Today, Eric and I celebrated the 7th anniversary of the day we met. Pretty cool. I don’t think I post a lot about Eric on FB or IG, but today I posted a cute picture of my dog Millie and Eric around the time Eric entered our lives.
The picture got over a hundred likes on FB, a big hit. Now, what I am going to say, it is not a judgement, merely an observation. I promise. But, whenever I make a reference to Eric, even the most innocuous one, I sense a hesitation that comes from some people who I went to Bible college with. I can just feel them hovering over the blue thumbs up button thinking, I want to be supportive as a friend but I also don’t want to make a statement that would indicate that I don’t interpret the Bible conservatively. I get it. It’s all good, really. I truly believe that the evangelical Christian has a challenge today negotiating what they believe is scriptural truth against how they interact with the LGBTQ friends and family that they love.
Something happened to me when I was home in Kansas. I was visiting my friends who run a business in my hometown and they asked me if I knew a person. For the sake of the story, we’ll call him Jimmy Roberts. I said, “Yes, I know Jimmy Roberts, he is a very good friend of my parents.” They proceeded to tell me that Jimmy had written a letter to the editor in the local paper expressing his dismay that the public library was one of the sponsors of a recent Southeast Kansas LGBTQ pride weekend.
I wasn’t exactly shocked that someone would write a letter to the paper expressing disagreement with the festival, but it did strike me as somewhat extraordinary that this dissenter happened not only to be my parents’ friend but really their best friend.
I do not live in Independence and there is no one I know in this world who has done more for my parents in the last year than Jimmy and his wife. They have checked on them regularly, taken them to doctors appointments, cooked them meals, spent an afternoon with them at the ER. You get the idea.
When my friends told me about this letter, I had to track it down. Of course, I found it at the library, which was the impetus for Jimmy’s letter in the first place. Jimmy did not feel that a government funded entity should support something LGBTQ because not everyone in the town agreed with that “viewpoint”.
I will be honest, when I read his letter, it bothered me. First, that anyone would write those words, second, that this was a good friend of my parents and third, I wondered if perhaps my parents felt the same way about the LGBTQ community and the pride festival that Jimmy did.
I went home and asked my parents if they knew about the letter. They had not heard about it or read it. My Mom asked me to send her a copy so she could read it and I did. We did not talk about it.
A couple of hours later, Jimmy and his wife, came to my parents’ house to visit them. They knocked on the door of the back room where I was sitting watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (gay) on Netflix (also kinda gay). My dog Ricky barked and they let themselves in. Jimmy’s wife, who Ricky had been quite taken by on their last visit, bent down to pet him. As he barked, I tersely said, “He’s really worked up tonight, my parents are in the living room.”
Jimmy and his wife went into the other room and for the next 45 minutes I could hear them talking to my parents, about what I did not know. Although I was pretty sure I knew what they weren’t talking about. I will say this, but I have a fantasy, all of us LGBTQ offspring do, I sat there in my parents’ den wishing that they somehow could have said to their friend, in a loving but firm way, “Hey, that letter, that’s not so cool. Especially since you know our son is gay.”
I wrestled if whether or not I could say something. And if I could say something, what would it be and what should it be? I decided against it and then I thought about the pictures I’d seen, posted on Facebook, of the SEK Pride festival. It had been held weeks before I came to town. These twentysomethings, just kids, many dressed in various forms of drag. (There was a lot of glitter.) For one night, they were free and celebrated and fierce and loved. And I just wished there was a way that these kids, my tribe, could have a better time living in my hometown than I did. But how could I say anything in a way that would make Jimmy see how utterly special and desperately needed something like a smalltown pride festival is?
In the end, wise or foolish, as Jimmy and his wife were leaving, as Ricky was both barking at him AND allowing him to pet him, I told Jimmy that I had read the letter.
He gave a nervous laugh.
I told him how when I was growing up here in this town, when everything I knew, like my church and my school, were telling me something was wrong with me, I was grateful for that library.
He reiterated his point, that a government funded entity should not support a viewpoint that not everyone believes in.
It was a very awkward 5 minute conversation. My mother and his wife quietly bearing witness to it.
He told me that he didn’t think he’d ever treated me differently than anyone else and I agreed with him. He and his wife have always been kind to my face. But, when he was the minister of my parents’ church, on every occasion I was in town visiting the congregation where I grew up, on every occasion, he brought up the “sin” of homosexuality from the pulpit. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but eventually, I started tracking it, and well, every time I was in the church, homosexuality was addressed.
I’d like to say that our conversation that night was cordial. I was impassioned and nervous and scattered and loud. At one point, Jimmy started to suggest a book or a video I should read or watch, and I shut him down. (I guess he thought gay people had never had a Christian offer a book to fix them before.) I said, “No, I’ve read exactly what you have to say on the topic and it is heard and it is noted.” (Dramatic? Me?)
They left soon after and his wife meekly offered, “Thanks for taking care of our dog the other day.”
“You’re welcome,” I muttered. I had been happy to help them with their dog earlier in the week. I had been happy to lend a hand to thank them for all they have done for my parents. And then I’d snarled like a pit bull at them.
After Jimmy and his wife left, I told my Mom that she probably didn’t appreciate me confronting him. She said she understood where I was coming from. I told her that I felt like I had to say something to stand up for all the kids growing up in Independence who feel like something is wrong with them. I told her about my friends’ friend, not being accepted by his parents. And I started to cry. “Are you okay?” my Mom asked? “Yes, I’m fine.” “I know you didn’t have an easy time of it growing up here.” I could tell she wanted to hug me and a part of me wanted to hug her too, but instead I went in the other room.
After a few days, because that is what we do, my parents and I, we moved on. The letter was never discussed. I did not see Jimmy and his wife again and I don’t really know what I will say the next time I do.
If you are reading this and feel compelled to leave a comment, please do not bash Jimmy. My parents read all comments. Goodness knows, Jimmy will probably read this too. Our conversation did not go the way I hoped it would and I must admit, I bear the responsibility for that. After he left and I was still emotional, still seething, it hit me that the decades of rejection I’d always felt from my little town had welled up and he had been the somewhat unlikely victim of my eruption.
If the evangelical Christian has a neverending negotiation with how to show their love to their LGBTQ friends and family, I suppose we LGBTQ friends and family have an eternal negotiation as well, of how much to feel safe in that love, how much can we share, how much we should expect to be accepted.
My Mom probably doesn’t know this but of all the beautiful things she has written to me in my 49 years, and I have a cornucopia to draw from, it was three little words that touched me the most. Three words I will carry with me until I take my last breath. In Christmas 2010, after just meeting Eric for the first time we went to a restaurant and the waiter took a picture of my parents, Eric and myself. I posted it to Facebook and my Mom was the first to comment beside it, for all the world to see. “Nice looking family,” she wrote.
And we are.