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.
The 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.
I 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.