Friday, January 22, 2010

Beyond the silence, continued

My previous post "Beyond the Silence" seems to have struck a chord with a lot of you. So let me add a few more thoughts on how straights should go about "continuing the conversation" with a gay friend or family member who comes out to you.

One thing I have found to be true for myself, and for many straights who think seriously about gay issues, is that it's perfectly natural for your thoughts to be constantly evolving. Once you learn to tune in to the debate, you become aware of how many different angles and perspectives are being discussed all the time: gay marriage, gays in the military, hate crimes laws, the teaching of the Bible, the attitudes of the church, coming out stories, ex-gay ministries, and so forth. For the thoughtful person, these debates have a way of injecting small insights into your brain bit by bit so that you are constantly adjusting your attitude toward homosexuality. You confront contradictions in your thinking. You make connections. You have mini "aha!" moments that hit you at odd times of the day.

So if your friend or family member has already come out to you as gay and if, at the time, in your panic, you were only able to produce some half-audible, highly dissatisfying mumble, don't let that response stand as a Monument For All Time representing your attitude toward homosexuality. You were taken off guard. You had a brain freeze. You hadn't had a chance to get out of the starting blocks in this journey. But now you're off, slowly jogging along, taking in the sights.

Now that you've had a chance to recover and think a little, you can let that gay friend or family member know that the gears of your mind are turning upstairs. Just because you botched it when they first came out to you doesn't mean you can't recover. In fact, you should just take for granted that most people botch it--and that's forgivable--but now you're on your feet ready to think coherent thoughts. They don't have to be profound. This is bit by bit, remember?

Probably the safest way of bringing up "the topic" is to talk about some article you read or something you saw on TV. Nowadays there is no shortage of news stories, human interest stories, editorials, political debates, interviews, court cases or comedy sketches on gay-related topics. "The other day I saw an interview of this guy who got kicked out of the military just because he's gay. That sucks, man." That's a conversation you can have with a gay friend in the car while driving to 7-Eleven to grab some beer. Or drop them an email. "Hey, man. Long time no talk. I saw this today and was wondering what you think. (Cut and paste link to article or YouTube on gay-related subject.)"

It's pretty difficult for someone who is gay to bring this stuff up with you. They don't want you to accuse them of being "pushy," or of coming off like an "activist." It's better when you take the initiative. Even if you never end up having a deep conversation, the little gestures do make a difference in a relationship. And if you're a Christian, there's no better way to let that person know that the love you claim to have for them in Christ is genuine.