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.