May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. I started a lot of different entries for this hop, but since this is most likely a preaching-to-the-choir exercise, in the end I figured I’d just share a personal story of hope.
In my last year of college, my best friend of four years suddenly revealed himself to be homophobic and against gay rights. I’m not exactly sure how we spent four years as friends without the topic ever coming up, but there it was our senior year, rearing its ugly head in the middle of what had otherwise been a quiet evening spent talking as we lay curled up on my twin size bed.
First, I was shocked. Then he was. Why did the topic matter so much to me when I wasn’t gay? I couldn’t get him to understand, and as we continued to discuss the issue, voices rose and words became angrier. Emotions overcame me, and I may have resorted to name-calling. He brought his religion into the discussion and tried to paint me as the one doing the discriminating. At the climax of the argument, he went to storm out of my apartment, and I yelled, (loud enough so that all my apartment mates and probably the neighbors could hear) “If you were such a good Catholic, you wouldn’t be letting your girlfriend suck your dick.”
No, I’m not proud of the tactics I resorted to, or of making him feel like I was belittling his religion. Looking back, I think the reason I was so angry was because I was so close to him—it filled me with disappointment and sadness to learn we stood so far apart on this issue. Anger was just an easier emotion to cling to.
That night very well could have been the end of our friendship. And the experience wouldn’t have been without a lesson—I now knew to bring up such important issues earlier on in a friendship, so as not to waste time getting in too deep with someone who would only disappoint me later.
But instead of cutting ties, I waited about a week, giving us both a chance to calm down. Then I went to him and apologized for screaming about his sex life in front of other people. I also apologized for any perceived attack on his religion, and for the name-calling…but not for my beliefs. We spoke calmly, and I tried to point out the inconsistencies in his stance (essentially the my-religion-says-it’s-wrong stance) without placing too much judgment. And while I did not get him to magically change his mind in that one conversation, he did agree to reevaluate his beliefs.
Nothing happened overnight. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d given me a “final answer” of not supporting gay rights, but so long as he was open to the idea of change, I was willing to pursue the friendship. I kept my campaign fairly constant, and he always knew it was on my mind. Perhaps in part due to this conflict of ours, he decided he needed to broaden his horizons and experience a bit of life outside of his comfort zone. After we graduated college, he joined Americorps.
When he returned from that experience months later, he came to my house and I knew immediately from his face that we were going to have a serious talk. Turned out, he wanted to thank me and tell me I was right (not gonna lie, that was a fantastic moment). One of the members of his Americorps team had been gay—possibly the first gay person he’d ever met. After getting to know this individual, he finally realized why I was so adamant about supporting gay rights, even if it meant him turning away from his religion, at least in part. And while it was never my intention to get him to choose one or the other, in the end he decided he couldn’t reconcile his Church’s stance with his new beliefs. He chose to remain spiritual, and is now a firm supporter of gay rights.
I realize not all stories like this can have a happy ending. Some people are so set in their ways that no amount of arguing, civil or otherwise, will get through to them. But I wanted to share this positive experience in case anyone ever finds themselves in a similar position. Sometimes our inclination is to excise people from our lives who disagree with us on something so fundamental. While I’d never fault anyone for making a decision like that to keep themselves healthy in body and mind, I do think there are occasionally reasons to stick around and fight.
People can surprise you.
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