I wrote in my last post that a colleague said to me, “you are a normal gay, will you speak at our Gay Pride event?”
I appreciate that several people commented. My response and how I dealt with this matter follows…
…I said that when I was approached with that request out-of-the-blue by someone I do not know that well, I was taken aback. Not in anger, but in general surprise and bewilderment.
Context of the situation: While I do not have rainbow flags at my desk, there is a nice framed photo of me with my spouse, along with other photos of me with my family (in a wide group shot, all 15 of us siblings), a special one of me with my twin brother (a rare photo since he won’t let us take his picture), and a few photos of me on my Harley in Utah, Oklahoma, and on the road.
I work in a management position, and my office is set up about the same as anyone else’s at my rank and tenure.
Visitors to my office see it as typical… nothing unusual. What some would say, “normal.” I really don’t know what “abnormal” would be, but let’s not split hairs.
How my colleague arrived at the conclusion that I was a “normal gay” was when an email from The Boss was circulated to ask people to sign a card to express condolences on the death of my mother-in-law. The email factually stated that my mother-in-law died and that I was out for a week while supporting my husband and his family.
Those were the trigger words — “husband” and “his.”
My colleague told me that she didn’t know I was married to a man, and “isn’t that wonderful! We have our own example of a ‘normal’ gay guy in a same-sex marriage right here in our own office!” (Pointing to the photo of me with Spouse) “I thought that picture was of you and a friend.”
So I took this as an opportunity for education rather than an expression of anger, frustration, or exasperation. I admit, at first I felt those emotions, but quickly checked my response when I said to myself, “here’s an opportunity to educate.”
I arranged a time to meet over a casual lunch in a place we could talk without others overhearing or interfering.
At first, I asked her, “how would you feel if someone asked you to speak at an event because she thought you were ‘normal’?” (pause… and I could see her take a deep breath as she began to think.)
Then she turned bright red and began apologizing rapidly. “I didn’t mean… what I meant to say… I mean that you are … ” and more and more stammering until I just said, “please stop. Now you know how this question and use of that word, in particular, was such a bad choice.”
More apologies… and I asked her to stop apologizing again (and again and again.)
I am fortunate that I live in an area where I have not experienced outright hate (much) through expressions of bigotry, name-calling, or physical violence because I choose to love a man and was honored and excited to be able to marry him in my home state and county of my birth when the laws changed.
However, things are not all rosy … read my story about discrimination against me because I am married to a man.
I have heard and read horror stories about gay men being abused, both physically and mentally, just for being born with a sexual orientation toward the same sex instead of the opposite sex. Because of some of my own life choices, I have avoided the worst of these awful actions.
I do not live in the Bible Belt where religious hypocrites claim “the gays will burn in hell.” I guess this is a benefit of living in a multicultural, openly accepting, community where religion does not influence public society very much as it does in some other areas of the U.S. (and the world.)
I also was among those who really did not have a problem with family when he came out to them. Sure, there was some concern and questioning, but when it came down to it, my mother and siblings all loved me for who I was (and am), regardless of who I chose to love and live with. As long as I was happy, supported, and safe, they were (and are) supportive. I was never shunned by my direct family (though I can’t say the same is true for some of my cousins who can’t shake their adherance to Catholic rejection of homosexuality.)
But what I am most proud of is my full engagement with my community. I live in a sprawling suburb of the Nation’s Capital. There are over one million residents of my home county (which has county-strong government instead of cities and towns.) To be elected to a non-partisan office serving our county… to be elected as a Life Member of my local fire department… to be (now) considered a “wise sage” at events, public hearings, and other forums… all of that. I am ME. Not “the gay guy,” but “that community leader who happens to be gay.”
There are many stories and examples on this blog of my life as a community and civic leader, volunteer, Fire Department Life Member, honored public speaker, etc., where my sexuality and marriage are not even considered or matter. Frankly, I am very happy that I am not held up as the “example of a ‘normal’ gay guy” where I live and contribute through public service. I am delighted that I do not have to host events such as our county’s Gay Pride recognition as “the only gay who…” not me. I am not the “only gay who….”
I do not denounce or hide that I am gay. I appreciate that Gay Pride events are being held across the country, in my state and in my county and in the Nation’s Capital this weekend. I think it is wonderful these things happen as forms of fun, celebration, honor, remembrance, and commitment to bringing people together for better understanding and good will.
So… back to my conversation with my colleague… after going over all of this as explained above, she now better understands where I come from and my perspectives, and why I found her request when I was first approached to be perplexing. She understands better why I declined the invitation and do not plan to speak. (Plus now, an important meeting has come up at the same time, so work-work schedule prevails!)
Life is short: I am that guy (brother, uncle, friend, civic leader, etc.) who happens to be gay (and who also happens to wear boots!)