Coming Out

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes on Sunday, but I read all about Jodie Foster’s “coming-out” speech the next day. And of course I thought to myself, “So? Big deal. Didn’t we all already know that?” Then, a couple days later, the indomitable George Takei posted a blog about why it actually is a big deal.

I’ll let you read his heart-felt words about why it matters, still, today, when celebrities come out and how that affects young people in and out of the closet who are scared of what will become of them if they do come out. George’s words definitely gave me a different perspective on things.

jodie-fosterThe fact is, whether or not someone is gay or straight ceased to matter to me personally many, many years ago. I remember the exact moment when my opinions about sexuality changed. And yes, it changed in a flash, in one single moment. I was raised in a conservative, religious community where (at that time) it was definitely not okay to be gay. Granted, I didn’t know at that point that one of my closest high school friends was gay either. But then I moved to Florida for two years of college.

I had a good friend, Sonia, who I worked with at an after-school job. I really liked Sonia. She was funny and quirky and we had a similar sense of humor. We were both a little awkward around other people and I could sense that there was something deeply painful underneath the surface of Sonia’s world. I visited her house, met some of her family, and listened while she told me about some of the trauma and trials that her family had gone through. She was the closest friend I had during that time of my life.

Then one day we were working a shift together and I’m sure I said something narrow-minded about sexuality (although I don’t remember what). I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember Sonia saying to me, quite frankly, “Well, what would you say if I told you I was a lesbian?”

Ever have one of those moments where time stops and you have a long string of thoughts within the space of a second? This was one of those moments. Within the space of half a second all of the following thoughts ran through my head: “I’ve always been told being gay is wrong. But there’s nothing wrong about Sonia. She’s a wonderful person and a good friend. But she’s a lesbian, which can’t be right if everything I was told growing up was true. But everything I was told can’t be true, because if there’s one thing I know for certain it’s that Sonia is a great person. She’s my friend.” Seriously, all of that in half a second.

And then I said aloud the distillation of everything that had just run through my head: “You’re still Sonia. You’re still my friend.” I think I might have actually shrugged and gone on doing my job.

gay cartoonI consider that one of the most important moments of my life. It was vital because in that moment I realized that nothing had changed. Sonia didn’t suddenly become a monster or a horrible person or the anathema of all I believed in. She was still Sonia, my friend. From that moment on my opinion on sexuality had been irrevocably changed. It didn’t matter.

I think this moment was also important to me because Sonia and I continued to be friends and she talked to me about her sexuality. I learned a lot. I learned that just because she liked women didn’t mean she wanted to sleep with me. I wonder sometimes if that’s the fear that a lot of people have when they learn a friend or same-sex acquaintance is gay. But that doesn’t make any more sense than the belief that every one of your opposite-sex friends or acquaintances wants to sleep with you all the time.

Of course, since that pivotal moment with Sonia I’ve had many more gay friends. Not to mention learning that someone I’d known and loved for years was gay. I’ve often wondered if there was more I could have done for him when we were in school, if he was struggling but afraid to reach out, and if I would have known how to handle it at that point in my life. I don’t know. I’m just glad that we’re good friends now.

So I don’t know. Maybe George Takei has a point and it is a very big deal still when a celebrity comes out. I can understand how important it must be to someone facing the same situation. But for someone like me, someone on the other end of the whole coming-out process, the one who gets come out to, I don’t think it is or even should be a big deal. It doesn’t change who that person is. It most certainly shouldn’t affect how I feel about them in the least. Who they – whoever they are – feel pulled to fall in love or lust with is no more my business than it is anyone else’s business who I take a fancy to. My business is to love people for the essence of who they are in their heart of hearts.

I’m sad to say that I lost touch with Sonia when I moved away from Florida (in 1996!). I have her birthday written on my calendar still though and I think of her at least once a year because of it. I sincerely hope that her life has been full of joy and promise. And I hope we meet again someday, if not here, then in the great beyond.

6 thoughts on “Coming Out

  1. It’s funny how things we’re taught to believe can fall apart so quickly when we’re faced with real facts. For the longest time, I too followed what other Christians had told me and believed that being gay was wrong. I didn’t hate gays and I would never have presumed to tell them they were bad, but it was a lifestyle choice I didn’t agree with. Then I found out that one of my cousins, whom I had grown up with, was a trans. I had that similar pause where I was like “Uh….” then I laughed when I realized that if I was completely honest with myself, I didn’t give a shit. It didn’t matter. It didn’t change who they were. I still find myself calling her Ben instead of Angelique, but hey, it’s hard to break decades of habit.

    People like to use the bible as “evidence” against being gay, but after a little research, I found out that the subject is really only mentioned a few times. The main point people refer to is the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing. But if you actually read the story, it has nothing to do with which side of the fence they fell on. It had to do with the fact that the people of Sodom wanted to rape the visitors. Rape is definitely a bad thing and no one will say otherwise (well… almost no one). And in the New Testament, there’s not a single solid reference to homosexuality. That leads me to believe that maybe God really doesn’t give a shit whether you love someone with the same genitalia as you or not. There are more important matters at hand. (Interesting article:

  2. I can see both sides of the coin. I agree with some of what Takei (how can you not love him?) said. But at the same time, I disagree. As a biologist, homosexuality is found throughout nature. *shrug* Many mammalian species practice regular homosexuality, and several have shown a marked preference without using it as a way to dominate within a pack/herd/pod, etc.

    I’ve never worried what sexual preferences as long as all are consenting adults. Frankly, it’s none of my damn business. BDSM, asexual, bi, poly, homo, hetero – *shrug* It is a facet of the person, not their entire being. I also don’t automatically believe everyone is going to look at me with sex on the brain.

    At my last two places of employment, in very RED states of the bible belt, it wasn’t an issue. Nobody hid who they were. Therefore, nobody thought twice about it. Many countries, and cultures, could take lessons.

  3. I had a similar shift occasioned by nothing more than escaping my religious bubble and making friends who were gay (or I should say openly gay; I don’t pretend to think that everyone from our church community was or is straight). Unfortunately, I have family members who are still in the dark ages. I have tried to stop debating it with them b/c it seems pointless, since one asked me, in what was meant to be a grave, argument-finishing tone, “Ok, tell me this. Would you want your children to have a teacher who was gay?” Well horrors, I had gay teachers and look how that turned out.

    • Oh the irony! I was in a religion class at the college after having moved back from Florida. It was one of those “topical moral issues” or “religion in the home” sort of classes. We could choose what topic we wanted to write on and then the minister would pose a question to us. I chose homosexuality and that is the exact question that was put to me: “What would you do if your child was assigned to a gay teacher’s classroom?” That’s the only time I ever completely BSed a paper in order to get a grade. If I’d answered honestly it would have been a short paper that went something like this: “Good! It’ll give them a chance to experience different people and different viewpoints so that they can make better decisions in life.”

  4. Oh gawd. I probably would have written my mind (see “the Conjugial Culture”). For some reason this reminds me of a college religion class paper I wrote whose thesis was that Islam and Christianity had a lot of fundamental similarities. The minister didn’t like it (I can still remember the expression on his face) but gave me a grudging A, as I recall.

  5. I think the true test of honor within any belief or value system is how we treat those who believe quite differently. I choose to not hate or criticize people who believe living a gay lifestyle is not God’s way. I choose to not hate or criticize people who choose to live the gay lifestyle. My values are a guide for my life, not for any one else’s life.
    I happen to know people who are gay and choose that lifestyle and I know people who are gay who choose to not live a gay lifestyle, usually because it conflicts in some way with the rest of who they are and what they value. Oddly, I have come across intolerance in the gay community for gay people who opt out of the gay lifesyle.
    I suspect genuine equality will not happen until people accept it is not wrong or evil for people to choose their own way, their own values, their own lifestyle, be it the same or different as their own values and lifestyle.

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