It is a gift that we are talking out loud about those things that used to only be shared in secret, in darkness, in the closet. I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one raised with the teaching, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” What an incredibly destructive teaching. To condone hating on one hand and to label people as sinful on the other.
When I was doing campus ministry at our Muskegon Community College, I met with a professor of philosophy. The college had recently been in the news for refusing to allow a drag show to take place on its campus. The professor welcomed me and told me he hoped my presence would have a positive impact. He shared with me that in the past year, a young student of his had come out as gay to his Christian parents. They responded to his disclosure by telling him he “should kill himself.” He did.
The LGBT community has far too often been the victim of violence – both physical violence and spiritual violence. Too often anti-gay rhetoric masquerades as a message of God’s love and the power to overcome obstacles, giving rise to self hatred and encouraging intolerance. When people arm themselves with the weapon of misinformation that perpetuates intolerance and preserves heterosexual privilege, the fruits of their labor are suffering, self-hatred and wasted gifts. There is much to be angry about and much to lament. And there is also much to celebrate.
You know, as a heterosexual, I had the privilege of never having my own sexuality questioned. I also never had anyone reduce me to my plumbing or ask me how I “do” it. I never had to “come out” and worry what the consequences would be. I also never had to live with internalized homophobia that would make me question whether every person’s reaction to me had something to do with my sexuality.
One of the saddest stories I lived through was when a gay couple stopped coming to Extended Grace. When we finally connected weeks later, I learned that one of the men had been refused a hug by a young college women. He felt she was rejecting him because he was openly gay. What he didn’t know was that she had been raped on her college campus while walking home at night earlier that week. She wasn’t letting anyone hug her. A heterosexist, homophobic society conditions human beings to expect rejection even where that rejection doesn’t exist. And when that happens – everyone is hurt.
I know I will be more aware in the days to come and I hope those of you who share my heterosexual privilege will be, too. Think about what the world would be like if we would all live as our most authentic self. Then work for a world in which everyone is not tolerated or accepted, but where everyone is celebrated and encouraged to be fully who they are.
Last week was National Coming Out Day and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about heterosexual privilege. Sadly, our society as a whole has not been accommodating to those who don’t fit the sexual stereotypes they enforce. I’m struck in my heterosexual privilege about what it means to be expecting the birth of a child. What’s the big question? Is it a boy or a girl? Do you know? Are you going to find out? Or are you going to wait and be surprised?
Because that little, tiny piece of information unlocks the entire future. Boy or Girl goes way beyond what color I am going to pain the nursery. It also tells me what clothes I am going to dress my child in, what toys I am going to buy for them, and how I am going to refer to them. It gives me a good idea of what kinds of activities they will be involved in, what kind of career they might follow, what life transitions they will face.
Perhaps most importantly, it tells me how I will relate to my child. What kind of relationship I can expect over the years and what role will I play in their life in the years to come. The sex of my child ultimately becomes something very personal about me – because my role is different if I am the mother or father of a boy than if I am the mother or father of a girl.
And usually – even though we are all unique and we all bring unique twists to our relationships – those assumptions play out pretty much the way we expect them to. That is heterosexual privilege.
Almost two months ago I got a call from a woman I knew from my work in the West Michigan Community. She was very upset and she couldn’t think of anyone else to call. She called me because she had heard me talk about my book Sacred Sex and thought I would be a safe person to talk to. Why was she so distressed? Her 16 year old grand daughter had just announced that she was a boy. She had never had anything like this happen to her before – and she was overwhelmed with the news.
I talked to her about three or four days later and she was doing better. She had talked to her grand *son* and knew that this person was the same person she had always loved. But she also knew she would have a lot of mourning to do because this grandchild was not the image of the grandchild she had carried with her for 16 years. Old expectations about this child and about grandma’s role in this child’s life had swept away and uncertainty and fear had come into the void.
An often overlooked segment of the population who suffers in the wake of anti-LGBT propaganda and misunderstanding are the allies, friends and family members. Particularly parents. So today, I am grateful for all of those parents who stand by their children through their “coming out” and who continue to love and cherish them unconditionally. Thank you for your testimony of love and humanity.