I’m a bit less ignorant than I used to be. Now what?

I was raised in a tiny, WASP-y town in a state full of heaps of tiny, WASP-y towns, by a pair of pretty educated parents who had lived in or near proper cities for most of their lives and who, by most accounts, knew a great deal more about the world at large than I did when I was a kid. My dad was (and is) a minister of a small, non-denominational church in said tiny town. From 5th-12th grades, I attended a really small private Christian school full of mainly small, private Christian people. I can’t tell you who my first gay friend was. It’s not that I wouldn’t tell you if I could; the thing is that I actually don’t know who it may have been, because being openly gay wasn’t really “a thing” in my hometown or school as I recall. Most of my LGBTQ classmates didn’t come out to me or to the general public until years later.

My mom never really talked about gay people or her opinions on the matter. My dad did. Now, I will preface what I’m about to say with this: my father did not teach or preach that it was ok to hate other people; the Carmany family did not abuse or harass people who were different from us, and we were never, EVER told that it was acceptable to do so. That said, my father held very strong, (arguably) bible-based beliefs on the matter of acted-upon homosexuality. I won’t say that he took it up as a personal crusade, but if you spoke to him enough or attended his church, you knew that he didn’t find the union of two same-gendered people to be a good thing. I probably agreed with him in my younger years simply because I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay, but I did know my dad. You tend to side with people you know until you know differently.

Growing up, the words “queer” and “gay” were occasionally strewn about by peers as derogatory terms. They were used mainly by guys who may have been but probably weren’t queer or gay, to tease other guys who may have been but probably weren’t queer or gay, and while I don’t remember using or being fond of their use myself, I didn’t give them much thought at the time. It wasn’t until high school that I first encountered public harassment of an openly gay person. It was at summer camp (read: poli-sci nerd camp). This friendly, outgoing, smart kid named Dave who looked like a young, cute Ron Howard and wore beaded rainbow necklaces and high-fived anyone and everyone he encountered was the victim. I will never forget the moment I heard someone behind me refer to him (utterly wanton, and loudly enough for Dave and everyone around us to hear) as “that f*cking f*ggot.” Someone else spoke up and put the hater in his place before I got the chance. I don’t remember the boy who said that horrible thing, but I will never forget Dave or the look on his face when he heard it, like he’d been stabbed in the stomach, and I remember his pain being contagious. I remember the mixture of incredulity and deep sadness I felt thereafter, and wanting to throw up, and I’ve had that feeling many times since.

I spent my first year of college in another small Christian school, this time in Manhattan. I can say without hesitation that it was one of the toughest years of my life, not because of the drastic shift in location or the unfathomable academic rigor (both of which were huge challenges in their own right), but because there I met some of the cruelest human beings I’ve ever known or cared to imagine. The faculty I encountered – with some exceptions – disallowed true dialogue on any subject, and the student body – again, with some exceptions – contained a decidedly unhealthy mix of sexual predators and pompous bigots, and I didn’t escape the year unscathed by either faction. One standout memory of my year at that hideous place was meeting, for the first time, an openly “formerly gay” person. He was kind – definitely one of the exceptions to the aforementioned mix of unsavory people – and my memory of him remains clear because of two things: 1) I had never before known someone who spoke so much about his “struggle with homosexuality” and how thankful he was that God was helping him to overcome it; and 2) he was the first person I knew well who later committed suicide.

Throughout my next three years of undergrad (at a different and much more grace-filled school, thank heavens), I had a number of late-night, one-on-one conversations with dear friends, colleagues, or former students, who confided in me that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexualities. Some uttered it drunkenly without soliciting a response, and I never brought it up again unless they wanted to talk about it. Others told me very purposefully, over a drink or a breakfast, and straightforwardly asked me what I thought. Those ones made me smile. I hope they remember me smiling as they told me. Because whether their revelations took me by surprise or not, it made me happy that they trusted me and themselves enough to share something so important, and their brave openness made me proud to be their friend. There were a few of these conversations, however, in which my friends told me they were gay, or bisexual, or possibly one of the two, as if they were confessing to murdering someone. Those ones really broke my heart. I watched a few people try unsuccessfully to “cure themselves of being gay” by quickly entering into hetero relationships. And I know one or two who actually did it successfully — not “cure themselves,” per se, but stick out marriages with people who had different parts from their own. And I still love them, of course, even though I don’t really know what to say to them.

I’ve watched most of my LGBTQ friends grow into pretty happy lives, surrounded increasingly by people who love them for who they are. And, for the most part, I live in a place and within a community of people who don’t think twice about acceptance or basic decency to others, no matter what their differences. But there are exceptions. I have friends or relatives who still don’t quite feel comfortable in their own skin, and I hope at the very least to never be a contributor to their discomfort. And I have friends and relatives who haven’t learned how to understand or accept people who are different from them, and I hope at the very least to never be a contributor to their ignorance. I feel (and hopefully am) far removed from the naïve kid I was just over a decade ago, when the uneasiness I felt in hearing a homophobic slur passed quickly because I assumed it would never reach the ears of someone it could truly hurt. Those hateful words I used to brush off now cut me deep – they hurt ME, because I can’t bear to think of the hurt they caused and continue to cause to so many people I hold dear. (And yes, I have expressed this to my father, who has never since tried to change my mind on the matter or so much as made a negative comment about homosexuality in my presence.)

I am not telling you this to convince you that I’m a good person. Hell if I know if I’m a good person. I can’t see myself through the eyes of the people I’ve neglected the most. I can only see myself and the world around me through the eyes of where I’ve been and who I am and who I’ve known. I am not telling you this to make you hate Christians or to make you think that I hate Christians. Some of the kindest, most empathetic, most accepting – and heck; some of the gayest – people I know are devoted Christians. Jesus, by all accounts, is one of the kindest, most empathetic, most accepting people I know. I may have a few major qualms with the hermeneutics of it all, but I also have a huge amount of respect for the educated beliefs of others, to the extent that they do not cause willful and/or irreparable harm to anyone I love.

I am telling you this so that you have another perspective that may not be your own. Because that is what causes and has always caused me to think more deeply and to question things. I am telling you this to encourage you to maybe tell your story, to me or to someone else or to lots of people through a blog post or maybe a song or maybe a feature film that millions of people will see, all over the world.

I’m not going to pretend that I know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of my sexuality. I absolutely and incontrovertibly do not. But I’m also not going to pretend that discrimination of this sort (of any sort, but you know what I mean) doesn’t affect me, because it does. Because it affects people I love. So, what should I do? We have marriage equality here in the States now; cool. We have Caitlyn Jenner; right on. We have sporadic little pockets of urbane, commie, homo-loving sons of guns who will raise their kids to be urbane, commie, homo-loving sons of guns; excellent. Great start. Now what?

I’M ACTUALLY ASKING – NOW WHAT?

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