Sexuality should not hinder conversation
How do you choose between omission and telling the truth in its entirety?
Some might say that’s an easy decision because they believe honesty is the best policy, which is fair enough — but what if telling the truth meant potentially losing the respect of a friend, co-worker, teacher, acquaintance or mentor?
I’m talking about an experience I have almost every time I meet someone who asks a lot of questions or every time someone I already know wants to know me better. The subject of discussion: parents.
My parents were divorced by the time I was 5 or 6, and my father has been out of the picture since. When I was 17, my mother kicked me out of her home. For her, it was easy to choose her abusive boyfriend over the last two children she hadn’t shut out.
But I was determined to finish at the high school I started at, so I spent senior year alternately living with my best friend and my sister and her wife.
That’s when it started.
As soon as the words “and her wife” slipped out of my mouth, I could watch a switch flip on or off behind that person’s face. It was an almost imperceptible change, but I could always tell. I’d watch their face fall ever so slightly and become plastered with a polite façade as they tried to extract themselves from the conversation. I honestly would feel like I had lost their respect because I’d simply mentioned it. The mere topic of homosexuality can do that to people.
But sometimes, the switch stayed on. The person would smile and nod with a mix of understanding and what I can most closely identify as pity. The difference is that no matter what feelings he or she has about “my situation,” the person still seemed to be fazed by the fact that my sister is homosexual.
To this day, I’m offended every time it happens. Sometimes people will imply that a homosexual couple isn’t capable of taking care of a child. I feel slighted; I wasn’t given a chance to explain that I’m better taken care of by my sister than I was by my own mother. No one stopped to ask about how my sister did things for us throughout our lives our mother forgot. How could it possibly be better to assume something about my guardians than to just ask me?
But underneath that feeling, I am fascinated. That switch has got my attention. It can be best described as the moment you realize you are different from someone else, and a gut-based barrier comes up. Does it exist in every person? I have no way of knowing. I do know that if you have that switch, maybe it’s not as embedded as you think. Maybe, regardless of your opinion on homosexuality, you don’t have to turn it off. You don’t have to choose to let it stand between you and another person.
This reaction doesn’t only apply to the mention of being homosexual, and I’m sure I’m not the only person it’s ever happened to.
Have you ever considered that it doesn’t matter? A circumstantial piece of information shouldn’t be the reason you feel differently about my family or myself. You also should consider that because your mind clicked off after I said “and her wife,” you don’t know anything else about me. I realize this phrase can be hard to quickly adjust to. It might be momentarily shocking to hear it in context.
But if you stop caring or paying attention, you might not realize that we have a million things in common. Or that maybe we went to neighboring high schools, or we love the same TV show. You won’t know any of that because you’re hung up on “the gay thing.”
The minute you judge someone based on face value is the minute you lose a connection. Instead, try acceptance.
Next time you are faced with a person with a different lifestyle or background from yourself, don’t stop thinking. Try to get past something you don’t agree with. Just remember, if you meet people who are different from yourself — and you will — disagreements are inevitable. And since we are all unique beings who share a limited amount of similarities, you might have just found yourself a debate partner.
Sierra Lay is a journalism freshman. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.