What next, you may be saying, she’s about to come out of the closet?
Well, sort of, but not how you think.
This is what happened:
Housemate Eve was leading a one-day yoga retreat on the Central Coast and I travelled down with her to participate in the workshop. As Eve was introducing herself, she presented me to the group as well, saying that we lived “under the same roof”.
Over lunch, the women I was eating with asked about our living arrangements. I told them about the Shedders and our household with three couples living in it. After a lively discussion on that theme, someone said, “I thought first that you and Eve were partners.” And a couple other people chimed in, “Me too.”
Here’s what I noticed about that little episode: There was no charge on it for me whatever. None. I wouldn’t have cared if people had left the workshop thinking I was gay. Emotionally, I was completely indifferent to the label. So what I meant by the title of this post is that I am proud that I am completely indifferent to gayness.
Now, that’s been a long time coming.
I grew up in the Alberta Bible Belt. There weren’t any gay people there; as a matter of fact, gay people didn’t exist until I went off to university and began to hear about them.
I went through several stages in my understanding of this phenomenon of same-sex relationship. I started with denial (“What?! That can’t be so.”), moved on to judgment (“That’s bizarre. That’s just BIZARRE.”), and finally arrived at tolerance (“Well, each according to his own”.) But it wasn’t until I got out of the Bible Belt and moved to Vancouver at age 30 that I actually knew someone gay. I liked him; even more, I approved of him.
But to my discomfort, I always thought of him as gay. He was my GAY friend. He was part of the GAY community. He had GAY mannerisms. I tried to be liberal and have his gayness mean nothing, but I couldn’t quite swing it. He was a curiosity. I couldn’t control my prejudices.
Moving to Sydney marked another stage of exposure to the gay community. There were gay people coming out everywhere: in seminars I did, in leadership roles, in major league sports. An acquaintance announced she was a lesbian. The Mardi Gras parade was this annual in-your-face gay event. Obviously I wasn’t the only straight person in the world to have labelling problems, but it bothered me that I couldn’t shake using the label. “This is Geoff” always had the unspoken subtext: “and he’s gay”.
One evening after three glasses of wine, a female friend from work, someone my own age, confided that she was gay. What about your husband? I gasped. What about the kids? She’d only just told her husband and family, and they had fled from her as if from the plague, before slowly coming back again. “In hindsight,” she said, “I can see I’ve always been more attracted to women, but, as a farm girl in a conservative community I worked to suppress it.”
This was whole other element. A female, someone I knew well, had only just acknowledged to herself that she was gay, and only just come out. My brain had even more things to ponder. I had to switch labels to fit her in.
Around that time I read a research-based book by Martin Seligman called “What You Can Change and What You Can’t” and learned conclusively that most gayness is coded into the genes. That’s how the dice rolled when you were conceived and that’s how it’s going to play out. Blame your parents, if you must, instead of letting them blame you. My belief system about it all solidified: observation had told me there was nothing wrong with gayness; now my mind believed it as well.
But that didn’t erase the prejudice. The labelling, the noticing, the curiosity still held its grip.
Over many years, I became quite comfortable and the label did begin to erode. I found myself looking forward to my friend’s visit, rather than my gay friend’s visit. I was mildly interested to hear that someone was gay, but as a label, the colours were fading. I’d have been just as interested to hear that they were Buddhist, or had a rare disease, or fled from North Vietnam—or anything else unfamiliar to me that influences how someone thinks and how they make choices.
So, in light of this weekend’s workshop, it seems I’ve arrived at where I have long wanted to be: without reaction on something that involves an old, culturally-imbedded prejudice.
It allows me to look at other prejudices that may still be clogging my system. Where am I racist? Ageist? Where do people’s physical aspects have me leap to judgement? Their religious beliefs? The movies they like and books they read?
I sometimes think the most important virtue is tolerance. But if I follow the path of the transformation of my own attitude, it’s more than that. After tolerance comes acceptance, and after acceptance comes the state where something is no longer exotic and unusual, to be viewed warily: indifference. It’s of no moral, economic or social importance. Unconditionally, there’s nothing wrong here. Trust can then emerge and relationship occur.
I clearly need my judgement to manage life, to allow me to distinguish right from wrong. But I don’t need it where my belief system has already sorted out its values, where the judgement is just the lingering tail of prejudice lashing back and forth in its death throes.