If sexual orientation were a choice, I would still choose to be gay. I always hear people saying, “Who would choose to be gay? The world hates you and disrespects you, you can’t get married, people think you’re a child molester, you’re constantly used as a political hot button, you get teased and maybe bashed or killed.”
The admonitions about queer life being difficult can keep coming, as if just because it’s hard means it’s not fundamentally good, and even important for the evolution of one’s character.
One reason I would choose to be gay is because my sexual orientation has been a shattering influence on my life. Because of my homosexuality, I was forced to confront the hypocrisy and limitations of the religion in which I was raised. I became a relentless truth-seeker because I had to struggle so much to uncover the sacred truth about myself. I’m only able to demand justice with my deepest voice because I have experienced injustice. I only see the complexity of the world we live in because confronting lies jerked me awake to a bigger picture. These are some of the gifts bisexual and homosexual orientations and nonconforming gender identities can offer if we are awake enough to experience them:
“Nail implies hammer.”
Being LGBT or queer is more than a matter of who you are physically and emotionally attracted to, or whether you fit society’s idea of your gender or not. Being queer should ignite a fire to know Truth — a sort of drive toward intelligence that can only be satisfied when you can see the world from different angles at once. Life is complicated, and because of our unique understanding of life’s constant unfolding, it is incumbent upon LGBT people to consciously interact with that complexity.
Haven’t you experienced the moment when you see through an illusion about yourself? The second when you realize that what you were told you were bears no relation to who you actually are? Remember how it feels to realize that being LGB or T is not a sin? That instant when you realize your teacher only knows the version of history that’s in the book? When you suddenly see a situation from the other person’s point of view? That’s the precipice, the edge of becoming aware of life’s multi-veiled Mata Hari dance.
It’s time for us all to leap over that precipice by cultivating a certain vigilance. Queer people must develop a commitment to mindfulness so deep that when one corner of a thing comes to mind we automatically consider the other three corners, too. One corner implies the others.
We probably know better than most that the world is not black and white, clear-cut, “one, two, three, four, five.” The world is always smirking at us as it reveals “one, two, three, four, basset hound.”
We must realize that LGBT issues do not exist in a vacuum. We will not truly be free if our freedom is built on the suffering of others. Too often, we only see the one corner — for example, our justified anger at hate crimes against LGBT people, and neglect to look at the other three corners of problem and solution. Like the fact that penalty enhancements for hate crimes leave people to rot in a violent and racist prison system instead of addressing the root cause of the violence and helping heal both victim and perpetrator. Sometimes in resisting an injustice we forget to transform it.
So even LGBT issues are more complex than we sometimes consider, but what can we do with this understanding that things are not always what they seem? After all, we know from our own experience that different things seem true depending on one’s knowledge and point of view. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all views are equally valid ≠ that’s a blessing of the scientific method ≠ but it does mean that a particular compassion is required of LGBT people.
We need a compassion that allows us to interact with those who see the world differently than we do, even when we’re right and they’re wrong. We can’t raise anyone’s consciousness if we are unable meet them where they are. We can’t change minds and hearts if our hearts and minds are filled with contempt.
If LGBT people want to claim true freedom, we have to give up what we don’t want. We have to relinquish our anger, our fear, our defense and our attack, our shame, our retribution, and our all-too-human desire to cling to what is and avoid change.
We can only begin to shake up the worldviews of those who slumber in a black and white existence when we approach even our enemies with compassion and understanding. Our desire for equal rights and recognition and a new, nonviolent, compassionate kind of activism are interdependent: “nail implies hammer.” When we claim both, we become the embodiment of the shattering we experienced in our own lives; it is then that we put on the cleansing “shirt of flame” that burns away that which does not serve us.
Michigan native, author and activist Clayton Gibson wrote Shirt of Flame: The Secret Gay Art of War under the pen name Ko Imani and is the creator of MyOutSpirit.com and founder of QWELL Community Foundation in Austin, Texas.