In my coming out process I have been very lucky. I’ve been met with mostly acceptance, love and support. We all deserve these reactions when we tell the truth about our sexuality. But I’m here to tell you first hand, Gentle Reader, that sometimes the world is less fuzzy.
One of my best friends is a girl I went to my high school senior prom with. To describe her a little, Crystal is a loving mother, a devoted wife and a god fearing Christian. She’s been my friend for 16 years. When I told her I was gay she told me that she loved me and that was that. She’s always been a great friend and I am thankful for her. Yet, she was one of the last people who I told I was gay. Why?
One of the reasons my friendship with Crystal has always been so rewarding is because there are several other friends I have made through her. Over the years I have become friends with almost her entire family. Her parents, her siblings and her husband have always treated me as an honorary member of their family. And this inclusion always felt wonderful. Myself, Crystal, the siblings and some extended friends developed a fun tradition years ago. We call them game nights. Nights of friends playing board games, eating food, drinking beer, listening to music, joking around and just simply having fun.
This sense of inclusion in this extended family filled me with a lot of joy. But as the years passed and I became more comfortable in my reality as a gay man, this sense of inclusion was masked by a sense of worry. Worry about telling them that I was gay. Crystal’s reaction to my news was not the only hurdle to overcome here. Telling her meant telling her 3 siblings, each of their spouses, her parents, extended friends and more.
It is one thing to worry about a single person’s reaction to you being gay. It is a very different thing to worry about a large group’s reaction. That is a lot of individual reactions to worry about. To make matters a bit trickier, this family is mostly conservative Christians. I was literally going to be the only gay friend that any of them have had, so I was extra worried about rejection from at least one of them, and possibly from several of them.
Sure enough, when it was all said and done, one of Crystal’s brother-in-laws deemed me a sinner and has not spoken to me or acknowledged my existence since he found out I was gay. We will call this man Richard. (It should be noted here that every single other member of this group accepted me and expressed love towards me when they found out I was gay.) I’ve been in a room with Richard once since he found out and several times that night he literally ignored me and walked around me to get to other people. He believes that I am going straight to hell and has even asked his wife to not associate with me until I seek help. He collected bible verses to support why God is against homosexuality. He went as far as to say that he does not care if I am gay, but I must repent, pray for God’s forgiveness and never engage in any homosexual activity ever, for it is the acting upon these hellish urges that is the sin.
At our game nights, whenever a game is played that requires groups, we would always split up into teams of boys vs. girls. With Richard now refusing to speak to me or acknowledge my presence, these teams suddenly threatened to be very awkward. So, Crystal and I came up with a plan to alternate game nights. Richard could have one, then I would have the next, and so on. This negotiation was to take place at the first of these game nights where Richard would attend and I would be absent. A discussion was to be had that would include all regular game night attendees. I spoke with another of the involved peoples beforehand and anxiously awaited the verdict of what was sure to be an interesting conversation that night.
But no conversation or compromise was ever made. In fact a second game night came and went with Richard in attendance and still no me. I guess life got in the way, which is understandable. But what seemed important to me, a conversation about my sexuality not being a valid reason to exclude me from game nights with my friends, didn’t seem as important a conversation to have for the others.
Dealing with the reality that sometimes people we love turn out to be homosexual, would result in an uncomfortable conversation amongst these individuals. Difference of opinions among them on this issue would inevitably lead to arguments and some drama. I don’t think anyone really wanted to create that awkwardness in the family unit for someone who is not really a family member. After all, they must all co-exist at holidays and birthday parties, so it would be easier to just avoid any ugliness. Especially when there is only one gay person in this social circle to need to deal with. (God forbid any of their children turn out to be gay)
I know that Crystal truly wants me at game nights and at other events like her children’s birthday parties (which I will also not attend since Richard is always there). And I understand her predicament; she is close to her sister and doesn’t want to exclude her from events due to her brother-in-law’s beliefs. And Crystal has since apologized to me for this situation and the results. Still, it has suddenly become blazingly clear that, although I have always been included as such in the past, I am not actually a genuine part of this family.
Ultimately, no awkward conversation was necessary because I decided that I would no longer take part in the game nights. I felt that any further negotiations would have created resentment in me towards these people who have all meant a lot to me throughout my life. So instead, I walked away.
Now I don’t want to sound too overly dramatic. Crystal and I are still fantastic friends and I still plan on being involved in her life, her husband’s and especially her two children’s. Their kids call me Uncle Adam and I love them both very much. I see many wonderful years ahead of me being a positive adult influence in their lives. Though I can’t help but to wonder about what will be said to them once they are old enough to understand that I am gay. I worry that it may be handled in a way, though unintentionally, which may teach them that being gay is different and not a good thing.
One of the lessons here, Gentle Reader, is to not allow such situations to cause us to become bitter. Also we must be careful to not villainize my friends too easily. Sometimes people have a hard time getting used to things that are outside of their comfort zone. And sometimes people do not stand up and fight battles if the battles do not directly affect their own personal well-being. All we can do is be there to offer them information and love should they seek it. It is all of our jobs to work together to invoke positive change in this world which we call home.
But just because love and understanding are main lessons here does not mean that our comfort levels and our right to feel respected are any less important or less deserved. We do not need to put ourselves in any situation where we end up feeling like a second-class citizen. Those who exclude us would stand for no such thing in their own lives. Strength and determination on our part is also vital for positive change.
Friends are allowed to disappoint us some times, and that disappointment does not necessarily negate all of the good they have done. But for those who outwardly reject us simply for being who we truly are, well concerning them, my suggestion to you is to make your stance known, and then simply walk away. After all, negotiating with our happiness and our feeling accepted is not a game that any of us should be playing anyway.