Thursday, February 4, 2010

Those who try to understand

On this blog I sometimes talk about those who get it as "us," and "we," while all the rest of the readers are "those who don't." As much as I can, I want to bring those two groups to the US of it all. No, I don't want to be too critical of "the Others," because I was once one of them. Oh, I suppose I could go off on a LOST reference, but as much as I like that show, I don't think I can explain the physics or the time travel story lines. It does make me wonder if you can change non-Lost fans into true Lost fans, but the analogy would fail somewhere, so I won't try. I'll just assume that it's easier to become gay-supporting/affirming, than it is to undertand LOST!

I once heard from a GLAAD staff member (and have referred to it in the blog) about the "moveable middle." I was asked what that is, and how I got past that, coming to understand (and advocate for) gay people. But how can I describe how I made that change?

Yesterday, I sat thinking about that when a new reader wrote:
I have read, Goodbye I Love You, twice and Mel White's book twice and I still don't get it...but I want to. I want to understand. In addition to these books I have read about every other book written by gay persons that I could find. I realize that one does not need to understand something, either a person or a concept to be accepting of that right to exist within the confines of that situation. But.....I still don't get it. I am still struggling, still trying....

Acknowledging that it's not easy to change, this reader is sharing that she's genuinely TRYING to learn and understand. Reading material, talking to others who are affirming, and writing to bloggers (like me) whom she doesn't know - those things all show honest determination to "get it." Being honest enough to say, "I want to understand," will go far to help this person grow, change, and become accepting of the sexual orientation of others.

I talked to my daughter about it, and she's the one who came up with this, a very simple explanation: "There's no difference." Isn't that genius? Of course it is, because Liz is smart, insightful, and inclusive (and I love her for those and so many other reasons!).

I remembered back to an e-mail that I got from Kathy, another straight spouse of a gay man. Kathy was so helpful to me, even though we have never met, even yet, face-to-face. I found her profile on the yahoo group, Wives of gay/bi husbands, and it stood out to me because she had been married a long time (over 30 years) when her husband came out to her. The two of us exchanged several e-mails, and even though I can't find the original story she shared, I will paraphrase it here:

...Imagine if you were stranded on a desert island, occupied with only other women like yourself. Years pass, and there are no men around. After a long, long time, you become close with a woman who is your best friend. The two of you gradually spend exclusive time together, build a hut, gather food, grow a garden, and fish for your meals. For warmth you sleep together, and sometimes there are intimacies shared. After all, you are closer to this woman than any other, and you love each other like family. The two of you are committed, 100%, and you expect to spend your entire lives together.

Then, one day when you are looking for food on the island, you come across another village, and much to your surprise, it is filled with only MEN! As you approach the top of a hill, you crawl to the top and "spy" down to this wondrous sight! Men! Men, men, men, men, men! Your imagination goes wild! How you miss MEN! Then you think...oh, no, what about your partner? You better go back...

...For days it is all you can think about: Oh, if only you could get close enough to see them closer, maybe talk to one. What if I could smell what a man smells like! What if I could touch one! And you know that if you could, you would.

So, what do you do with your woman partner? How is it that these men have probably been there as long as you and your group of women? And how could you possibly have settled for partnering with a woman, when all of your being, all of your soul, only, ever wanted to be with ... a MAN?

My story probably isn't as detailed as the e-mail that Kathy sent me over 5 years ago, but it helped me see that what someone is truly attracted to doesn't change. Just like I would be the spy on the men, so would a gay person who "settled" into a straight marriage.

Most times, analogies break down, yet there are many that you can draw from, and some of them might help bring insight into understanding sexual orientation that is different from one's own.

If you are a straight person who is trying to understand gay attractions, imagine all the attractions you have to the opposite sex in general: the way they move, the smells that are so sensual and GOOD, sounds of their voices, how they sound when they laugh. Whether they are smooth or rough, tall, short, slim or plump, however they feel when you touch them - how they think, walk, or smile - ALL these things make up attraction. And for gay people, it is JUST THE SAME. No difference! Try to wrap your head around that, and it's not so hard.


Jarred said...

Not being privy to the fuller context of your first quote, I can only wonder what exactly your reader is trying to understand. More specifically, I find myself wondering if she's trying to reach a level of understanding that is both unnecessary and impossible.

One thing that life has taught me is that there are limits to my own experiences, and those limits mean that I can't fully understand the experiences and lives of other people. For example, I can't understand what it was like for one of my friends to live with multiple personalities, no matter how hard I might try.

Fortunately, I don't think that kind of understanding is necessary. Instead, I think that an attempt at understanding -- but more importantly an attempt at empathy -- is all that is necessary. And it sounds to me that your reader is well on their way to that.

I also think that Kathy was onto something by resorting to analogies. Oftentimes, I find that imperfect understanding and empathy is best achieved when we try to find common ground in our own limited experiences. For example, a straight person may never fully understand what it means to be gay, but a straight person who grew up with overly critical parents or in a church obsessed with "confessing sins" might be able to understand me when I talk about the feelings of never being "good enough." They can understand those feelings because they've experienced them in their own lives, albeit for different reasons. And that kind of understanding and empathy, even if "incomplete," can mean a great deal.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish my husband had had the courage to come out to me instead of acting covertly on his sexual urges and eventually ending up with HIV. Yes, I would have been upset, but I'm not sure I'd have felt so much anger and bitterness over his deceit and lies. Now we're entangled in a bitter divorce where he's trying to defend his behavior by lying about me.

Bless you, Carol, and the work you do to spread the truth.

PamBG said...

It's interesting, this need to understand.

I grew up in a denomination that believes the bible to be verbally inspired, inerrant and infallible. So I understand why some Christians think that the only belief they can hold on homosexuality is that it's always wrong.

But what I don't understand is the reactions I see of some Christians toward gay people. I don't understand the fear. I don't understand the argument that gay partnerships are a threat to heterosexual families. And I don't understand it when I sometimes see people getting angry about people who they don't even know being gay.

But maybe I'm not supposed to understand everything. Maybe there is a way to have an exchange of ideas without understanding everything. Maybe we have to sometimes take it on faith that other people believe what they believe with the best of intentions.

Paul Douglas said...

You are great!

Paul Douglas said...

You are great! Keep on keepin' on!

Danette said...

I find your story inspirational at at time when there is so much hurt and anger at "being different", you bring a refreshing perspective of love, fulfillment and friendship. Pain and confusion, sure, but such tremendous transformation. It is people like you that may be able to be a real bridge to a more compassionate community. thank you for sharing your story.