I remember the first time I saw two men kiss. I was about 14-years-old. It was on a cable access channel. I was completely repulsed. Watching these two men on the television screen I felt physically ill. It went contrary to just about everything I had encountered in my life at that time. There were no gay people in my life that I was aware of. The gay characters on television shows always talked funny and would make insinuations, but they’d never kiss. In the late 1980s, you could call someone a ‘fag’ and no one cared or called you a bigot. Being gay or ‘queer’ as the adults around me would say was abnormal.
As a teenager I went to church. It was a Quaker church and I have to say I never once remember even a mention of gay people while I was there. Still, I was aware that most Christians felt that gay acts were a sin. This did not make them bad people. They were simply sinners who were not following the ways of Christ. Eventually, they’d find the Truth, the Light, and the Way and they’d stop being gay.
It wasn’t until I was seventeen that my thoughts on being gay changed. I got a phone call from an acquaintance. I didn’t really know him very well, but he had my number and knew I had a car. He needed a ride. I’m ashamed to say I honestly do not remember his name. He asked me to pick him up a few blocks from his house.
Fifteen minutes later I found him walking down the street. Stumbling. His shirt and face were bloody. I asked if he wanted me to take him to the hospital but he refused. I asked him what happened. He told me that he had chosen tonight to tell his father that he was gay. His father’s response was to beat the shit out of his own son and kick him out of the house.
I took him back to my parents’ place and let them know my friend was spending the night. He and I talked most of the night. I kept thinking that there was no possible excuse for what his father had done. No act, set of words, or confession could possibly make it okay for a father to beat his son bloody. And the idea that such an event could happen simply because his son was physically attracted to other boys was absurd.
That night before we went to sleep, he kissed me. I didn’t want him to and it solidified my feelings that I was most definitely a heterosexual, but I after what his father had done to him, the last thing I was going to do was add another rejection.
The next morning he called his parents’ house. His mother pleaded with him to come home. He asked me to take him. I asked if he was sure. He said that he was. Over the next year or so, I’d see him every now and then and we’d talk, but he never came over again and we did not become good friends.
The truth was I had many gay and bisexual friends as a teen. I just didn’t know it. I was completely oblivious for much of my high school existence. When I learned they were, it wasn’t a big deal to me because of my experience with that acquaintance.
When I was 19, my parents split up. My mom moved in with a female coworker. When her mother, my grandmother was in the hospital, her entire side of the family was there, but only one person could go in to visit at a time. When my mom went in, relatives asked me if my mom was a lesbian. I said, “Y’know, my whole life I’ve not known much about my mother’s sex life and I intend to keep it that way. If you want to know about it, ask her.”
These days some of my favorite people are same sex couples. I’ve lost count how many I know because it simply doesn’t matter. When I saw those two men kissing on that cable access show, I thought my repulsion was due to some fundamental wrongness with gay culture. I know now that it was simply my reacting to something that was entirely foreign to me.
I used to think that the term ‘homophobe’ wasn’t correct. Anti-gay people weren’t afraid of gay people. They just thought their lifestyle was wrong and shouldn’t be condoned. I was incorrect. Homophobe is exactly the right term. It’s the same as any bigoted response. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand and so they condemn it or try to shut it out. It’s homophobia.
Homophobia isn’t religious, though many nest their homophobia in religion. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. And sure, you can find passages in various holy books that condemn homosexuality, but in those very same books you’ll find that they condone slavery. Our moral compass has evolved since pre-industrial times. One cannot condemn an entire culture using ancient books as their sole justification.
If you find yourself unable to let go of your homophobia, I’m going to suggest you do something very difficult and very rewarding: Get to know gay people. You’ll find that they’re just people who talk and laugh and smile and love the same as the rest of us. They’re just people. Like you and me.
I know for some that request is an impossibility. There are people out there like that father who beat his son for saying he was gay. On a deep core level these people know that being gay is wrong. Our holy books say so. For those people, I want to say that the best way exemplify religion is not to condemn others, but to live your own life in accordance with your beliefs. The most powerful weapon in a Christian’s arsenal is forgiveness.
– Jack Cameron