“Yes, the whole study center did hear about your making out with gay people,” he said.
“Gay guys,” I clarified.
“Well, I didn’t want to make any assumptions…”
“I suppose that’s fair.”
I had been using the Christian Study Center’s tranquil space to work on my book for several weeks, and working so closely with people’s heartbreaking stories had been taking its toll. So when, stuck inside my own head to rehash my history, I stumbled across the odd fact that I’d dated fully three gay guys as a teenager, all I could do was laugh out loud in wonderment at what exactly in the hell was wrong with me.
I canvassed my friends for answers, but neither they nor anyone else in the study center knew what to make of it or me, so rather than just shrug it off like a normal person, I abandoned my work for the day and set about obsessing over the clearly-more-urgent question of whether I was too masculine.
I thought back to all those gay guys I’d made out with– not so many in over all number, but kind of a lot given the circumstances. I’m sure it was better for me than it was for them. But I realized that was just it– I was the kind of girl who liked making out with cute guys pretty much no matter what the circumstances (and who are we kidding– if I weren’t married, this would probably still be true). Still, that only answered why I’d dated them– the more terrifying question was what it might mean that they’d dated me.
And so, despite my friend’s insistence that my having given birth to five children was about as far from “manly” as humanly possible, I was unconvinced that my gay-man magnetism was not thoroughly damning to my cherished feminine identity. (And I really do cherish it: I even performed a line of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl” on the spot. Why not?, I supposed, after all that the study center had already heard.)
So I did what I do best in times of dramatic internal turmoil– I dragged someone else right on in to join me. Of the three young men who grew up to realize I didn’t exactly have what they were looking for, one was still a good friend. He had been my first love, and it was puppy love for sure, but he was the kind that always looked out for me, always respected me, even when other, straighter boys weren’t being so good. And I love him still, and I knew he’d still be good to me, so I laid out my latest bit of personal paranoia.
He repeated what my other friends and my husband had been claiming– I was decidedly feminine; it wasn’t me. He talked about how I had so many qualities that he’d admired, things like sensitivity, emotional availability, and a strong spirit (musical theater didn’t hurt, either). And I realized it did say something about me, but it spoke in far more gracious tones than I’d imagined.
I had the opportunity last weekend to attend Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade, and, knowing that far too many gay people hear hate-filled messages from the Christian community, I wanted to go and bring a better message, one that sounded more like the way Jesus has spoken to me. I knew that I wanted to convey love, but as I thought about how I might practically do that, I was coming up empty. It occurred to me that writing “I love gay people so much, I make out with them” across my shirt might not quite do the trick.
Parade day arrived and I had all sorts of desire to be a messy little messenger for God, but I had no art supplies for making posters, so I wore the biggest cross necklace I could find and an itchy rainbow-colored boa, and I made myself into the sign. At the end of the parade route, the Westboro man was in his paid-for place, spewing his worst free speech, and I nearly cried. But there were others nearby him holding posters to give the paraders a truer message, so I joined a girl for a photo behind her sign to make a very small gesture of a very big love.
But that same part of my brain that got bent out of shape trying to assign meaning to three brief teenage romances got all worked up about the fact that I didn’t really do what I’d wanted at the parade, that I hadn’t gone around hugging people and blabbing about God’s love (while respectfully refraining from mid-street make-outs, thankyouverymuch). I questioned my faithfulness to Jesus, the exact level and shade of my love for the gay community, and my general ability or lack thereof to do any dang thing in the precise manner in which I set about to do it. I was confounded.
But I posted the picture from the parade on my Facebook page anyway because my readers there had been so wonderful in their suggestions a week or so earlier when I’d asked them what message I ought to bring. And that dear one, that first-loved, still-loved friend, he said that seeing it made him feel blessed to know the love of true Christians.
And that was enough to answer it all.