There are people in this world who will tell you what you can and can not say.
A preacher from the Bible Belt, perhaps, burning books on sex. Bill O’Reilly, maybe, conservative whatever-he-is, shouting people on his show into submission because of his very clear intellectual inferiority complex, and the fact of his kind of just being a dick. But then, many, many miles away from there, in the land of Liberaltopia, and far more relevant to my life: one of the LGBTQ Thought Police we share our internet home with on this very blog, perhaps, perennially furious, explaining how ‘something something privilege something if you want to be a friend of gay people you must only think, say, and feel EXACTLY WHAT I TELL YOU TO THINK, SAY, AND FEEL.’
This later position is fun for me because I’m gay, which grants me magical rhetoric powers that drive the Rainbow Borg insane. Namely, I can disagree with this idiocy, and nobody can say it’s because I ‘just don’t get what it’s like.’ Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (Jersey REPRESENT), I hit puberty, realized — ‘oh, shit’ — I like dudes, spent many a teenaged night praying to God that he would change me, ultimately realized that I was awesome just the way I was, and promptly stopped thinking about what made me different.
Yet, I am a little bit different than my straight peeps, cohabitating this wild and beautiful Planet Earth with me. And many of my straight peeps have questions about gay stuff, because 95% of the people on this planet (more?) are straight, and gay stuff probably, understandably, seems kind of weird to them at first. And maybe you are a straight person who thinks — *gasp — it’s wrong to be gay! Okay. Let’s get into this.
But first: a list of ground rules. Here is what you can and can not talk about with this real, live gay person.
1. You can talk about anything with me that you’d like to talk about with me.
Oh, whoops. That’s the end of the list!
Hmm, okay. Let’s pivot, here, and discuss what words you can and can not use around this real, live gay person.
1. You can use any word around me that you want to use around me.
Oh, damn. That’s all I’ve got. I did it again, didn’t I? Because screw the Thought Police. It doesn’t matter what you think, it only matters that we talk about it. I won’t get mad unless you tell me what I’m not allowed to say.
I was never good at taking orders from weak sauce, and if you’re afraid of a piece of language, dude? You are weak. effing. sauce.
We’ll never learn from each other if we can’t speak without fear we’ll be attacked for saying a word that, for some unspecified reason, at some unspecified time, and from some unspecified arbitrator, was decided unfashionable. What does ‘politically correct’ even mean? Our government is currently shut down because nobody agrees about politics. You don’t have to ‘check your privilege’ with me, either. Privilege is a made up thing. ‘Privilege’ is a manipulative, emotionally-charged conversation killer, the last refuge of a losing argument. Translated to the American English vernacular, it means something like: ‘you were not born a certain [race, class, gender, sexual orientation], and so your opinion is weighted down, less than, not as important.’ Which, um… sounds an awful lot to me like [racism, classism, sexism, prejudice]. Can’t persuade a man of your opinion? I know what we can do! Let’s make his opinion illegal.
Get out of my face with this nonsense.
When I was 18, a Christian friend of mine told me that when I died I wouldn’t burn in Hell. His name was Colin.
‘Oh, sweet,’ I thought, because back then I still sort of thought there was a chance I would.
“Your soul will probably be destroyed instead,” said Colin. “Unless you repent, I mean. This is called Annihilationism.”
“Holy shit,” I said.
I was stunned to legitimate silence (rare for me). This person, this friend, believed that there was something so wrong with me that I would be… erased. I immediately set to imagining it happen because I am a crazy person. My soul at the end of time, rising up above the others, selected, and then shattering. This seemed worse to me than eternal suffering, which always seemed at odds to me with everything Jesus Christ ever said and did, the paradoxical nature of which gave me hope. Maybe I would suffer for a while and then be forgiven, right? Right? But it can’t be forgiven what doesn’t exist. This was like some kind of hardcore Hitler God with the Most Final Solution Ever.
Colin was an Australian body builder studying at my college, a conservative raised on a small farm of some kind, he’d come to America to get away from liberals.
“Ha,” I shouted, “too bad you picked Boston. Idiot.”
We met the day he sat at my table in the dining hall, uninvited, and asked if he could join the debate my friends and I were having. His breakfast tray was piled a foot high with: a bowl of oatmeal, a separate bowl of 6 hardboiled eggs, 3 bananas, 2 peanut butter sandwiches, a glass of whole milk, and a small, almost whimsical piece of chocolate. This was a young man who had no fucks to give. I found this incredibly attractive. We became pals, debated vigorously, and often, and agreed on very little.
“You’re upset with me,” he said.
He was hurt that I was hurt. I could see that. But where does one go from “you will be erased from existence, probably”?
“I’m not upset with you, I just… I um… ”
Then, the strangest thing happened. It occurred to me that I didn’t agree with him, that I didn’t believe I would be annihilated, that if asked right then, at that moment in time, actually, I would not even say that I was Christian, let alone his denomination, and I became curious.
“Why do you think that?” I asked.
I really wanted to know. So we talked about it. A lot.
I’ve become friends with many people who held uncomfortable conceptions of what it meant to be gay since, and with the exception of one person, who was of course Colin, my first and most important improbable friend, the talking relationships invariably led to disarmament. Fear correlates strongly with the unknown, and in a conversation with no rules, all of the scary questions are asked.
So to this very first, very unfortunate question — how to talk to a gay person?
The answer is this: any way you want.
Let’s just talk.