November 08, 2016

To My "Token" Gay Friend

Dear friend, I want to apologize.

I'm new at this. I might be almost thirty years-old. It might have been a long time coming, but I'm new at this. My life has not been a reflection of welcome diversity. I haven't always practiced well the art of meeting people with grace.

The first time I found out one of my friends was gay, I was 13. Growing up in a Christian home, private school, and being homeschooled had done a really good job of dictating who I was friends with, and who I never even had the chance to befriend. So much so that I almost didn't believe it when I found out. It felt like the ground shifted under me.

Fast forward a couple of years to a Christian homeschool co-op where the moms in charge were banishing a family because their daughter had just come out as bisexual. I sat back silently while the other kids made fun of her and my heart tried to claw out of my chest screaming, "How is this supposed to help anything?!" The ground beneath me shifted again, but this time it felt like it was shifting in the opposite direction. Weren't we supposed to love people? Even if they were "living in sin," how would excluding them like this help us minister to them? How could these people make jokes out of this sort of thing?

Then there was college. I opted out of the Christian college track after my senior year had shaken my foundation a bit. I was becoming a bit disenchanted by the run-of-the-mill conservative Christian bubble I'd spent eighteen years in. I enrolled in the local community college hoping to branch out a little, and met so many different new people, each one of them tweaking how I viewed the world just a little. The members of the LGBTQ community that I met were some of the most influential-- from the Irish Literature professor who encouraged me to stick with writing  because I was "just too smart not to," to my creative writing classmate who, nearly in tears, told me I had to finish my first novel because it was "just so... important."

Two. I met two openly LGBTQ people in the first eighteen years of my life. In college, I had to really make peace with what I learned, and friendship after friendship since has taught me more and more what love really means. I say all of this, not to make excuses for myself, but to let you know why.

And, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for every time I referenced your legal spouse as your partner, because I was afraid of what people might think of me.

I'm sorry for every time I made you feel like a project instead of a person.

I'm sorry for every gay joke I walked past.

I'm sorry for every time I preserved my own reputation at the expense of yours.

For every time I ignored my own heart as it tried to voice what your heart needed to hear most-- that you're way more than my token gay friend.

You are my friend.

It's taken a long time for me to stop believing in the concept of "token" friends. I don't believe in contrived relationship. I believe in meeting people as they come to you. I believe in seeing people for who they are.

I believe in stretching my arms as wide as they'll open, and working on my muscles so they can open even more.

And I believe with all my heart that  the most gap-bridging, selfishness-challenging, wound-healing thing I can learn to say is "I love you."

I love you, I'm sorry, and I'm trying.

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