If you know the Rolling Stones song Shattered, you’ll recognize the headline of this blog today. That album came out the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I’d sing parts of that song as we ran mile after mile in the autumn heat in pre-season cross country practices.
Love and hope and sex and dreams
Are still surviving on the street
Look at me, I’m in tatters!
That summer I’d cut off the super-long hair that I’d worn all junior year. Then I shaved my Lasse Viren beard and got fitted for contact lenses. When I showed up at our fraternity party that first week of school, no one knew me.
I’d also broken off a somewhat toxic relationship from the previous year and had used that summer to reinvent myself. Upon return to an RA Retreat late that summer, I’d fallen in love at first sight with a woman. It was a period of personal transformation not uncommon to many people going through their college years.
Yet as dramatic as those events all seem in retrospect, I have also thought what it must be like to experience even more dramatic personal changes, such as acknowledging that you are gay.
My son came out during his freshman year in college. I recall making a drive downtown with him to the University of Chicago late that fall. He told me that he felt like there was an anvil of pressure on his chest. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to talk about whatever was going on in his mind, and his life.
At the same time, his mother was going through intense chemotherapy treatments for the ovarian cancer that struck her in 2005. Our entire family was experiencing immense changes in real time.
But Evan did come out to us at a family dinner that winter. His mother was surprised. In the moment, she had difficulty processing what our son was saying. She turned to my daughter Emily at one point and said, “What do you think about this?”
To which Emily replied, “I think we both like good-looking guys.”
That night I called our neighbor and friend Bob, a quietly gay man who took care of his aging parents who lived in the house next door to us. Upon my call, he rushed over to our house and showed up with a look of great concern on his face. When I told him that Evan had come out to us, and I wanted some advice, he looked at me seriously and said, “Oh, I was worried Linda was sick again. I thought it was something serious.”
I love the transcendence of his counsel in that moment. Years before I’d noticed when shutting down the family computer in our kitchen that my son had visited a gay Internet site and left a tab open. I talked with my brother that day and told him, “I think Evan might be gay.”
“If he is, he is,” my brother told me. He meant that in a good and accepting way. I replied, “I know. It’s all good. I just want him to be happy in life. That’s all.”
His mom felt the same way, but perhaps it didn’t come out exactly that way when she told him, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.” That’s a mother’s natural reaction, protecting her child. Without much knowledge from our experience what it means to be gay, it was her way of inquiring how he felt.
One of her closest friends in grade school came out as a gay man years later. We met him at a reunion for that school and talked all night. He was engaging, funny and smart in ways that my wife adored. That night, we talked about that friend of hers and how hard it must have been to be raised in a radically conservative Christian congregation when you sense that you are gay.
Recently I’ve read accounts by several gay people, including Anderson Cooper, stating that they knew by the age of six or seven years old that they were “different” in some way. My daughter, the keeper of family history, transferred a number of videos from their youth onto CD from VHS tapes. While watching those videos she noticed that even at an early age, my son operated on a couple different planes of awareness. You could see that in his attention and expressions.
He was always aware, and self-aware. He started talking at six months old, saying his first word, “Bird” upon seeing a sparrow on the gutter of the house next door. My late father once said that he’d never seen a child so observant at such an early age.
As he grew up, there was a keenly social side of my son. He loved parties and social events. He was also diverse in his interests. During his high school years, he played soccer and ran track his freshman and sophomore years. He had talent, running a 2:02 800 meters at fifteen years old. Yet somewhere after his sophomore year, he turned to me and said, “Dad, when I’m doing track, I’m 25% happy. When I’m doing drama, I’m 100% happy.”
“Then the decision’s made,” I replied.
Drama and theater
He moved further into acting and directing plays, including serious drama, Black Box Theater, musicals and Shakespeare. That journey continued through his college years where he led a production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” held outdoors in the round on the college campus. His directing brought out all-new layers of humor in the play that I’d never seen.
But it was his performance as Mercutio during his senior year in high school that was a “coming out” of sorts that I’ll never forget. He’d auditioned for the lead role but someone else got the part. Thus he threw himself into the role, a curious and mischievous part that Sparknotes describes this way:
“With a lightning-quick wit and a clever mind, Mercutio is a scene stealer and one of the most memorable characters in all of Shakespeare’s works. Though he constantly puns, jokes, and teases—sometimes in fun, sometimes with bitterness—Mercutio is not a mere jester or prankster. With his wild words, Mercutio punctures the romantic sentiments and blind self-love that exist within the play. He mocks Romeo’s self-indulgence just as he ridicules Tybalt’s hauteur and adherence to fashion. The critic Stephen Greenblatt describes Mercutio as a force within the play that functions to deflate the possibility of romantic love and the power of tragic fate. Unlike the other characters who blame their deaths on fate, Mercutio dies cursing all Montagues and Capulets. Mercutio believes that specific people are responsible for his death rather than some external impersonal force.”
That rather aptly describes the plight of a still-closeted gay man in high school society, does it not? I was not naive to my son’s interests and orientation all that time, but I respected his choices and his needs. He most definitely ran his own life, but felt it necessary to live with the specter of repression through those scholastic years. Because coming out was still not that well accepted in those years.
Yet his fine performance of Mercutio tossed all that repression around like a ragdoll. Using a knotted rope as a “sword” during the production, he whipped it between his legs like a giant twisting cock. The audience both reeled and roared. Evan plowed across the stage with abandon, because if he was going to go out without the lead role, he was going to leave a mark on the memories of all those watching the play. That’s what Mercutio is supposed to do. In many ways, I think it’s what gay people in many walks of life are supposed to do.
All of life is a competition like that. For centuries, gay men and women have been cast in societal roles that force them to hide their true character. Gay athletes only recently started to “come out,” and the first pioneers in that endeavor suffered castigation. Gay military still have to play strange games within the ranks and all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief. Gay musicians are more readily accepted because they are part of an embracing arts community. Yet artists like Ricky Martin and others were advised to protect their heterosexual images in order to make more money.
Thankfully, the next generation in this world, our Millennials, don’t seem to give two fucks if someone is gay or not. That’s why I’ve been thinking about the lyrics from the Stones song Shattered lately.
“Laughter joy and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex and look at me! I’m in tatters! I’ve been shattered.”
To compare those lyrics with interpretation of the Second Amendment is quite instructive. People too easily forget the first part of the phrasing “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state…” in order to emphasis the second, “The right to bear arms shall not be infringed.”
It is salacious to emphasize a desired prejudice to deny the more responsible and rational qualifying phrase. That’s how society gets shattered.
No one deserves to be shattered for their sexual orientation, their transgender physicality or their gender fluidity. Because like the song lyrics intimate in their sarcastic repetition, it’s not all about sex and sex and sex and sex. But the people who fear the sex part of homosexuality and find it abhorrent make it all about that. They love to use the taboo to distract from the humanity of gender and sexual orientation. The laughter, joy and loneliness part. It matters too.
So here’s the truth about all sexual orientation: Life is also about companionship, love, respect, trust and acceptance.
One might note that those are all quite Christian values, yet a significant segment of the Christian world clings to just a few Bible verses to paint homosexuality as a sin. That legalistic take on scripture is rife with anachronism, ignorance and prejudice. I’ve known so many gay Christian people who love their God I’ve lost count. So many of them carry out the virtues of scripture better than their dismissively bigoted counterparts it is perversely comic to suggest that the “holier than thou” crowd is worth its weight in yeast or dough.
Love is all you need
I love my son and I love all those who love him. I understand. There have been times in my life when I’ve looked at another man and thought to myself, “He’s handsome, and funny, and smart, and if I were gay, he’d be the one.” It’s not a far leap for me to realize that sexual orientation is just that, a desire for people of the same gender. There’s no sin in that, as far as I’m concerned.
This blog is a bit long because there’s a ton to say about this matter. As our country reels from attacks on its institutions and the Constitution, I think about all the social and civil progress our nation is trying to make and why so many people fight back against it.
It is because, secretly, they are the people that are most afraid in this world. But they’re not alone. Even the people who wrote the words in the Bible were afraid in many ways. Yet so were the religious authorities who threatened and conspired against Jesus. They were afraid of him. So they reacted with controlling words and violence. They conspired with political leaders to do their vicious bidding. For thousands of years after those actions, Christian leaders adopted the same legalistic practices once they got control and imparted the same sort of vicious repression to which Jesus so objected.
This is what happens in the world when people who are afraid of others are allowed to take control of society. For two thousand years the bravest people in the world are those that have stood up against these fears that get turned into violence through religion, politics and selfish desires.
Sins of Scripture
As Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote in his book The Sins of Scripture, even the Apostle Paul was a deeply repressed man struggling with instincts he both refused and denied in himself.
Spong wrote: “Yes, I am convinced that Paul of Tarsus was a gay man, deeply repressed, self-loathing, rigid in denial, bound by the law that he hoped could keep this thing, that he judged to be so unacceptable, totally under control, a control so profound that even Paul did not have to face this fact about himself. But repression kills. It kills the repressed one and sometimes the defensive anger found in the repressed one also kills those who challenge, threaten or live out the thing that this repressed person so deeply fears.”
I think you can ascertain that there are other people in this world who are engaged in deep states of denial about themselves and others. As a result, people are suffering and dying because despots of that kind would rather punish others he considers weaker than himself than admit some sort of weakness.
Yet it is those precisely those supposedly “weak” or “inferior” people that are some of the strongest human beings. That’s what Jesus promised, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Wise words all around. Glad Jesus could come out with them.