It was really hard for me to decide whether to write about an experience I had this week or not. But I think it’s important enough that I need to discuss it even if I don’t get into the specifics of the entire situation. As most people who keep up with my blog or follow me on Twitter know, I grew up in a rather sheltered and very controlled Christian environment. That’s putting it mildly, but this type of environment is where if you dissent on certain issues that go against the status quo, there will be a lot of backlash and silencing.
Unfortunately for me, I happen to also be gay, which makes for a very difficult life since I’ve been more honest about who I am and have now formed my own beliefs and opinions. I have mostly remained silent about any disagreements I have with my family and church until the past year when I started this blog. Even then, the blog has largely remained private and has only been shared with close friends and on Twitter for a few months.
I do have one family member who I can talk to more openly about certain issues and this person asked me this week what my thoughts were on the controversial anti-LGBT legislation that was passed in NC this past month. Optimistic that perhaps this would be a good discussion about trans issues and how people should be treated with dignity and respect, I engaged in what I thought would be a respectful dialogue with someone I trusted. Of course, halfway through the conversation, it took an unexpected and disappointing turn, as I realized this family member was not asking my opinion to have a discussion about it, but to argue that they were right.
The rest of the conversation was used as a string of arguments hurled at me for why all LGBT folks are in rebellion against God lumping homosexuality with trans issues in the process. The arrogance and ignorance shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. So much so, that I decided to come out of the closet to this family member in the middle of defending LGBT people as deserving of dignity and respect. It was a really painful conversation. I was told that I could “overcome” being gay, and that being gay was a choice and sin even to struggle with same-sex attractions.
Two days later, and I am still rattled by this conversation even though I’ve obviously heard various family members go on and on about LGBT people. This was a first time it had been directed at me so viciously. To add insult to injury, I was told by this person that they still loved me and that they were just showing “tough love.”
It’s difficult to hear something so off base and so unloving from someone who claims they love you. It’s even more difficult, when that person honestly believes they are doing the right thing by shaming someone else. I was shamed because of who I am–someone who is different from them–without first being listened to. Instead this person was listening to respond and listening simply to prove they were right. Where was the love in this? I do not understand how that is at all loving or kind or patient.
So, to family members of people who choose to come out to you, here are some things you should know:
- This person trusts you and is being incredibly vulnerable with you in this moment. Do not fail them by shoving Bible passages down their throat.
- In this moment, what this person needs from you is not judgment or all your carefully, strongly worded arguments about how wrong they are as a person. They need your compassion and your support.
- Supporting your family member who has come out of the closet does NOT mean you have to support how they’re living their life, but it does mean you should support them as a person who has value and deserves your respect as a human being.
- Do not pretend to know all the issues an LGBT person is facing or that you understand what they’re going through.
- LISTEN to them. Really listen to them and give them a safe space to be themselves.
- Do not equate someone’s sexual orientation with lust. Being attracted to someone is not objectifying that person.
- LOVE. Just love. Not “tough love,” or giving all the “right” arguments, but love like Jesus loved.
If you’re not sure what love is, you might want to reexamine I Corinthians 13 which has a heck of a lot more to do with loving people in general than it does with romantic love.
Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. Love before you judge someone. Listen with empathy before you pretend you understand what someone else is going through. Not everything is black and white and clear cut. Sometimes, issues are really complex, and you don’t have all the answers. I don’t either. So, let’s try to be a little kinder to each other and a little more compassionate.