“What If They Think I’m Gay?” And Other Fears that Keep People from Engaging

“What If They Think I’m Gay?” And Other Fears that Keep People from Engaging August 18, 2014

The following post is by Jason Bilbrey, our Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation.  You can read more from Jason at his blog, www.jasonbilbrey.com or follow him on Twitter at @JasonBilbrey.

1801113_834860833193130_1934268548437034059_o“Be Bold.” This is the declaration splashed across our website and facebook page. It’s The Marin Foundation’s motto, although it’s not one that I reflect on often. A need for boldness is not something I typically associate with the conversation surround faith and sexual orientation and gender identity. If anything, the tone of the conversation–from both conservative and progressive voices–often leads me to mutter to myself an opposite motto: “C’mon…show some restraint.”

I often forget the value of boldness when it is demonstrated by moderate, thoughtful individuals who are just beginning to engage in this conversation. It takes courage to open oneself up to a wave of new questions and scrutiny.

There are a whole host of “what if…” questions that keep people from speaking up. Here are a few, and how to push past them:

“What if they think I’m gay?” I have many straight friends whose first steps toward advocacy for the LGBTQ community were met with questions about their own sexual orientation. I think it’s just part of the territory. And that’s okay. It’s okay that people speculate about your sexuality or falsely identify you as gay or bi when you’re not. Even if it’s an attempt to discredit you, being bold means embracing the possibility of being misunderstood. As I’ve written before, Jesus certainly wasn’t afraid to allow his actions to be misinterpreted.

There’s also the possibility someone who actually is gay mistaking you for gay. And guess what? That’s okay too. If you get hit on, it’s a compliment–no matter what that person’s gender. Treat it as such, even as you politely set the record straight–so to speak. Imagine if you were mistaken for, say, Italian and then you swore up and down that you weren’t, that there was no way you were even a little bit Italian. That kind of response would lead others to believe that you thought there was something shameful about being Italian. The same goes for being taken for gay.

“What if I unintentionally say something offensive?” You will. Probably. At some point. I’ve written about certain words and phrases that we Christians should outright ban from our vocabulary (“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” “Homosexual,” etc.), but the truth is, you’re bound to say the wrong thing at some point. The most important thing is that you take a posture of a student, deferring to others as the expert of their own experience. You may learn that “queer” can be a derogatory term, but then hear someone self-identify as “queer.” You should allow your knowledge of what’s appropriate and preferred language to be shaped by each LGBTQ individual you interact with. That’s the difference between cultural competency and cultural humility. (More on that distinction in my next post).

“What if I don’t have a watertight theology of same-sex relationships?” If “cultural humility” is a preferred perspective over “cultural competency,” perhaps there’s a parallel to be made with our understanding of the Bible: “hermeneutical humility” over “hermeneutical competency.” That’s a fancy way of saying it’s all right if you don’t have the most cogent analysis on these six verses, known as the “clobber passages,” that reference same-sex relationships. Your ability to love, honor and stand in solidarity with your LGBTQ brothers and sisters does not depend on you having all the most satisfactory answers. Allow God to teach you truth as you practice the truth.

“What if I’m asked to do something I’m not comfortable with?” I’ve written about attending a gay loved one’s wedding (with a few notes in the comment section about officiating one). And I think in nearly every case, the best thing to do is to go. Go in a spirit of celebration. Go without fear–again–of having your motivations misinterpreted. Go because Jesus would go.

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  • Michael Albert

    Bravo, Jason! This needs to be heard, in reverse, in the Gay community also. As in: Dear LGBT brethren and sistren, when talking about issues of faith and sexuality, PLEASE don’t jump on semantics and mistakes of etiquette. We all have learning to do. Chastising people scares them off. Look beyond the surface and examine the intentions, the efforts, the “heart,” as it were, of the questioner. We shut off so much opportunity for mutual understanding because we make the world afraid of looking stupid, doing or saying something “wrong”. So they often just don’t ask even what they truly want to learn about, and we shoot ourselves in the foot. I get it. So often, we are the victims of scorn and ridicule, it’s easier to be on the offense. But ultimately, a little forgiveness and compassion could go a long way to healing. Understanding is a two way street.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Having watched what’s happened in racial tension in the past ten years, I’m struck by how much forgiveness and humility there has been on the part of those in the racial minority in the U.S. Cliven Bundy, who willfully stole from the American taxpayers, was supported by dozens of idiots carrying assault weapons. Many of those who publicly cheered the treason of these Bundy supporters made Trayvon Martin’s murderer out to be a hero. The fact that there has been so little civil unrest in the black and hispanic communities has been amazing.

      Humility on both sides of the gay rights issue is called for as well. (Humility and forgiveness doesn’t mean acceptance of the status quo.)

  • Sven2547

    “What if they think I’m gay?”
    … It’s okay that people speculate about your sexuality or falsely identify you as gay or bi when you’re not. Even if it’s an attempt to discredit you, being bold means embracing the possibility of being misunderstood.

    I get this a lot. I am staunch in my support of equal rights, and it’s pretty common for the opposition to assume I’m “one of them“, or referred to as “you people“… as if that would somehow invalidate my position.

    It bears mentioning that while GLBTQ folks compose 4% – 6% of the American population*, almost 60% of Americans support marriage equality. In other words, roughly 90% of SSM advocates are “straight” folks who have nothing to gain personally, we just recognize it’s the right thing to do.

    * depending on the poll, and how the question is asked. Sexual identity is a nebulous, hard-to-classify thing