There is no doubt that being gay sometimes brings with it a heavy burden in our too often violent and homophobic society, infused as it is to the hilt with religious fundamentalism. I left the (Catholic) monastery, myself, at the age of 21 after seven years there because I realized I was gay and believed it to be incompatible with my religious vows. My plan at the time was to date women, somehow magically “get cured” (it wasn’t exactly clear to me how, but surely it would work, I felt), and then return to the monastery again. Well, needless to say, things didn’t quite work out that way, for which I am more grateful today than I can probably ever really express.
The reason why I say this is because I have come to realize that, while being gay carries with it – as we have both said – many undeniable burdens, it is also a great blessing in one’s life. I will say more about that in a moment, but before going on to do so, I guess I have to admit that, in some ways, I have had it pretty easy. I did not choose as a career path to enter into the world of big business, where, as you no doubt rightly point out, you’d better keep your mouth shut and your head down if you’re gay and if you know what’s good for you. I didn’t work for a church either, any church, most of which as I have seen are highly prejudiced against gay people. The one you mention in your letter, whose name we both know but which I will leave blank here, ought very much to have known better. Actually, I think most churches are uncomfortable with sexuality in general, of any variety, let alone gay sexuality, because we are somehow supposed to be above such carnal thoughts and desires. I reject that premise on its face, and believe that it has been the source of much of the “gay burden” you mention in your letter.
But I was fortunate to have chosen the path of education, and higher education in particular, and while I never announced to my work world that I was gay and had a partner, I also never felt I had to hide or dissimulate. I did not, in fact, do so. No one ever said a word to me, at least not to my face. And so far from being fired, I never felt I was held back in terms of promotion because of it, either.
But I want to return to what I was saying above in regard to the “gay benefit” (as opposed to the “gay burden”). I guess the world we know is, in a sense, the only world that exists for most of us. Yes, of course, we can imagine, we can put ourselves into somebody else’s shoes, and we all do that to one extent or another. But in the end, our own private and personal experience of the world is all that we can truly say we understand. That world, a gay one in my (our) case, has for me been filled with wonder, delight, and I will even say magic. If I had not been gay, I would never have met my partner, Andy, whom I have lived with now for over 32 years. These years have been far greater and more filled with joy and happiness than anything I ever could have imagined when I first left the monastery (46 years ago now, almost to the day). Just that in itself is evidence, proof positive I would say, of the “gay benefit,” at least so far as I’m concerned. And going on from there, there are all of the profound friendships I have formed over the years, with you and with many others, gifts of inestimable value, friendships which in all likelihood would not have been formed had we not all been gay.
In the end, I think that what will count is how well we have loved and how well we have treated others. Being gay has helped to teach me real compassion for others who have at times experienced their own form of oppression – Blacks, American Indians, Latinos, Jews, women in general in many cases, disabled people, the poor, the homeless etc. It has given me a perspective on the world which I might never have been able to otherwise achieve.
Please don’t get me wrong, in no way am I am saying that you have to be gay in order to form friendships, or to feel love and compassion for anyone. We all have that capacity, and it is indeed one of the great gifts of being human. But, as I was saying above, my own world is the world I know, and I feel that being gay has offered me a special window on that world.
So, this is what I will always be grateful for. I can only hope – and yes even pray – that young gay people will be able to somehow struggle through their own burdens and difficulties, dealing with the oppression and bigotry that they all too often experience. Not only does it get better, as activist Dan Savage has said – which it absolutely does – but it even gets wonderful! Or at least it can, if you open your heart and your mind. Being gay does not define who you are – that is a much bigger and far more complex question – but, in my experience anyway, it does, or it can, set the stage for a life filled with friendship, with love, and with the great joy and wonder of being alive. And who could ask for more than that?