My friend Kevin who I grew up with (almost literally, elementary school through high school) contacted me to be a part of his new blog series about the importance of words/language, and is using hot-button topics to directly apply that message. The first topic is regarding homosexuality, and he wants to hear my story, especially from the gay Christian standpoint. It won’t be so much generalizations and stereotypes as it will be real people and real stories, and I’m happy to share my story with anyone willing to be receptive to it. He asked a few questions that I will answer in this post that I will ultimately send to him, but I’m using this as a blog post as well because I feel that it’s completely relevant. Let’s begin!
Q: What’s your story in general? Was the “realization” or whatever you want to call it that you’re gay present your whole life? Were there times of denial at all? How did you come out, when, to whom, how’d your family react?
Whenever anyone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” I always hit them with the counter question, “when did you know you were straight?”. Not in a condescending way, but it’s the easiest way to describe the “realization”. I always knew. It always felt like a part of me, and it was really natural. I remember when I was really young and Aaron Carter was relevant, I used to think he was so cute. I think that in and of itself has some innocence to it. I could never bring myself to think that there was something “wrong” with me because it always felt so natural. It’s almost comical how many straight people will be quick to tell you how it is to be gay. They will tell you that it’s a choice, that it can be helped, etc. They don’t know how it is to feel set apart, and to feel isolated. Those who have never been oppressed in that fashion really will never have any idea what chains we wear. They didn’t grow up having their rights voted on, and that’s something that is really important to note. Also, side note, I really try not to generalize “straight people” so please excuse me if it ever comes off that way, but what I’m saying is that heterosexuals are naturally the oppressors of homosexuals, even though there are many accepting straight people out there. Getting off of my social justice tangent, I never called myself gay or identified as such. It was such a disconnect because I knew what it was, but I never said “I’m gay”. I really never put a label on things, or felt the need to. This mindset took me through my freshman year of high school, where things started to be put into perspective. I was just another teenager full of angst, trying to form my identity. I came to terms with who I am, and that’s where it all started. My sophomore year, I went to New York with my orchestra. I remember seeing how free everyone is in the city and being really inspired to never inhibit myself and be true to who I was, for some reason. One night I texted my best friend Lindsay, who I have known since we were three, and asked her what she would do if I told her I was gay. She said she would love me just the same. She was the very first person who I said the words to, and at the same time I was saying them to myself. It was extremely liberating. I spent the rest of high school coming out to only my closest friends. I never had a bad experience telling any of them, and I’m blessed to say that. When I was a senior, I had this nagging pressure to tell my parents. I always felt that it wasn’t important, because it’s not like my brothers had to tell them that they are straight. However, they assumed I was straight too. So in a way, I was lying to them about an integral part of who I am. I put it off and put it off and went off to college, where I vowed to be completely open about my sexuality as to avoid another 4 years of high school. Luckily, I attend University in one of the most liberal cities in Texas, and no one cares here. My first semester here was great, but I started to develop a certain amount of guilt for this “double life” that I was developing, having to go back into the closet whenever I went back home or when my parents came to visit. I didn’t know how to tell my parents because I didn’t know how they would react. They’ve never expressed any positive or negative connotation on the issue. New Years Eve 2012, I wrote a very, very long letter to my parents and left it in my desk drawer. I went to my best friend Katherine’s house. Her family is like my second family, and they’ve known about me forever so I’ve always felt really comfortable over there. I told my parents where to find the letter, and I waited for any type of response while my stomach felt like it was going to drop to my feet. My dad texted me and told me that they still loved me no matter what, and to come home so we can talk. I spent the next few minutes crying with Katherine before going home. My parents were in the kitchen, and no one was talking. My mom was making herself busy, and my dad was doing dishes. He turned around and gave me a hug. My mom came out of the laundry room, and I could tell that she had been crying. We sat down and talked about it, even though there wasn’t really anything to talk about. Things were a little rocky at first but everything is fine, and I have both of my parents’ full support. I spent the rest of 2013 coming out to my older brother Joey, and my twin brother Jason. I came out to Joey in a fight. He was accepting on a very conditional basis, just because I was family. Joey and I are two completely different people, but he chooses to be ignorant on the issue, and I can’t change the mind of a close-minded person. We are civil with each other though, and it hasn’t really driven any kind of wedge between us. On the other hand, me not telling Jason was driving a wedge between me and him. Literally everyone else in our circle of friends knew, and a lot of people were pressuring me to tell him. So, I did. I had gone so long being open about it that it was easy to just write a letter and send it off. He was very matter-of-fact about it all, and I have his support. Now that my family knows, I feel like I’m unstoppable. I know how lucky I am too, because a lot of people in my situation have a lot more complications.
Q: How did the church/Christianity fit into this? What about your own faith? Was there anything specific to your being Catholic that made things any more/less difficult?
So yes, I am Catholic. Born and raised. I love the Church. My parents are Catholic, and so are most of my closest friends. On a timeline of my life, I was always Catholic, just like I’ve always been gay. However, I identified as homosexual and came to terms with it much later than I identified as Catholic. The two characteristics never interfered with each other until late high school when it started to spark this internal battle of who I am against morality. I consider my friends to be pretty “liberal” Catholics, but I’ve encountered many conservative Catholics who think homosexuality is just the worst thing. I experienced those people more and more, and I realized that I was living in a little bubble of people who supported me to no end, who just happened to be Catholic as well. The Catholic church as a whole is not very socially progressive, obviously. I started to feel very isolated, and I felt that I wasn’t supported by something that I had already made a huge part of my life. I did a lot of praying and soul searching about it, and it brought me closer to Catholicism through it’s emphasis on love. Love is all I can hold on to, and if I am a bad person for loving differently, then so be it, but I can’t imagine that God would condemn love. People seem to have this misconception that heterosexuals fall in love and homosexuals just have sex. In reality, I crave the same human connection, and since it has been stigmatized in my community, my yearning is stronger. Imagine being told that you can’t love. It sounds so insane when spoken, yet it is one of the hottest issues in society today. Furthermore, people are always surprised when I tell them I am a gay Catholic, for understandable reasons. People focus on stigma rather than fact. Christianity and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive, contrary to popular belief.
Q: As far as sexuality as a part of your identity, where do you stand? It seems that homosexuality becomes a huge identifier for people (I.E. Jarrett, my gay friend rather than just Jarrett my friend if that makes sense). What do you make of that? Has it shifted your identity at all?
I’d like to thing that my sexuality isn’t a huge identifier. Yes, I am gay, but I’m a lot of other things as well. My homosexuality/homosexuality in general is something that people like to focus on, when there are so many other things that make a person who they are. Did you know that I love coffee? It’s me, Jarrett, your coffee-loving friend! On the other hand, being gay is something that is very prevalent in my life, because it’s a new experience every day, and it is one of the only things that has forced me to see the world in a different light. I identify heavily with it, but I don’t want it to be the only thing people think when they think “Jarrett”.
Q: The word “faggot” is tossed around pretty frequently and without much regard for its meaning. Do you have any personal stories about the word? There’s also a comparison I hear made often of it being the N-word for gay people. Since you’re black, I’m really curious to hear your view on the validity of that comparison.
I do not like the word at all. Identifying with both minorities has made me very politically correct, because I believe language can can be hurtful, and can subconsciously work in people. Half the people who say “faggot” or describe something as “so gay” don’t mean anything by it, but it actually associates homosexuality with something negative, giving it a negative connotation and further separating us from the rest of society. I definitely don’t thing that it is comparable to any racial slurs, because it isn’t as historically charged. Regardless, both slurs are completely offensive. I’m just really big on respect, and I tend to not associate with anyone who uses those words just by laws of association and the company I keep. I have a really close friend, who I will not name because his parents work for the Church, who taught me everything I know about being politically correct that I didn’t derive for myself. I remember I came out to him in front of a frozen yogurt place when we were all out with the gang. I pulled him outside and he told me he will support me no matter what, and that no one can tell me that I’m not a good person. Even before that, he had always been big on deleting pejorative adjectives from vocabulary. He was quick to call people out and make them realize what they said. Once, we were all driving around in the country, and two of my friends were in the backseat quoting this “funny” video and casually throwing around the word “faggot”. He turned around and snapped at both of them. Sure, it made for a relatively awkward car ride the rest of the way, but I had never had more respect for him. It’s a powerful stance to have, because people get complacent with their words, and they don’t know how powerful words can be. All it takes is saying something one time to make someone conscious. If someone is conscious. they can change their habit. If someone is conscious and they continue, well, there’s nothing more you can do. Words matter.
Q: In that same vein, I feel like people react to being called homophobic in the same way they’d react to being called racist or sexist or any other kind of -ist. Any experience with that? And what are your feelings on the word homophobia as well? Is it used/abused as much as the f-word?
In my personal experience, I disagree. I think we live in a society where it’s ok to be homophobic, or at least one where homophobia is more acceptable than racism or sexism (or any other -ism). People can say “I don’t agree with homosexuality”, and that’s “ok”. But no one can say “I don’t agree with women’s rights” or “I don’t agree with black people” and get away with it as easily. However, I do feel that our society is starting to push a more accepting agenda. I truly feel that homophobia is an extreme. I think that people described as “homophobic” are really people who just don’t show 100% tolerance 100% of the time. However, that brings a point that if you are not completely accepting, are you really accepting at all? How can acceptance be conditional, or have an extent? It’s a trigger word that people like to toss around. People tend to be scared of what they don’t know, so all it takes is a little lesson in diversity.