"If Closets Could Talk!"
By: Rev. Charles Burnett-Morrow
People who are Gay but who do not openly live their lives as a Gay person are said to be “living in the closet.” In my case, I knew since I was very young that I had these issues and attractions, but I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge them, never mind try to address them in any constructive way. I did not pursue any kind of Gay sexual exploration until the day that I decided to “come out of the closet.” When I finally got sick and tired of trying to please everybody else and decided to be honest with myself, I just “came out.” Then, and only then, did I begin to explore life as a Gay man. That was in May of 1989. I have never been happier, healthier, and more satisfied. For years people accused me of being Gay. School mates and even family members. My own grandmother even asked me once if I weren’t Gay, because after all, “I never really dated girls.” My static answer was, “No grandma, for heaven’s sake! Why would you even ask me such a dumb question?” I was not even ready to face the facts for myself, never mind have to submit them to the scrutiny and criticism of others.
Funny… As an adult, most people don’t even guess that I am Gay unless I tell them. I once admitted to a boss at a car dealership where I worked that I was Gay. He laughed hysterically, until he saw the look on my face and realized I wasn’t kidding. But a young lady in the dealership was threatening to file a sexual harassment claim against me because I was (and still am) in the habit of using “pet names.” I often will say to people, “Sweetie,” “Honey,” “Dear,” “Love,” “Handsome,” etc. My grandmother had so many children and grandchildren that she was in the habit of using these types of pet names, and I have picked up that harmless habit. So to set aside this young lady’s complaint, I said to Dan, my manager, “Oh for heaven’s sake Dan, I’m Gay! Why in the world would I be interested in sexually harassing this girl?” When the facts became known, she suddenly realized that my casual “flirtations (as it were) were harmless and innocent. The complaint immediately went away. People wonder why sometimes Gay men and women will be open about their sexual orientation. Sometimes, it can be useful or pertinent information.
If many in the “conservative” Christian community knew half of what I know, they’d probably have very different views of issues related to Gay-Lesbian people than they do today. The sad reality is, the Gay issue reaches into far more families and communities than they will ever be willing to acknowledge or admit. I have personally seen two different television preachers with great followings cruising the Gay neighborhood here in Dallas. One television preacher was even so bold as to be found one evening in a local Gay bar, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other! When I approached him and asked if he wasn’t who I though he was, he tried to deny it and fade away. I gave him my business card anyway. A couple of days later he called me, admitted to being who I thought he was, and then offered some watered down and ridiculous “explanation” of how he doesn’t believe in labels and such, so he doesn’t identify as Gay, per se. Whatever. Frankly, I was sickened by the whole thing. Tommy and I had gone to that bar that night as a friend of ours would be performing, so we were trying to show him some support. But in a bar or out of a bar, I do not drink, smoke, do drugs, or cruise for sexual conquests. Anyone who knows me knows this to be the case.
I have an aunt who is so venomous and nasty toward me because I am Gay that it isn’t even funny. What she doesn’t know is that she has Gay children! When one of her daughters spent time with me in New York City, she and her female “friend” held hands and played it up like crazy while we toured the city. I couldn’t believe my own eyes! But when this girl was at home, she played it straight. Going so far as to marry a very abusive guy who she then had four children with. A lot of Gay-Lesbian people will marry abusive heterosexual mates as they feel that they somehow deserve the abusive treatment as a sort of penance for their internal orientation. They put themselves through Hell, and bring children into the world, all because they can’t bring themselves to admit to who they really are. All the while my aunt acts the fool toward me, she is solidifying her own daughter’s self destructive future! The more her daughter sees her mom manifest such hate and disdain for homosexual people, the more she tries to suppress her own sexuality in an effort to maintain her mom’s approval. It is sickening.
Over the years I have met preachers, pastor’s children, deacon’s children, and a myriad of others in “Gay establishments.” You’d be shocked to know who I know. I once told my grandmother that she would flip if she knew who I had just met recently at a Gay event. One of the most beloved and devout members of her church, and a board member to boot, had a son who I had just bumped into. He is gay. He is also burned out on the church because of all it’s hateful and condemnatory rhetoric, and he’s a miserable, depressed alcoholic. Did I mention he’s all of 23?
Folks think that if they act hateful enough toward Gay people, it will scare the Gay out of their own children, grandchildren, etc. But it doesn’t work that way. It may drive them so deep into the closet that they can’t even see the crack at the base of the door, but it will not change their orientation one bit. Even sadder is the fact that many who live in this type of environment will wind up being pushed to suicide. I have seen it over and over again. I have even seen Gay children (18-21 years of age) join the military with a suicidal desire to be killed. This way they wouldn’t ever have to come out to their families and they could die a hero.
My father was a macho man amongst macho men. He raised my brothers and I to be obsessed with women. I tried. I really tried. Even got married thinking that would “fix” me. But in the end, all that happened was my life became more complicated and confused. My grandfather was also a very manly man. He once said that if a child or grandchild of his were to “come out” as Gay, he’d chop off certain body parts and stuff it in their mouth and… (need I say more?) So I was terrified to come out. Instead, I tried to kill myself a couple of times by the time I was 21. One time a doctor said to my mother, “Most people who attempt suicide are crying out for help. But your son really wants to die!” I really did.
When I did finally come out, I was relieved beyond measure to find that my manly grandfather loved me not one ounce less afterwards than he had before. His hyperbole was based upon his ignorance of the realities that existed around him. But when he was faced with the facts, his attitudes and feelings quickly changed. I will always love him for that! Always! I try to tell people, “If they love you now, they will love you after you come out.” “If you have a strained or less-than-loving relationship now with that person or family member, it will just continue to be that way after you have come out.” People’s attitudes really change when they find out that someone close to them is Gay.
The saddest part of the matter is this - There are Gay people everywhere! Many of those who will read this article have friends or members of their own families whom they suspect may be Gay. Chances are, they are right. No matter how vehemently someone may deny it, the truth of the matter is, they may not even be able as of yet to admit to themselves. I couldn’t. I spent time after a suicide attempt speaking with a psychiatrist. She tried desperately to get me to acknowledge that this issue was a part of my life, and I COULD NOT for the life of me say that I even struggled with being Gay. Not even to this professional in a private setting who is sworn to maintain my privacy! Some folks will quell their suspicions of a family member or friend by asking, “Are you Gay?” And when that person answers “No,” they feel satisfied with that answer. They know absolutely nothing of the horrible battle that people fight in trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation. That poor struggling Gay young person will only have their ears filled with critical, negative, judgmental, and condemnatory conversation relative to homosexuals and homosexuality. They will never get any support, love, or understanding. We wonder then why they kill themselves?
I have a nephew who “came out” as Gay a few years back. He has had a role model in me who has tried to live a godly, moral, and decent Christian life, as a Gay man. Most young people do not have this type of role model. My nephew has expressed his appreciation for my example. But as the time drew near for him to admit he was Gay and “come out,” EVEN I asked him not to! I just knew that my family would blame me for his “conversion.” But truthfully, I knew my macho brother had at least one Gay child in his litter of five. Frankly, the signs are already beginning to manifest themselves that he has more than one! But ask him, and he’ll tell you it just isn’t so. He’s so holy that in spite of his three marriages and two illegitimate kids, he can’t be bothered to even be around his eldest brother anymore.
The smartest thing that the heterosexual world could do is come to terms with homosexuality. To do so would save untold number of lives and would remove all kinds of negativity and self-destruction from people’s lives. It would prevent people from making decisions designed to please others that will only make that individual’s life more difficult and depressing. But far too many have convinced themselves, “I don’t have any queers in my family or in my circle of friends.” Chances are, my friend, you are so wrong that it isn’t even funny!
Not all Gay men wear dresses and lipstick. Not all Lesbians wear a buzz cut and men’s clothes. Ignorance is the best friend of oppression. Many contribute daily to the oppression and misery of Gay-lesbian people simply by reason of their not being aware of the fact that the person near them is Gay. They tell their Gay jokes, use their anti-Gay slang, and say their anti-Gay slogans without a thought in the world that someone within ear shot of them may very well be Gay. It hurts to have to listen to all this ignorance based garbage. Worse is the fact that one has no recourse. There is nothing we can say or do about it that won’t make our very private issues very public. In many cases, it might even cost a person their job, friends, family, or church. It is a terrible place to be in.
The best thing a godly, loving, sincere Christian can do is take their friend or loved one aside and say, “I just want to let you know that you could never disappoint me or cause me to stop loving you. I would love you if you failed all your classes, never went to college, worked as a garbage collector, or even if you were Gay.” That statement would in a very subtle way let that person know that if they ever needed to, they could come to you for support and understanding. But you had better be prepared to give just that should that individual ever come to you. To do otherwise may prove to be the straw that broke the camels back, and your betrayal could push them over the edge to self destruction or even suicide.
Folks, if closets could speak, you would not believe your ears. I know from personal experience that there are Gay people in places that even I never imagined. People near you every day, and people whom you deeply care about, are Gay. You don’t have to believe me, but you can be a part of the solution, instead of a contributor to the problem, if you will.