Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LGBT for Straight People - Lesson One

Ok. So it's not a witty title. But it's... ahem, straight to the point. I hope to tell some stories, my own thoughts, and hopefully get you readers, yes you, to contribute too. Who knows, maybe we can write LGBT for Dummies when we're done.

People range from hateful, violent homophobia to complete and utter nonchalance when it comes to LGBT folks. But I think most are somewhere in the middle. Uncomfortable, uncertain, don't know anyone who is gay or don't know them well. I don't think I can examine, explain or educate those on the hateful end of the scale. I don't have a degree in psychology. But we all know that big group in the middle.

I'll start with a story that is true. I have a friend that I used to work with, whose wife had a lot of lesbian friends. For many years, our city had an annual Lesbian Variety Show, put on by Kissing Girls Productions. His wife was invited by her lesbian friends to be part of an act that included singing and dancing. Hey, that's cool. My friend, let's call him John (and no that's not his name), loves to chat. He went around work telling everyone that his wife was going to be in the Lesbian Variety Show. I can't tell you how many people gave him a perplexed look and said "Your wife is a lesbian?" After all, that doesn't quite fit what one expects. It was fairly hilarious.

Here's where it gets interesting. My friend is liberal, a staunch believer in human rights, would never call an LGBT person names or treat them disrespectfully. No one would guess that he was struggling with something. But he was. He confided to me that he felt repulsed when he thought about two men having sex. I don't think he had the same feelings about women. As scientists, we discussed if this was "ingrained" in straight men or if it is learned.

My friend decided that being accepting of LGBT people was not enough. He was self-aware enough to realize that his discomfort made it difficult for him to be at ease with gay men in the same way that he was with straight men. He set a goal for himself. That he was going to get past this discomfort. Only - he didn't know how. He would meditate on it, rationalize. But that didn't change what he felt. And after all, it is hard to change what we feel. Feelings just happen.

He changed jobs, moved far away and started to make friends at his new job. He hit it off pretty well with one guy and they became fast friends. Later, that friend came out to him. It was at that point that my friend's feelings changed. He respected and liked this person so much that somehow, maybe magically, it washed away any feelings of repulsion or discomfort. He saw that sex was about the same level of importance as it is for straight people. He saw that LGBT folks experience the same things in a relationship that he did.

Does this story mean that the only way people get past these kinds of feelings is by knowing someone gay? I doubt that. But it helps. Does this story mean that people have to get past these feelings in order to truly accept LGBT people. Actually, I don't think so. My friend was in a "good enough" place where he was. He just felt he needed to overcome these feelings to be truthful to his values. But if people could just get to the point of not worrying about what goes on between mutually consenting adults, I would be satisfied


  1. I like your title - in fact I like it a lot. The story about the change your friend went through is a good story and I'm glad you told it. Mostly I'm glad because it shows that a change like this can be easy and comfortable - doesn't have to be a great big gigantic "deal with this and that" change.

    The way you introduced "John" he already sounded like a good guy, and I'm happy that he discovered (in such a simple way) that a gay person is just that - a person.

    ps I am curious about the Lesbian Variety Show. (...being a lesbian myself, that is ...)

  2. This also shows how important it truly is for LGBT persons to “come out.” While the world views us as social deviants, as we come out they are able to see we are really no different than anyone else.

    “If you prick us, do we not bleed?"