My good friend Brent wrote on his blog Odd Man Out – a beautifully written blog that I cannot recommend highly enough – about a couple of friends who have treated his sexuality with the utmost sensitivity and respect. Inspired by his words, the bloggers at gaysubtlety followed suit with their own post. Encouraged by their posts and recognizing the absolute lack of positive writings on Christians and LGBT culture out there, I want to throw in my testimony to the conversation; these people have given me so much love and respect that they have permanently shaped my worldview. There are dozens – and I mean dozens – of stories like these, but these four stand out to me the most.
1. The First Time
What happened: I was a nervous fifteen year old boy coming out for the very first time. He was an eighteen year old jock who had the respect of every single person in our rather large Texas church. We had known each other for years, but that didn’t ease any of my anxiety. By coming out to him, I was placing my entire livelihood in his hands. With a racing heartbeat, I took my friend out into the hallway of our church to mumble in barely comprehensible English: “Friend, I think I’m gay.” And he said immediately in response, “Thank you for telling me. This doesn’t change who you are. You’re still Jimmy, and you’re still my friend.”
How he got it right: Besides the obvious of not hurting me physically or emotionally, he taught me two important lessons in that one sentence. One, he saw me as a complete human being and his friend; that despite how I might feel about my darkest secret, he still had love and respect for me. Two, he validated the importance of my sexuality while also reminding me that it’s only part of a larger whole of myself. These words have forever shaped my perception of myself: I am so much more than gay. I am a musician, a teacher, a brother, an uncle, a follower of Christ, a friend…I’m Jimmy. My sexuality is not a horrific stain on my spirit, but it is rather a natural part of me.
2. Late Night Walk
What happened: About a year ago, I visited a dear brother and best friend at his alma mater – a large Baptist institution in Waco, TX. We have known each other for years (a decade by this summer), and he is essentially the other half of me. It was my last night in town before I had to drive back to Memphis, so we spent a long winter night walking and talking on campus. Knowing that our time was coming to an end, we grabbed hands and walked across the lonely campus together, saying nothing to one another in the cold night air but quietly enjoying the company of a kindred spirit. When we returned to our car, he gripped me in a tight and lengthy embrace before he headed home to his wife, and a promise to see each other soon enough.
How he got it right: As a gay guy, there is ever and always the perpetual fear that my straight male friends will scorn my touch and refrain from touching me, and unfortunately for me, I’m a fairly hands-on kind of guy. The brother under discussion here, however, is as much of an affectionate man as I am, and we are very comfortable around each other’s bodies. We lock fingers when we pray as opposed to merely grasping our palms, and we always sit very close to one another on a sofa. This particular incident, however, stands out in my mind. Here, we were affectionate not in the privacy of a home or enclosed place; no, we were intimate in the open air of a staunchly Baptist university. Anybody could have seen us and made any kind of assumption about us, but that did not bother my friend to one degree. He is so confident in the nature of our friendship that he can trust me with his touch. In this most intimate display of friendship, he reminded me of our brotherhood and common humanity.
3. The Letter
What Happened: In the summer of 2006, I worked for an evangelical Christian summer camp in Memphis as a camp counselor, and I was on tap to share my testimony with the entire camp – 200+ high school students from all over the South and forty collegiate staffers. This was my first time to come out in an openly public manner; the hours before that evening’s chapel were slow and tortuous. By Providence – and only by Providence – I received a letter that very afternoon from my college best friend and roommate. It was four pages long and written in long hand. His letter was full of gratitude for our friendship, for the lessons he learned as we lived together, and how much my faith had encouraged him (truthfully, he has encouraged me far more). The cherry on top? He mailed it from Christchurch, New Zealand where he was finishing a semester abroad.
How he got it right: To receive such a letter of endearment from a dear brother on the day of my big coming out – a letter sent from the far side of the world! – nearly brought this tear-less man to tears. Again, this letter was a reminder that I am so much more than a gay guy, that I’m a brother and a friend, a source of encouragement, and just another one of the guys. And it was written by hand. And sent from New Zealand. I still have that letter; cursed be the day that I lose it.
4. The Lake House
What Happened: Another dear brother and best friend – who is also a best friend to the brother mentioned in number 2 – invited me to his family’s lake house in the hill country of Texas this past Christmas break. While there, we grilled steaks and ate them with our bare hands. We drove deeper into the heart of Texas to eat the best bar-b-q ever (Cooper’s in Llano, y’all. Make it happen). We came up with absolutely ludicrous chili recipe names (“Pulp Friction.” “Lord of the Beans: Fellowship of the Bean” “Thus Passes Denethor, Son of Ecthelion.”). We studied the Scriptures together. We prayed for our families. He told me that he brought me to his family’s property – just me and him – so he could get a better understanding of where I am and the incredibly difficult, arduous season I had endured in the last five years. He asked me tough questions about my life, my past, my sinful habits, and he would not let me dodge any of them. He spoke grace and truth into each one – “Jimmy, I want to make it explicitly clear that God’s grace has even covered that (unmentionable sin). Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
How he got it right: He grilled the best steaks I had in years. We ate them with bare hands. We drank beer. We went hunting for the best BBQ joint in Texas. We never peed in the toilets (because drought-plagued Texas needs all the water it can get). And he asked me really tough questions but stood by my side the entire time. In other words, he didn’t handle me with kid gloves, nor did he hold me to some stereotype of the dainty, effeminate twink. No. He treated me like a man, like a brother, like a friend. He took a serious interest in my heart and my life. He confronted my own sense of shame of my past and spoke beautiful, Gospel truth into it.
Oh fine, one more.
What happened: Some college friends of mine made a pilgrimage to St. Louis to drink awesome beer and eat excellent food. One of my buddies lives in the Lou, and he took us to a place called Sanctuaria, a trendy as heck tapas bar in the warehouse district. They have hundreds of drinks on the cocktail list, many of them created by the bartender. The bartender was a complete foil to our surroundings; he was dressed in a plain white t-shirt, old navy jeans, and a mohawk. The following dialogue happened at the bar:
Southern Belle friend: Hey bartender, what do you like to drink when you’re off work?
Bartender: You know, I’m a true south side boy. I like my women hot, my beer cold, and my whiskey warm.
Doctor friend: I can get behind that.
St. Louis friend: So can I.
Me: I can get behind two of the three.
Bartender: Oh, not a whiskey guy?
Me: Nooooooooo, not a women guy.
Bartender: jaw hits floor, hands on head, look of disbelief.
We all had a great laugh, and when the bartender handed out our checks, he (A) took a round of drinks off the tab and (B) smiled as he handed a bill for the “conspicuously gay professor” (his nickname for me). Then he stepped out from behind the bar, and this blue-collar dude gave me a huge hug and said I was welcome back any time.
How everybody got it right: Phenomenal drinks, excellent food, wonderful friends, a hearty sense of humor all around, and over the top customer service. It’s good to know that we all can laugh at stereotypes while also deconstructing them.
Your turn! How have your friends “nailed it?”
Until next time,