Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
I don’t really know how to write this. I don’t even know where to begin. There’s a thing I’ve kept to myself – well, mostly to myself – for a very long time, and I’ve always thought it was nobody’s business. Well, mostly nobody’s business.
But I keep wondering if it’s really that simple. What if it’s nobody’s business as a general rule, but in certain circumstances, by keeping something to yourself you’re being dishonest. Not because anybody really has the right to know, in the abstract, but because you’ve chosen to stake out certain positions and to make certain assertions that touch on the very thing you want to conceal, and by staking out those positions and making those assertions without revealing that thing, you’ve created a sort of conflict of interest – like a journalist who reports on an issue without revealing that he or she might benefit from the way that issue is resolved.
So, you can either keep silent about issues that matter to you, or you can continue to talk and write about them, to take sides, to advocate your position – openly, freely, the way people ought to be able to talk and write, to take sides, and to advocate – but to do so fairly and honestly, you have to reveal the thing you’ve always wanted to conceal.
That seems kind of unfair. And yet, somehow, it also seems like the right thing to do.
See, here’s the thing. I’m gay.
When I say those words or I see them in writing, in my head I hear that classically comedic sound effect of a turntable’s stylus being dragged across a old-fashioned LP record: Screeeeech.
But there it is. I’m gay.
It’s taken me most of my fifty-three years to figure it out, as strange as that sounds. And I didn’t figure it out all at once. The human mind is an amazing thing: If you’re really afraid of the truth, you can bury it so deep inside you that it can take decades to unearth it. To mix metaphors here, I’ve spent nearly all my life running so far away from the truth that I managed to convince myself of the opposite. I dated women, married – twice – and fathered three children, all while doing everything humanly possible to deny the truth. Not to deny it so much as to unsee it. To suppress it so deeply that it essentially ceased to exist for most of my life.
That’s some powerful self-loathing right there.
It’s difficult to explain, and I’m not one to go into the kind of specifics necessary to explain it – not yet, anyway – but the truth sort of came to me, little by little, over the past 20 years or so. And here’s the thing I have to point out, if only to assuage any feelings of guilt over not having come to accept the truth sooner. I never intentionally deceived the only person who really has the unqualified right to know: my wife. As I came to understand who I really am, she was always the first to know. And I don’t mean, the first to know after me. In fact, without going into specifics nobody’s entitled to, I divulged each new realization to her essentially as it came to me.
Until I finally realized – quite literally as the words were coming out of my mouth – I’m gay. It was as if I didn’t really understand it myself until I was actually sitting on the couch, saying those words to her.
Since we had that conversation a few months back, I’ve vacillated. Not over whether or not I am, in fact, gay, but whether to come out publicly like this. I could easily keep it to myself. I’m married, I have kids, and I’ve “passed” for a straight person my whole life. My wife, the only person who has to know, knows and accepts it. So, I could go on pretending to be straight – pretending merely to be a gay ally, with all that implies, good, bad and indifferent – and nobody would know otherwise.
But I would know. And every time I chose to write or tweet about the rights of LGBTQ people – my people – I would know that I’m hiding something. I’m hiding something from anybody who reads what I write, and that’s problematic in its own right, because whether readers agree or disagree with my position, it’s only fair that they know I personally benefit from the position I’m advocating. But more importantly, I’m hiding something from my fellow LGBTQ people. I’m denying them something, I think, they’re entitled to: Not just support, or allegiance, but solidarity.
I’m with you because I’m one of you.
In fact, it’s pretty cowardly to hide behind a veneer of straightness while pretending to be an oh-so-special straight liberal ally. That’s the height of hypocrisy, to take credit for being a “good” liberal without having to pay the price of being openly gay.
Because, as we know, there is a price for being openly gay, even in 2015. While Madonna may think that gay folks have it comparatively easy these days, we’ve seen countless examples of anti-LGBTQ legislation, court actions, and ballot initiatives over the past few months, even as gay rights have made certain impressive advances. From the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court openly defying a federal court order striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage – a move endorsed by the father of a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, by the way – to a California ballot initiative to “legalize” the murder of gay people, those who oppose equality and dignity for the LGBTQ community are desperately fighting the progress we’ve made, sometimes ruthlessly. While we’d like to think the uptick in anti-gay hostility represents the last gasp of a dying movement, in fact gay people are having their civil rights trammeled on a daily basis. Right here, right now.
For me, the last straw – and the thing that compelled me to write this – was the passage of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that, as initially written, effectively immunized private parties from legal liability for acts of discrimination based on the actor’s religious beliefs, “whether or not [that action is compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” Although the law did not specifically mention gay rights, it was clear that if a private party refused to do business with members of the LGBTQ community, the injured parties would have no meaningful recourse – meaning that religious bigots could discriminate against LGBTQ people with impunity.
Of course, I could go on as I have in the past, expressing my righteous indignation at the bigotry of my neighboring state while maintaining the façade of straightness to avoid having to face that sort of bigotry myself. Or, I could say to the LGBTQ community, No, I’m not an “ally”; I’m one of you. Whatever the consequences, I’m one of you, I’m proud to be one of you, and I’ll gladly stand beside you.
So, that’s what I choose to do.