I admit it. When I was a teenager, a young man who saw the world in terms of black and white, truth and fiction, right and wrong, I used the bible as a road map to reality. And I used biblical verses to justify positions that seemed completely right to me at the time. I eschewed rational thought for easy, wholly incorrect textual answers.
In the abstract, you can justify damn near anything. When it’s concepts, verses, and philosophy, you can talk and rationalize yourself into believing anything.
But reality is harsh and wonderful. When I met gay and lesbian people who were unafraid to identify themselves publicly, the picture changed dramatically. Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to assume a position of moral righteousness over actual people, who were loving, kind, intelligent friends.
I definitely identify with what he says. When I went to college, the number of out LGB people I knew personally was exactly zero. This changed literally as soon as I started my freshman year. On the first night of orientation, I noticed Kate, one of the girls in my dorm, wearing a shirt with the name of a church youth group on it. I’d been well taught that campus would be a hotbed of secularism and anti-religious bigotry, and Christians would be few and far between – especially Christians brave and faithful enough to broadcast their faith as publicly as this girl had. So I jumped at the chance to introduce myself to her; we struck up a conversation and ended up chatting for a few hours in her dorm room.
Over the course of the conversation it became clear that my new friend wasn’t exactly the sort of Christian I’d been taught to associate with (pretty much exclusively, though I was never that good at following that). And by not exactly, I mean totally different to the point of being alarming. She believed women could be pastors, and thought Paul was a sexist ass. She didn’t read the Bible literally (obviously), or believe that Jesus was the only way to heaven and that all non-Christians were headed for hell. This was concerning.
At some point I must have changed the topic of conversation and asked Kate where her assigned roommate was, since her room was obviously meant to have two occupants. As it turned out, she didn’t have a roommate. And the reason why she didn’t have one was because she decided, before school started, to be honest with her assigned roommate about her sexuality. This roommate was unwilling to share a room with a lesbian, and had her parents call the school to demand that her room assignment be changed.
Well. My reaction to this news was surprisingly (to me) very mixed. On the one hand, my immediate reaction to finding out Kate was lesbian was one of panic. I remember looking over my shoulder to confirm that the door to the hall was still open – worried, I guess, that she wouldn’t be able to control her wild lesbian desires and would jump me right there. This is a funny thing about homophobia – what is it that makes so many homophobic people assume all LGB people want to sleep with all people of their sex? Are straight people attracted to every single member of the opposite sex? This is a rather silly (and arrogant!) thing to assume, and actively dangerous – especially when it’s used to prop up hateful stereotypes of LGB people as sexual predators and pedophiles. It occurs to me now that I felt like I was in some sort of unspecified danger, which is another one of the most insidious and potentially dangerous effects of homophobia. People can react in all sorts violent and dangerous ways when they feel threatened, rationally or not.
Anyway, I began to feel panicked and was actively plotting ways to end the conversation and get myself out of the room as quickly as possible. At the same time, I felt sorry for Kate. It was sad that she was missing out on the experience of having a roommate when she hadn’t really done anything wrong. And part of me recognized that her assigned roommate’s response was pretty mean and, disturbingly, didn’t strike me as terribly Christian. If we were supposed to love everyone like Jesus loved, and still love the sinner even if we condemned the sin, how could it be right to just refuse to live with someone without even meeting them first? I knew that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes – was it really the case that Jesus would draw the line at lesbians? Or was rooming with a lesbian as the same thing as rooming with a straight man (a thought I would also have been horrified by at the time, but now don’t think anything of)?
I didn’t know what to think. I understood and shared the roommate’s concerns, but was disturbed by the fact that acting on those concerns necessarily meant treating Kate like she was too evil to even share the same space with – like she was less than human. I’d never thought of gay person as a sympathetic figure before – never knew any gay people to sympathize with. They were always one-dimensional and unequivocally bad – yet so invisible in my world as to be almost imaginary. Suddenly being presented with a real person, with real feelings, and a Christian, no less, really shook my assumptions and beliefs (it’s impossible to be both gay and Christian, y’know)
A few weeks later a good friend of mine from high school came out to me as gay. Another shock.
My anti-gay beliefs didn’t change right away, but my image of LGB people as cartoonish villains was steadily being undermined. And the more LGB people I counted among my friends and loved ones, the less confidence I had that traditional teachings about homosexuality and evangelical assumptions about “the gay lifestyle” were right, or fair.