“Wow”, I said. “So your family took to Shawn right away?”
“Yes”, Carman answered. “But it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. A few of my friends were repulsed, and I never saw them again. A few more said they were OK with it but they started coming around less and less often, and then stopped altogether. And I lost my job.”
“Yes, I lost my job. It wasn’t much of a job, sure, just a clerk at a fast food restaurant, but it hurt. The manager was a real dickhead about it. He called me a pervert and kicked me out of the store. I recovered quickly - Shawn got me a job waiting tables at the restaurant he was a cook at, and I made more money than I had at that fast food restaurant – but still, being called a pervert hurt. It still does.”
“Yeah. It’s wrong, but it happens. Whenever Shawn and I would go anywhere people shouted insults and made rude comments. It didn’t bother Shawn as much as it bothered me. He would just tell me to ignore the haters, but I found that difficult to do.”
“But do people still shout insults at you now? You don’t look gay.”
He looked at me shrewdly. “Oh? And what does gay look like, exactly?”
Shit. I had insulted him. “I meant...”
Carman laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I know what you meant. Remember that talk you had with Aiden? I told him to explain to you the difference between being a ‘Gay guy’ and being a ‘guy who is gay’”.
“Yeah, he said that. I think I understand, but I’m not sure.”
“Well”, Carman explained, “It’s like this. There are all kinds of people on this planet. Some are gay, some are straight, and some are anywhere in between. There is no black and white. We’re all different. There are gay people who base their entire personality on their sexuality. There are also gay people who are attracted to the same sex, but that is only one part of their personality. Some gay people drive that part of themselves down into their souls so deeply that they never act on it. Some even lash out at others because they’re either afraid of that part of themselves or they’ve buried it so deep. Whatever the case, there is a never ending spectrum of personalities within the gay community just as there is outside of it. And every one of those personalities is ‘normal’. None are right, none are wrong. All just are. I skew toward the end of the scale that says that my sexuality is just a part of me. I don’t suppress it, but I don’t let it dominate who I am. Shawn was a little more toward the other end of the scale, and by “a little” I mean he was all the way at the end of the scale, threatening to jump off. He ate, drank, and breathed ‘gay’. He had no problems at all kissing or holding hands in public and was not at all afraid of confronting people who he thought were looking down on him. Part of me was driven crazy by that, but a bigger part of me really admired him for it. He wasn’t ‘acting’. That was just who he was.”
I thought back to Chaz at that swimming pool, and how I was admiring him for being his flamboyant self. I said, “Ok, I think I see it now. I think I’m more like you. I know I’m gay, and I don’t want to hide it, but I don’t want that to be the only thing that I am.”
Carman beamed at me. “That’s
what I thought, based on what Aiden had told me about you, but you
will have to hide it for the time being. And Aiden is very similar,
but he is also very different. I think he told you that he is ‘bi’.”
“Right. He did say that. I think I understand, but I’m not sure. How can somebody like both?”
“Truthfully, I don’t quite understand it myself. I have always been gay, and I’ve known it from when I was very young.”
“Yes, well, you are still very young, but you are right. If you’re anything like how I was, you know what you’re attracted to and can’t imagine being attracted to anything else. Or have you gotten that far yet?”
I was indignant. “Yes! I know for sure! When I first started noticing boys I wasn’t sure, because I thought that noticing girls would come later. And I didn’t think of guys as sexy. I just... I don’t know. There was just something about guys that wasn’t there with girls. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, until I saw a guy at my mother’s friend’s place in Ontario last summer. For the first time in my life I looked at a person and thought he was sexy. It has happened many times since. Almost every guy I look at. But as much as I’ve tried having that feeling toward girls I wasn’t able to, so I resigned myself to being gay”.
“Congratulations, you’ve got it half figured out. So do you understand why people who aren’t gay lash out at us?”
“No. I’ve thought about it, but I don’t understand that. We’re not hurting anyone, so why don’t they leave us alone?”
Carman looked alarmed. “What? Why? You didn’t...”
I interrupted him. “No! I didn’t say a thing. But when we were coming home from my mother’s friend’s place they were saying all sorts of terrible things about how gays were going to hell. They were talking about Chaz, the guy at the pool I mentioned earlier. But I didn’t understand it, because my parents aren’t religious at all. I mean, they believe in God, but they don’t go to church, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of them pick up a Bible”.
“Ahh, well, see, that’s one of the sad things about it. Even though your parents don’t go to church or read the Bible, they were almost certainly raised and taught by people who did. But it goes a little deeper than that. Remember what we were saying about how we couldn’t imagine being attracted to the opposite sex? Well, straight people are very much like us in that way: They’re attracted to the opposite sex and can’t imagine being attracted to the same sex.”
He let that sink in. I asked, “But then why do they hate us so much if they’re just like us?”
“Because they’ve been taught that the way they feel is ‘normal’, and that anyone who doesn’t feel the same way they do is ‘abnormal’, or worse, criminal, perverted, or an abomination. They’ve got the might of society on their side, not to mention thousands of years of religious teaching. One key difference between them and us is that we realize that even though they are different from us we are still normal. With them, they don’t see it that way. They see us as beneath them somehow, like they were made ‘right’ and we were made ‘wrong’. Many believe that it’s a conscious choice we make, like we just wake up one day and say ‘Hey, I think I’ll be gay’. Some of them actually believe that it’s their job as good Christians to stamp us out, and they’ll go to great lengths to do just that, including murder”.
I shuddered. “But that’s not fair. If they believe in God, and God made everything, then why would they think that God made a mistake with us?”
“That’s an easy one. I don’t know who or what God is, or if he even exists. I think God exists in some form or another, because there are examples of miracles all around us, but I don’t know if he is what the religious people say he is. One thing I do know is that it wasn’t God who wrote the Bible, it was men. The Bible was written by men thousands of years ago, and it has been translated, edited, added to, and subtracted from many times over those thousands of years. There are several different versions of “God”, and several different versions of the Bible. I think they all refer to the same God but the bibles are sometimes completely different. They’ve been changed many times over the millennia by men to suit the tastes of the men who were in power at the time. And just as the people who wrote the books were flawed and subject to the temptations and limitations of humankind, so are the people who read and interpret them subject to the same flaws. People pick and choose what they want to believe, often because they were already inclined to believe that thing. So a person who is inclined to hate gay people will focus on the parts of the bible that reinforce what they already choose to be true, no matter how vague or out of context those passages may be. And yet those same people will gladly ignore the parts of the bible that openly condemn their own behaviour.”
“That’s pretty stupid”.
“Yes, I think so too, and apparently so does everyone else, including the most devout followers of these religions. How many religious couples do you think there are out there? Lots. Some of them are probably your friends’ parents. And how many of those couples do you think married as virgins? Probably zero. How many have only had sex to have children? Again, probably zero. Imagine a family with three kids. Do you think those parents only had sex three times? Of course not. And of course divorce is very common. Certain churches are not supposed to recognize divorce, but if you pay them money they will. If a couple with children is divorced and one of them wants to remarry, the church is not supposed to marry them because they consider marriage to be until death (it’s right there in the vows, ‘until death do us part’). Give the church money, though, and they will declare you a “virgin”, nullify your previous marriage, and then perform a ceremony for you. But so-called ‘followers’ will happily wave their Bibles in your face and call you a demon while committing all of these sins themselves. They justify it to themselves by thinking ‘this can’t be wrong if everyone is doing it’, or even ‘this can’t be wrong because it’s what I want to do’, but no matter how they try to justify it, it’s right there in plain ink, and it is not unclear. Sex before marriage, sex for any reason other than procreation, and divorce are all sins. There are hundreds – thousands, probably – of passages in the bible that call certain things out as sins, but followers of the bible choose to ignore them because to adhere to those rules would be to inconvenience themselves or deny themselves their pleasures. And yet they will latch onto obscure verses from the old testament to justify committing discrimination, hate, violence, and murder against us.”
“That is scary. And sad. People hate us but they don’t even understand us.”
“Yes, that’s right. But don’t just feel sorry for us. There have been countless wars through the ages caused by nothing more than two groups of people reading the same words but interpreting them in different ways. The number of deaths caused by religious disagreements would be in the tens of millions. If they can’t even agree among themselves on the words, imagine how easy it is to take a certain passage and run away with it: Take it out of context and use it as a reason to spread hate and fear. And some of them – many of them, in fact – actually fear us. They call it “homophobia”. We’re different, and they don’t understand us, so they’re afraid of us. It’s utterly crazy, but that’s how it is.”
“Wait. Ok. I get what you’re saying about how society rejects us because they don’t understand us. But you still haven’t answered the question about Aiden. How can somebody be Bi?”
“Don’t you see? What I was just saying about people not understanding us has everything in the world with Aiden being bi. Just as straight people don’t understand how we could be gay, we don’t understand somebody being bi because we don’t know what it’s like to be bi. We know our own feelings, and that’s all we know. We can’t get inside Aiden’s head, or the head of any other bisexual person, and see why they are attracted to who they are attracted to. But just because we don’t understand it doesn’t make it wrong. Aiden is just as normal as you and I, and we are just as normal as your parents or mine. We are all different, but we are all normal.”
I sat and contemplated this. It made sense. I might not understand Aiden, but just because I didn’t understand him didn’t make him wrong. Then I remembered the question that started this whole conversation.
“Ok, I think I understand that. Different, but normal. But even after all of this you still haven’t answered my first question.”
“Oh? What was it again?”
“I asked you why people still shout insults at you, because you don’t look gay”.
Carman laughed. “Oh, I had forgotten all about that. Well, the truth is, even though I don’t look gay, I told everyone that I was. I didn’t need to look the part anymore. Even if you do look the part, if people don’t know for sure most will think ‘Is he or isn’t he?’, and many just wouldn’t say anything. This was different though. Everyone knew. This was a small, rural village back then. Everyone knew everyone else, and my sexuality was soon known throughout. Even people who didn’t know me knew somebody who did, or remembers seeing me with Shawn, so I became known as ‘that faggot’. It doesn’t happen as often now as it used to, both because memories are fading and the village is growing, but it still does happen occasionally.”
I looked at the floor. “Oh”.
Carman carefully considered me for a few moments, then said “Why so glum?”
I looked up at him. “I don’t know. I was anxious to talk to you because you’re the first real gay guy that I’ve ever met. When I first figured out that I was gay I was really sad, because I thought that meant that I was doomed to a life of loneliness. I had a really brief bit of joy with Aiden, but then that went away when...”
I stopped. A lump had appeared in my throat.
Carman said “Yes, that was a terrible thing. You don’t have to mention it. But go on.”
I swallowed. “Well, after that happened I started losing all hope again. I just couldn’t picture sharing that part of myself with anyone again, so I was thinking I’d be lonely forever again. I had a little bit of hope when Aiden called me, but you know how that went. I can’t imagine us ever being like we were anymore. Even if he suddenly became himself again we still live miles apart and we’re both 13. Then I got excited hearing about you talking about you and Shawn, and started feeling hopeful again. Then you tell me how terrible life is when you’re gay, so now I’m stuck facing a lifetime of loneliness again.”
Carman sat there quietly as he thought about this.