There’s more than one way to learn acceptance and understanding, but the fastest way I know is to make friends with people who are different than you are. Having friends with religions and skin colors different from mine gave me a better awareness of other cultures. Making friends with women taught me about sexism. Becoming close to those with sexual orientations different from mine taught me a lot about psychology, and provided valuable insights about personal integrity, authenticity and identity.
I’m sure I have known LGBT people all my life, though they weren’t in the habit of admitting or explaining it to me until I was in High School in 1969. There were lots of things I didn’t understand before then, like trigonometry for example. The continuum of human sexuality was just one more unfamiliar subject. I didn’t regard it with undue weight. What I cared most about at the time was love (as opposed to sex), along with figuring out what I could do to help end the war in Vietnam.
My closest male friend in High School was gay. He was not “out” to society, but his family knew, and I knew because he trusted me. He had charisma, so women competed for his attention. He was the Rock Hudson sort of gay man. He enjoyed flirting with girls, and he was a convincing romantic figure on stage. We were too young to visit bars, but I went to house parties with him where gays and lesbians gathered. Men sometimes made passes at me, but without exception they were polite and never pressured me once I said I was “straight”. Some of them were nice enough to explain to me what closeted life was like. I was a brainiac. That made me different. I often had to pretend to be “normal” to fit in. I bonded with gay men over that.
Within a short time I began to understand that everyone has both male and female energy in them. At one end of the spectrum are women who prefer to spend most of their time doing and having things that women prefer. Those are the girly-girls, women whose female energy is dominant. Some of them prefer women as romantic and/or sexual partners. On the other end are manly men, or “MenMen”, as we called them in High School. Their male energy is dominant, and some of them prefer men the same way some of the girly-girls prefer the company of other women.
It isn’t that simple of course. Some men have strong female energy. Some women have strong male energy. Most people are somewhere in between the two extremes. When talking about psychological identity the terms male and female can be misleading. It’s just two poles, like in magnetism. There’s yin and yang. We all have both, and whatever balance between them we exhibit is part of what distinguishes us as individuals. It isn’t determined by our exterior “equipment”.
Religion, politics and law do not quickly or easily adapt to the subtleties resident in reality. Legislators, candidates and church spokespersons proclaim that things must be (or ought to be) all one way or another. I have to laugh whenever people in those fields talk about a “big tent”. They don’t have anything near the big tent of psychology. Wisdom and experience provides the biggest tent of all. People live their lives with incremental differences in emphasis all along the vast line between MenMen and girly-girls. The point on that line of sexual orientation and identity where you live is valid, no matter where it is. Normal means that which is greatest in number. It doesn’t mean that which is most right, most true or most correct. I’ve been abnormal all my life, and I’m damn proud of it!
Barack Obama, our president, has been going through some consciousness-raising. He said part of his process of re-thinking the validity of gay marriage came about because his young daughters accept that some of their friends have two parents of the same gender. It’s an ordinary thing to them. If those parents were abusive it would be a matter for concern. Sexual orientation by itself isn’t a matter for concern. Good for Barack. Now he’s catching up with what I understood in 1970. Better late than never.
North Carolina just passed a law invalidating not only gay marriage, but also civil unions between people of the same gender. Like the Jim Crow laws, it’s destined for repeal. No matter how many North Carolinas there are, same sex marriage between consenting adults is going to become law, because eventually law comes to reflect reality, and consenting adults of the same gender have been living in permanent partnerships since the beginning of tribal society and recorded history. You can frame your objections any way you like, but it will still happen. If it doesn’t happen any other way, it will come about as older people die, because like Obama’s daughters, the majority of young people see this as an issue of human and civil rights. So do I.