(Originally posted May 1, 2012. Re-posted out of a sense of need for the current discussion).
There is no universal homosexual paradigm – but there are strong paradigms that drive our society. Previous generations of Americans often ignored the Gay community – you stay in your closet, I’ll stay in mine. Today we find the Gay community pressing for equal rights under the law – rights of marriage, rights of adoption, equal employment rights, rights to Christian Ministry, and rights to ‘spousal benefits.’ The press for equal rights has forced a mythological homosexual paradigm to the surface, forced many to reevaluate their concepts of homosexuality, and has scared the wazoo out of the people who enjoy tea parties. What is the basis for people’s fear? Let’s get down to it, let’s look at ourselves, let’s examine our personal experience – the experience that drives our concept of the homosexual paradigm. Many of us have grown up with very immature ideas about sexuality.
Sex was not a topic of discussion around the house when I was a child. I have early childhood memories of innocent attempts to talk sex with my parents. When I was about seven years old I asked my mother where babies come from (I have four younger siblings). My mother said that we grow up, get married, and God gives us babies. Given some of the other ideas presented at our church – the idea of God giving us babies seemed easy enough.
We lived in a lower-class neighborhood. I don’t mean to prejudice anyone because of economic stature – but the reality is that people with less education, less worldliness, less exposure to the Vanderbilts often operate in simple ways. Again, I was about seven when some new neighbors moved in. Their small child, a year younger than me, called me a cock sucker. He was angry when he called me the name – so I just assumed it must be something bad. So I asked my mother, “Mom, what does cock sucker mean?” She slapped me and told me to never talk like that again. I remember thinking that the next time I saw that neighbor boy I was going to give him my mother’s answer. Maybe these things happen in the upper economic classes – but I would not know about that.
Suffice to say that I had no idea there was such a thing as homosexuality. For that matter, I had no idea there was such a thing as sexuality at all. So life went on. My sex education was conducted on the playground of the school. I clearly remember a twelve year old friend bringing us together on the playground to announce he had learned the truth about sex. He reported that his older brother, who was sixteen, had told him how sex worked. I remember feeling certain that I had finally learned the truth. Nothing was said about homosexuality.
When I was sixteen I took a job as a bellhop at a swanky downtown hotel. At sixteen I was a pretty boy – long wavy brown hair and no whiskers – a pretty boy. I was like a magnet to adult homosexuals. Did you hear the subtle suggestion of my words – a few simple sentences and I have suggested that homosexuals prey on young boys. Paradigms begin to form from experience – osmosis driven value systems. I clearly remember three times in the hotel being propositioned by homosexual men. They did not offer money – only private intimacy. I remember being confused. I did not know exactly what they were talking about – but I wanted no part of it. The experience was so profound that I can remember today, half a century later, the clothes these men wore, the smell of their cologne, the exact place I was standing, the expression on their faces, and their words of encouragement.
I told some of my friends and fellow bellhops of my experience. The response seemed out of whack with my experience. My friends were up in arms – they wanted to hide outside the hotel at night and wait for one of ‘those men’ to come out. Then we could beat the shit out of them. I was confused again. While I had been propositioned wiht homosexual intimacy – I never felt particularly threatened. My recollection is of clean, dignified, educated, polite, and gentle men offering intimacy. So let’s beat the shit out of them. Talk about mixed signals. It is sort of funny today – I remember thinking that I wished I knew how to approach a girl as well as those men approached me. They were disarming, thoughtful, and accepting of my decline.
Today I feel blessed with my teen experience in the hotel. I had personal experience with homosexual men who were not monsters. Two of the homosexual men who approached me worked in the hotel – one played the piano in the swanky restaurant. My relationship with these men continued as if nothing had happened – because nothing had happened. They taught me that relationships can survive conflict.
I wish life were so simple. At eighteen I moved to Kansas City. I attended school during the day and worked as a baggage agent for the Continental Trailways bus line in the evenings. The bus station provided opportunity to observe a variety of foreign life styles. It was in that bus station that I first saw a black man with a white woman. That was a bigger shock than a homosexual proposition. It seems my upbringing was more worried about heterosexual relationships between races than it was with sexual relationships between men. Go figure.
One night I finished my evening shift at the bus station at about midnight. I was walking through downtown Kansas City and passed an adult book store. I was free, white, and eighteen – so I decided to check it out. I had never been exposed to hard core pornography – I was curious. The store had racks of books and magazines. Along the back wall there were are number of small booths, private places where one could watch a three minute porno-flick for a quarter. I had a quarter in my pocket – so there you go. I sat in the booth, inserted my quarter in the slot, and discovered this booth was for homosexual porn. Now we are talking shock. The porno flick had three men in bed, naked in all their glory, and doing things that were completely out of the range of my imagination. I wanted out. But I was so embarrassed that I was afraid to open the door of the booth because I did not want anyone to see me. I finally mustered the courage to leave. As I was walking out the door there was a man at the counter asking the clerk for three dollars worth of quarters. Yikes! I could not get out of there fast enough.
By twenty years old I had locked in on a value system that would follow me through my life. My young adult ideas about sexuality were surly very immature – and are probably not much better today. Again, I feel blessed for the experience working in the hotel. Many people today are adamantly opposed to homosexual life styles. Their images of homosexuals were founded in crazy life experiences, or no experience at all – just the talk of their peers. It occurs to me that most people have formed their opinions about homosexuals without ever having actually experienced a homosexual. This is one of the unfortunate side affects of homosexuals staying in the closet. But what comes first?
A homosexual coming out of the closet in a prejudiced society will surely suffer the consequences. A misguided homosexual paradigm drives public policy and personal response. I suspect about one in twenty men in America is homosexual. The only time we hear about homosexuals is when an arrest is made, or a scandal breaks out in the Boy Scouts or the Catholic Church. The result is a public that is afraid of something they only understand to be unlawful, deviant, and dangerous.
When we hear stories of domestic violence in a homosexual relationship we somehow mentally connect the violence to the sexual preference. When we hear of domestic violence in a heterosexual relationship we just think of mean spirited or angry people – we don’t connect the violence to the sexual preference.
The ongoing scandal in the Catholic Church with some pedophile priests is distorted by many to suggest that homosexuality is a root cause. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The percentage of homosexuals on the local Fire Department is the same as the percentage of Catholic Priests who are homosexual. How can I make this claim? It is a statistical probability. The standard bell curve applies. Homosexuals are everywhere. We don’t know who they are because our paradigm of understanding does not allow us to accept our neighbor or co-worker as homosexual. They don’t fit the myth.
Sadly, we must add that this post has promoted another myth. The binary idea of sexuality says simply that one is either homosexual or heterosexual – there are no other options. The reality is that very few are one hundred percent of anything. The effort to simplify complex ideas continues – life is easier when it is black or white – gray areas just complicate matters.
But here is the challenge to each of us. On what do we base our prejudices? Personal experience? Playground talk during puberty? Pornography? Exaggerated news stories? I don’t care about any individual prejudice – choosing to love or hate is personal and each of has a right to be happy or miserable. But when we are making public policy – such as the right to Gay Marriage – then we should put aside discrimination based on ignorance. Accurate information is available – just go to bing or google and enter ‘homosexual truth.’
Public policy is important and public policy has consequences. Public policy should not be based on lazy intellect that is not willing to completely understand any given issue. Personal experience should never be discounted – but rather taken for what it is worth. Because we know that most homosexuals remain in the closet we cannot say with certainty that we have any extensive experience with homosexuals – because we don’t even know who they are.
I should be clear about my personal prejudice – I am not immune to discrimination. Because I have had a generally open and unbiased attitude I have been fortunate to have a number of men reveal their sexual preference to me. (I almost typed ‘expose themselves to me’ – but your dirty mind would have wandered.) Even with a sincere attempt at being open some information remains disturbing. I watched Brokeback Mountain, that movie about cowboys and gay love. The movie was well done. I enjoyed the tenderness of the movie, the tenderness of a love relationship – but a hangup that follows me through life is this – I struggle with visual images of homosexual affection. I had to turn away when the cowboys kissed. Sorry folks – I am trying to be honest – perhaps that film booth in Kansas City was a more profound moment that I ever realized.
These are just a few ideas – but please learn before casting a prejudiced vote!