and ran the rest of the way home and told my mother. I remember the conversation with my father the next day. I don’t remember the specific words, but I do remember his genuine concern for me without any judgment or disparaging criticism of my accoster. That example would become more meaningful to me later in life.
I’m also reminded that I may have, on occasion, utilized the old “hand on the knee” move in response to my own internal urgings. Although I know I never had intentions to cause harm, I didn’t always give thought to what her reaction might be to an unwanted advance.
This hitchhiking incident would not be my last “gay encounter”. In fact I’ve had several; some less overt than others. I’ve never questioned my own sexual preference (except, perhaps, in July 2004. Sting in concert, second row, Ay Caramba! I’m not sure I could have said ‘no’ had he offered me his hand to come onstage!). For whatever reason, I have always been sexually attracted to women; this is not a choice for me, it’s just a part of who I am.
Years after graduating from the Naval Academy a fellow classmate and I were catching up with each other about life and classmate news. The discussion included the then recent revelation of a former roommate who had been court-martialed and discharged from the Navy for engaging in homosexual behavior (officially I believe it was deemed ‘Conduct Unbecoming an Officer’). While this was way before “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” legislation was in effect, the tone of our conversation in late 1984 transitioned from shock and surprise to heartbreaking sadness. When we considered the persistent jokes with overt anti-gay overtones in the testosterone laden climate of the predominantly male service academy, we were both silent contemplating the years of torment our very good friend must have endured.
Maybe this is where my tolerance of “birds of another feather” began to develop from the seed of acceptance and non-judgment my father had planted a decade before. This revelation did not make my roommate any less of a man; he was just different from me as somebody who likes lima beans or hockey or political science debates.
I am also aware of the clashes my opinions may have with some religious beliefs. I was raised in the Catholic faith, attended parochial schools for 6 of my 12 years, and have been sleeping with a Christian for nearly 33 years. Still, it is unclear to me how Jesus’s core teaching “Love one another as I have loved you”, has evolved to the other extreme of the “God hates fags” doctrine of the Westboro Baptist Church; but it has. Shades of hate hide and thrive in the folds of exclusivity. I hope there is much more room between those two extremes than the cynic in me wants to believe there is. For my children and grandchildren, I hope you seek a God that values love and tolerance of others.
I have twice been a part of a small group when someone chose to “came out of the closet”. The first occurrence was in the Navy in 1988, just a few years after my former roommate’s revelation. The pain of his anguish and the gripping fear of his emotionally distraught being were overwhelming to watch at close hand. The small group was paralyzed in shock, but supportive. I didn’t fully understand all of his personal preferences, but I could feel his fear and appreciate the magnitude of his courage.
The second occurrence I was a part of occurred in 2003 when a woman shared with a small group. While her consternation and emotionally wrought sense was nearly identical to my prior experience (I actually guessed what was coming by her body language). The group overall responded with borderline nonchalance. Nobody seemed surprised, nobody cared beyond her obviously entrenched fear. I did break the break the barrier of comforting support with the one-liner, “Maybe you can teach me some new tricks!”
Appropriately, I can still feel the deep bruise on my left arm, just below my rainbow tattoo. We remain very close friends.
Clearly I am not perfect. I am a work in progress. I don’t think for a second that legislation or pontification is going to change people. I am banking on my path to eternal salvation being based on the development of my love and tolerance of others, not based on what others are doing. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. I may not understand the gay thing, but I choose to live with it. I hope I do so with the dignity and grace my God will appreciate. In the end, it will only be between me and my maker; and I am entirely comfortable with that.