Saturday, January 23, 2010

on Mulligans

I'm a big fan of Misty Irons over at More Musings on Christianity, Homosexuality, and the Bible. She's just posted a good piece about evolving perceptions and convictions. Excerpt:
One thing I have found to be true for myself, and for many straights who think seriously about gay issues, is that it's perfectly natural for your thoughts to be constantly evolving. Once you learn to tune in to the debate, you become aware of how many different angles and perspectives are being discussed all time: gay marriage, gays in the military, hate crimes laws, the teaching of the Bible, the attitudes of the church, coming out stories, ex-gay ministries, and so forth. For the thoughtful person, these debates have a way of injecting small insights into your brain bit by bit so that you are constantly adjusting your attitude toward homosexuality. You confront contradictions in your thinking. You make connections. You have mini "aha!" moments that hit you at odd times of the day.

So if your friend or family member has already come out to you as gay and if, at the time, in your panic, you were only able to produce some half-audible, highly dissatisfying mumble, don't let that response stand as a Monument For All Time representing your attitude toward homosexuality. You were taken off guard. You had a brain freeze. You hadn't had a chance to get out of the starting blocks in this journey. But now you're off, slowly jogging along, taking in the sights.
I heartily agree, and I think the same observations hold for gay people themselves as they come out. My first coming out conversations didn't go so well. That may be partly due to the fact that I had them with very conservative very religious people. But I know it was also partly (largly) due to the fact that I was new at telling the truth. I had shamed, denied, and buried the truth about a part of my identity for years and had presented a fake image of myself, and it was difficult and awkward for me to tell people I had basically been deceiving them for years.

I also wasn't accustomed or very good at discussing orientation. Heck, I had never really discussed it with anyone before except in ex-gay ministry with others who were in my same situation. I wasn't good at discussing being gay with people who were straight.

I've often wished I could go back and redo some of my first coming out conversations with people.

For one, I would have done far less over email. I let distance be an excuse for avoiding face-to-face or phone conversations and a lot of intentions, reassurances, and inflections on both sides were lost in electronic text that would have been present had the conversations had a human face or voice to go along. I took offense from emails I received that may not have been intended to sound mean. People thought I was a completely different person, had abandoned God and faith, etc. when that was not the case at all. Etc. etc. etc.

For two, I would have made the conversations far simpler, shorter, and less defensive. When I was first coming out, I felt like everyone was going to throw a bunch of "yes but what about"s at me, so I tried to anticipate these and shoot them down. Now, after years of coming out conversations, all I feel is to say the truth: "I'm gay. I'm married to a guy. How's work going for you?" If someone wants to make the conversation longer or more complex, they can totally do so, but it's up to them.
Now that you've had a chance to recover and think a little, you can let that gay friend or family member know that the gears of your mind are turning upstairs. Just because you botched it when they first came out to you doesn't mean you can't recover. In fact, you should just take for granted that most people botch it--and that's forgivable--but now you're on your feet ready to think coherent thoughts. They don't have to be profound. This is bit by bit, remember?
Hmm. I know I would welcome people to revisit coming out conversations with me.

I wonder if the reverse is true. Would people who I had uncomfortable first coming out conversations be at all interested/willing to revisit the issue with me? I dunno.

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