I watched the 75th annual Tony Awards a few weeks back (yes, I am a musical theater geek). Part of the acceptance speech of Matt Doyle, this year’s winner for best actor in a featured role in a musical, impressed me when he said, “Thank you to my family … who believed in me pursuing my passion and … believed that the only way I’d be happy is to live my life authentically.”
What does it mean to live your life authentically? If you are LGBTQIA, it means, at least in part, acknowledging your sexual preference, and having the courage to tell others about it. To have that kind of courage, you must have enough pride in who you are to not care what others think when you tell them you are different from what much of society considers to be the norm. But we have come a long way during my lifetime. Thanks to so many brave and vulnerable individuals, “coming out” is now almost commonplace. But that is not to say it is now easy. So, in honor of June being Pride Month, I am revisiting and updating two previous blog posts dealing with LGBTQIA.
The first time I thought seriously about LGBTQIA (or homosexuals, as we referred to them back then) was in the early 1980s. I sat in a church leadership meeting listening to a therapist who explained that homosexuality is a perversion, and a young man becomes homosexual due to the lack of a strong father. Even back then I wondered how true that was. Did that mean every son of a single mother was destined to be gay? If that were true, why did one son turn out gay while another son in the same family did not? But worse, I wondered how that teaching made fathers feel if one of their sons turned out to be gay.
Back then, I didn’t know anyone who was LGBTQIA – at least that I knew of. My first face-to-face experience with a gay person occurred when we moved to Houston in 1986. Two men lived next door to us. They were young professionals, sharp in their appearance, and two of the nicest neighbors we have ever had. They were gay men in a committed relationship. After learning of their sexual preferences, thankfully, my opinion of them did not diminish in the least. The film, Love, Simon,[i] emphasizes this point where Simon comes out to his parents, but tells them “I’m still me”:
Since those days in the early 80s, I have discovered that one of my best friends is gay, one of my best friends in high school is gay (although I didn’t know it at the time), three daughters of other good friends are lesbian, two sons of high school friends are gay, my nephew is gay, one of the top executives of my former employer is gay, and my son’s in-laws have two lesbian daughters, both of which have married their lesbian sweethearts.
And I love each and every one of them.
As the world has more readily accepted those who have come out of the closet, I discovered that Shakespeare was only partly right. It isn’t just absence that makes the heart grow fonder, so does familiarity.
When my good friend came out to us, he struggled to find the courage to do so. How sad is that? Isn’t that what best friends are for – having someone to confide in who won’t judge us? And like Simon, he can breathe a little easier now, with his secret out. After that experience, I now laugh at this next clip from Love, Simon which reverses the roles:
I watched Love, Simon in a packed movie house, and I am glad I did. The audience laughed and cried along with Simon and his friends and family. I shed more than my share of tears, not just because of what was happening on screen, but I felt the love and acceptance of this audience of all ages, different genders, and ethnicities toward Simon, and indirectly toward all LGBTQIA, and I realized how far we have come since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, many continue to campaign against same-sex marriage and teach that being LGBTQIA is a choice because God would never make a mistake. In discussing this with my good friend, he remarked, “Why would I ever choose to be gay?” He then explained that the way society has treated gays throughout the years, he would have to be a masochist to choose such a lifestyle. And he would know, as he went through destructive conversion therapy, and listened to the counsel of church leaders who told him if he married a woman and played the part of a heterosexual, God would remove the feelings of same-sex attraction from him. Instead, like many other gays, he tried it and found it just doesn’t work that way.
Pastor and writer, John Pavlovitz, said it this way: “Yes, LGBT people are absolutely making a choice. They are choosing to be the most honest, authentic versions of themselves. They are choosing to be led by the unfiltered direction of their hearts, just as you and I are. They are choosing to relent to the things that in all of our lives, never can be chosen. The only relevant choices for straight Christians are whether or not we will treat the LGBT community as fully complex, intelligent, emotionally intricate human beings; and whether or not we will be willing to examine both our personal opinions and our theology accordingly. The choice is ours.”
The burden of being authentic is not just on LGBTQIA; it is vital that those of us who are straight do our part. How do we react when someone comes out to us? Notice how Simon’s dad reacted in the clip above. Do we act like it’s a joke or look at them questioningly and ask, “Are you sure? It might just be a phase.” From my limited experience, a person has thought long and hard about it before coming out; it’s not a spur of the moment decision.
In this scene from Rocketman,[ii] Elton John has finally summoned enough courage to admit to his mum he is gay:
I realize that sometimes we are caught off guard when someone shares with us their sexual preference. But most of the time, we have at least an inkling. So, when someone becomes vulnerable enough to share with us this intimate part of themselves, I hope we can listen unquestioningly and return only love and understanding.
But it is not just LGBTQIA who need to live authentic lives to be happy. Each of us have phobias, quirks, or destructive thoughts that we often don’t share with others. Or maybe we have a mental illness that we keep secret because we worry about being labeled by our illness. But we are not our diseases, mental illnesses, or our phobias, although admittedly they influence us. While I don’t necessarily believe we should air all our vulnerabilities on Facebook or Instagram, we should consider sharing our authentic selves with those we love.
While in my early 20s, my girlfriend at the time tried to break up with me. But I wouldn’t let her. She told me all the reasons why we were not good for each other, but I wouldn’t listen. I told her I would be better. Frustrated with me, she finally agreed to go out with me again. During that next date I was the perfect gentleman. I did everything I thought she would want me to do, and said all the things I thought she would want me to say. And at the end of the date, she complimented me on being so nice—and that maybe we had a future after all.
But at some point during that date I realized I could act like the person she wanted me to be but I also knew that person wasn’t me, and ultimately, I would never be happy being with her. And so, I responded, no, we didn’t have a future together. Neither her way nor my way was right; we were just different. And neither of us could live authentic lives with each other.
C.S. Lewis said, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who could love the person you hide.” I believe those who show their authentic selves—who don’t let others define them—are the smartest, most successful and happiest among us. Ashton Kutcher, playing Steve Jobs in the movie Jobs, says it better than I can: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
I’ll end with my favorite quote from Audrey Hepburn. She calls it her greatest beauty tip: “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”
[i] Love, Simon:
- Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, New Leaf Literary & Media, and Temple Hill Entertainment
- Director: Greg Berlanti
- Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (based on the novel by Becky Albertalli)
- Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel
- Release date: March 16, 2018
- Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, and Marv Films
- Director: Dexter Fletcher
- Screenwriter: Lee Hall
- Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, and Bryce Dallas Howard
- Release date: May 31, 2019