So today something happened that I’m deeply ashamed of.

I keep typing and deleting this, trying to tell it like a story, and it occurred to me that what I’m doing is trying subconsciously to set up a why, a way to say, “listen it was definitely wrong but see the position I was in??” Which is baloney. So let me jump right in:

Today I was at a church-sponsored paintball field with most of my family, and the man running things pointed out in no uncertain terms during his safety/rules talk: “No homosexuals,” and I didn’t say anything. Not a peep.

It wasn’t even a “we believe the Bible teaches us that homosexuality is a sin and blah-blah”, it was a “we don’t want any perverts.” Not that one is particularly better than the other, but for some reason that rankled EVEN WORSE. Anyway, what type of offensive thing the guy said is less important than my reaction to it, which was


No protest, no questioning, and definitely not the thing I should have done, which was make a big stink and leave. I just kept my mouth shut: I heard him say those words, and my mind ran through a few of the ways it could play out, there with my family and my oldest brother visiting and 35 minutes from home and at the beginning of a fun family afternoon. And I stayed quiet. I played paintball. We had a good time, everyone got good and bruised up, and it was nice to spend the afternoon with my family, who I’m not at all as close to as I should be. And never once did I even say to them, later, “look I know we’re here to have a good time, but that was messed up and you know it.”

On the way home I felt pretty disgusted with myself. Miserable. I felt like I’d failed a very easy test, because i had. My family is, for the most part, very very conservative. We were all raised in a very Southern Baptist, right wing, us-vs-them church, and as my parents have gotten older, and my older siblings have stayed in that world, they’ve calcified into a place where it’s perfectly reasonable to say “no homosexuals” at a private event, sponsored by a church, etc. There’s not much percentage in me trying to persuade them otherwise.

But they’re not the important ones anyway–I felt the worst that I hadn’t said anything around their kids. I don’t care if my nieces and nephews do or don’t believe that homosexuality is okay, but I do definitely think they should see a member of their family that feels strongly about something speak up. I’ve gotten into a place with them over the years where I just avoid discussing the deep ideological divide between me and their parents, because I wanted to respect their parenting. But tacit acceptance of a bad thing is pretty much just as bad, especially when you have a deep, emotional, strongly negative reaction to it, and still keep your mouth shut. Weirdly I keep thinking of the moment in Matthew where Jesus tells Peter, “before the cock crows, thou shalt deny me thrice.” When I was a kid I thought Peter was a real wuss, because he knew what he was doing and he did it anyway, just like me.

The important thing was to say something for myself, not for them. I should have protested if it was just me that redneck preacher, but with those kids present it now seems 1000 times worse to have stayed quiet. It shouldn’t matter whether or not anyone agrees. It shouldn’t matter that I have numerous gay relatives, who if they’d been there would have had to keep their mouths shut about who they chose to love, or leave the family outing. It shouldn’t matter that I have many peers and friends who are gay; it shouldn’t matter who was standing there at all. But it does.

It’s hard to overstate how ashamed of myself I am. I like to think of myself as being very honest; honest to a fault; clumsy yes, tactless often, but intrinsically an honest person, a forthright person, a standup person. The sort of person who, regardless of the audience, would stand up and say, “I find this beyond reprehensible, just sharing air with you is turning my stomach, and I certainly won’t be PAYING to support more of this.” And maybe, though it shouldn’t matter, the sort of person who would EVEN MORE SURELY go out of his way to point out a repugnant, bigoted public stance because there were people present he thought should know that not everyone in the world shared that ugly belief.

But clearly I’m not. Not as great a person as I wanted to be. Not as qualified to throw my opinion around, point out other people’s bigotry, wonder aloud that an issue like gay marriage was still seen as iffy in the year 2012. It seems very very hard to take those sorts of stances now, because if I can’t speak up around family then who will I speak up in front of?

Anyway, I’m writing this to get it off my chest, and also to remind myself for the next time. And maybe you, whoever is reading this. There’s not a way to go back in time and undo that moment of failure, but I can remember how ashamed of myself I am right now, and perhaps prod myself to the bare minimum of personal chutzpah it would take to say,

What you’re saying is offensive, bigoted, and hateful, and I won’t endorse it with my silence or my money.

Because I didn’t.

20 thoughts on “NO HOMOSEXUALS

  1. Scott M

    As one of my favourite writers once put it, “do I dare disturb the universe?”

    Obviously we all want to be the bravest we can be at the best possible moment, but I wouldn’t beat myself up if I were you (and I say that as a peripheral part of the community in question). It’s human nature to want to avoid conflict, and the more we know we are probably in a hostile environment – one with guns! – the stronger that impulse will be.

    Your confession and desire to do better is a good start toward breaking free of the lizard brain’s protective impulse and disturbing the universe next time, or every time.

  2. Daniel

    I’ve been in similar situations with my family. Particularly, with older relatives in regard to race. It’s a tough spot to be in. Sometimes I speak up, sometimes I keep my mouth shut. Either way I end up feeling like a jerk.

  3. anon

    imagine how much more difficult that position would’ve been if you were secretly gay. or if you heard it from your coworkers, your boss, or your family.

  4. Rob

    Well in the words of Christopher Hitchens: “The grave will offer plenty of opportunity to be silent in the face of injustice and repression, don’t miss those chances you have in life to speak out.”

    It’s often pretty impressive the amount of people who like to consider themselves as stand up honest people but when it gets tested really aren’t. Yes its scary to speak out, wouldn’t really be brave if it wasn’t.

  5. jdb

    There’s nothing wrong with bringing it up the next time you see them. Or writing a letter or email to your family about it.

    Just remember one thing: it is not for you to decide (and act as if) their hearts are unsalvageable in this regard. That’s up to God.

    As challenging as it may be, do your best to speak from a place of love and willingness to help them make the same journey you have made.

  6. Howard

    What is more telling is that your family never spoke up to either support you or condemn you. If they agree with the “no homosexuals” policy then why didn’t they out you to the preacher? If they support you why didn’t they say so?

    It seems to me that their silence was much more hypocritical than yours. Don’t beat yourself up over this. the greater sin was comitted by your family and not you.

  7. DHARBIN! Post author

    Oh! Well, I’m not gay, so that kind of solidarity wasn’t really an issue. And, having spoken with a couple of them since, I wasn’t the only one appalled at the initial offense, and regretful for not saying anything. My family and I differ widely on a lot of social issues, especially where religion is concerned, but I think in the main we share the idea that humans should be treated with respect at the very least.

  8. DHARBIN! Post author

    Also thanks very much to everyone who’s had something to say about this, both here and on Facebook and Tumblr, where I cross-posted it. I’m still pretty ashamed of myself, but the conversation that’s grown out of the post has been valuable in and of itself, in a bunch of ways. So that’s a positive.

  9. Houndentenor

    It’s not too late to say something, or write something or in some way communicate with this person. It’s hard to come up with the right words in a moment like that. It seems so easy in the movies or on tv but more often than not when I’m confronted by racism or sexism and want to say something I’m usually too shocked at what was just said or done to find the words. Take your time, think about what you want to say and then say it.

    It’s not too late.

    Oh and thank you for at least caring. Most people don’t see to, at least in most of the country. You might find if you speak up that there are more people like you who were just too intimidated to say anything.

  10. Gary

    I’m 61, white, and gay. I spent a lot of time visiting relatives in the South during the 50′s and 60′s where I witnessed racist comments and actions more so than I did at home in Ohio. I remember them clearly, and I’ve lost all affection and family loyalty for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who were outspoken bigots. I also lost respect for loved ones who were older and didn’t speak out. But I didn’t speak out either until one time in my teens I refused to get out of the car and enter a restaurant where civil rights protesters were picketing. I never denounced them to their faces for their racism. I just quit going to see them as soon as it was possible, and ignored their visits to my parents’ home–gradually filtering them from my life.

    Back home in Ohio I eventually reached the ‘no tolerance for bigots’ point, and eliminated childhood friends, newer acquaintances, and others who thought that racism was mainstream and acceptable in polite company. Once I had to tell someone to leave my home. Other times I’ve announced to a table, or group, why I’m leaving. Point is that for me it took some mental rehearsals and practice to speak up.

    Oddly enough it was easier for me to speak up for others than for my ‘own people.’ I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 46. I seldom stood up against anti-gay prejudice. Now that I can and do I assure you that it too was an evolution.

    Thank you for your blog, and your analysis of the situation. It reveals that you certainly are not part of the problem. I admire you, and think you should be proud of yourself.

  11. BobN

    “No homosexuals” at a paint-ball event? What was the guy afraid of, more tasteful colors?

    As for your inaction and resulting shame, I’m sort of surprised you’ve gotten this far along in life before encountering a “no ____s” situation, but there’s an easy rule. No matter who the “____” is, you don’t have to say anything, just take your family and leave. You are encouraged, of course, to make your departure as obvious as possible.

  12. Mel

    This is nothing on you, really, but I must say: this post is about yet another church-sponsored anti-gay event. How many churches recently rallied around bigoted chick-fil-a? Isn’t it about time to dump organized religions and find your own path to spirituality (if you need it)?

  13. DHARBIN! Post author

    Haw! No, I’m not religious either, not even a little. Although I was raised in a very VERY Baptist church, one which some of my family still attend.

    Side note: did someone famous link to this post or something? In the last hour or so I’ve gotten a ton of comments on it, which of course isn’t a problem. I’m just curious.

  14. Scott

    Wanted you to know you have been linked by the blog towleroad. That is how I wound up here.

    May I suggest that you share your angst and disgust with a letter to the church AND a local newspaper? By expressing ourself publicly, as you did in this blog post, there are others who will hear about this issue and find ways to bring some social pressure on those who act as this group leader did. It was not appropriate, it hurts children, and it must be called out.

    I also suggest that you name the church to which this is tied, and possibly the position of the individual who did this. Since what he said was not to be considered confidential, and even if he thought it was, it was spoken to a group of young people and family members, and SHOULD be publically called to account. It is only through public discussion of these issues, will we, as a society, come to a better understanding of each other.

  15. Michael

    Just imagine what its like when you are gay. I used to hang out at the beach in Jacksonville and fag comments would fly left and right. Do you open your mouth, out yourself even though its obvious or do you say nothing and let it eat you up inside?

    Yes, you’re beating yourself up now but it rocks your soul when you’re gay and somehow not man enough to stand up for yourself. Unfortunately the real threat of violence usually stop you.

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