Friday, August 20, 2010

Let Me Out of Here Already!

Sometimes it's so frustrating not being out already. And yet coming out is scary. I don't want people to judge me or challenge me. I'm not ready for that.

I have a few friends I met through an on-line forum; it's a small community and we chat via AIM several nights a week, so even though I've never met them, I feel like we know each other fairly well.

I've been using gender-neutral pronouns to describe dating prospects or my future hopes (I'm looking for "a person" who..., "they," what I'd like in a "spouse," etc.). They know I've joined a women-only hiking club -- and that said hiking club had a singles party... at a lesbian bar. And yet only one of them knows I'm not straight -- the rest simply assume I am.

Three of them are fervent Christians -- I think non-denominational, bordering on evangelical. Kim and I got into a discussion about what the Bible says on homosexuality when she asked me what I thought about my brother being gay. I shared with her some links I'd found about what the original Hebrew and Greek actually say, and how monogamous, consensual homosexual relationships aren't actually addressed in the Bible.

This happened months ago, and I'd pretty much forgotten about it. But Kim brought it up the other night, saying that she'd looked the links over, but they hadn't changed her mind, because homosexuality's "not normal." She talked about how rare it was, as if this proved it's not normal, so I countered with "It's just as rare as being left-handed, which also used to be viewed as evil, but it turns out lefties' brains are just wired differently, and it's the same for sexuality."

She then said it's different because being gay doesn't contribute to promulgation of the human species (like being left-handed does?). I pointed out that it's present in just about every species of animal and hasn't been eliminated, so it must provide some purpose, and that not every thing that had evolved in various species contributed to reproduction.

Kim's response shocked me. "Cancer and physical deformities also happen in nature, but no one would try to say they're normal. Nature's not perfect." Wow. Just what am I supposed to say to that? I actually didn't have a chance to respond because she had to go, and neither of us has brought it up since.

I don't know what she thinks gay people should do. Marry people they're not going to really love, just to have kids? Accept that they're "mistakes" and so live singly and not reproduce so they don't pass on their "abnormality"? Honestly, I don't want to know. One part of me wanted to scream, "You're talking about me, you know." But the rest of me worried, "How will she treat me once she figures it out? Will she stop talking to me as a friend?"

It's easy to say I shouldn't care, but the fact is I do care. I don't have many friends right now, and I don't want to lose one of the few I do have. Then again, if she can't accept me for who I am, is she really a friend?

Since I made this post, I have come out to Kim; you can read about what went down here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Movie Review: Outing Riley

I'm privileged to have been on both sides of the coming-out-to-the-family scenario (or I will be once I actually come out myself). My brother came out in college. I'd had gay friends before, but it's completely different when it's someone you used to share the bathtub with.

I'll share more about his coming out in another post. However, I think having experienced both sides of the situation enabled me to have a richer appreciation for the movie Outing Riley (which I watched at Outing Riley is about a Chicago Irish Catholic man, Bobby, who decides to come out to his brothers after the death of their father.

A good part (a bit too much) of the movie is filled with Bobby trying to screw up his courage to tell his brothers, leaving the aftermath of the telling a bit rushed in places. The movie does an excellent job of portraying the dynamics of a large family and the different relationships that occur within.

The movie didn't overly saccharinize the large family as Seventh Heaven does; it really felt like I could have been watching my own family, with all its faults and squabbles but also the special closeness and in-jokes. The latter provided needed moments of levity; there were a couple of times I laughed hard enough I had to rewind to catch what I had missed. On other occasions, it felt like the jokes were trying too hard; they ventured on the sophomoric.

Outing Riley mostly avoids cliches. Bobby is the stereotypical beer-drinking, slightly overweight thirty-something Midwestern baseball fan -- more so than any of his brothers -- except he's gay. You can't have a movie about Irish Catholics without somebody having a substance abuse problem, although the brother in question seems to be mostly functioning, and it's a minor plot point.

The portrayal of priests, on the other hand, was all too typical of Hollywood. The priestly brother comes across as arrogant, preachy, and judgmental through much of the movie. And then there's a bizarre scene where another priest chastises Bobby for not blessing himself with holy water as he's leaving the church, obviously upset. Most parish priests I know have simply seen too much humanity to act as though they have all the answers. They became priests so they could serve, not to act as judges. The priests I know might have stopped Bobby, but only to ask if he was alright and needed someone to talk to. Again, though, these were minor points in the movie.

What made this movie truly remarkable to me was its portrayal of Bobby's brothers' reactions to his news. I've heard people say, "If they can't accept you when you come out, you don't need them in your life" as if acceptance is something that occurs instantaneously. But for many LGBT people, self-acceptance took years. Why should your family be able to process it in nanoseconds when you tell them that you're not who they always thought you were?

Outing Riley covers the whole gamut of emotions experienced when a family member comes out, from disbelief to anger and grief, through confusion and uncertainty, finally arriving at acceptance and celebration. Bobby's brothers are no saints; there are ugly moments, moments that made me cry, but the movie shows that love is a verb, and that as long as both sides of a relationship are willing to put in the effort, understanding can be achieved. Outing Riley ends on a note of redemption, the brothers drawn closer together. But the journey to that point feels very real.

The movie completely fails the Bechdel Test, with most female characters (the brothers' wives and even Bobby's lesbian beard) mere sketches. However, Outing Riley has one of my favorite female characters, Bobby's sister Maggie (played by the beautiful Julie Pearl), who's more pivotal to the story than any of his brothers or even his longtime boyfriend, Andy. If Maggie Riley were gay, she'd be my ideal woman. Maggie plays the role of mediator, which I often attempt in my own family, but she succeeds where I fail.

Maggie is no pushover. She is compassionate but firm in urging Bobby to come out to their brothers, and she skillfully negotiates behind people's backs to facilitate reconciliation. Despite her meddlesome ways, no one can get mad at her because she always has their best interests at heart. She's not perfect, however; her plan for finally getting Bobby to come out ends in disaster. But her warmth, exuberance, and gentle encouragement win the day.

Outing Riley showed little interaction between Bobby and Andy, which was a good thing since they seemed to have little chemistry. At points, the movie ventures on the farcical; it doesn't take itself too seriously, and you shouldn't either. The film is less about a gay man and more about his family's reactions to his coming out, and in that, I think it does an incredible job. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a comedy that will still make you think.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Those leaps are terrifying

Waiting for a ship to come, praying for strength to leap,
those leaps are terrifying; the small steps make us free.
-- "Eveline," Cathie Ryan

To me, admitting that I wasn't straight to anyone felt like jumping off a cliff high above the clouds. Once I took that step, there'd be no going back to the safety of what I had known, and I couldn't see what was below.

In college and after, I secretly hoped that some girl would figure it out without me having to do anything. In college, I wanted to kiss one of my friends, Tanya, but I certainly didn't have the guts to initiate anything, and as far as I know, she's 100% straight.

Among friends and family and on dating sites, I kept the ruse going that I was straight. But as I reached my late 20's and became increasingly dissatisfied with the men I kept trying to date, I gave myself permission to at least look at girls. Suddenly I found attractive people everywhere! And some of them, it turned out, were looking back!

For the next year or two, I was still too scared to do anything more than look (and occasionally smile). I'm an introvert, so trying to pick up somebody was unthinkable. What if they were straight and got offended? What if they knew someone I knew?

During this time, I kept reading about sexuality on the internet -- scientific studies, coming out stories, available resources, religious viewpoints, news stories, whatever I could find. I'd spend months ignoring it, then spend a whole day reading about it.

Finally, I found a support forum for women who are exploring their sexuality. It took a week to get the courage to join. "No one will know who I am. If I don't like it, I can disappear at any time." So I joined, and found that there are many women like me.

Sometimes I had wondered if I had missed the boat; most people in my generation came out in college or even high school. Was I too old? I learned from the forum that it's never too late. By seeing women struggling in marriages to men, I realized that I couldn't just date men and marry one without exploring my sexuality first. It wouldn't be fair to him, and I was not ready for a marriage to anyone until I learned to accept all parts of myself.

Some of the women had been on the forum for years, and they were still complaining about not having any experience, of not having a single lesbian or bi friend in real life. Others were in relationships with women across the world, whom they'd never even met. I realized I could continue hanging out at the top of the cliff with them, or I could start to work my way down. At least at this point, I knew I had to get down, somehow.

I still couldn't just jump. But it turns out it's not a sheer cliff, after all. There are many trails leading down, and you can pick the one that climbs down at a comfortable pace for you. This blog chronicles my journey to the land on the other side of the clouds, where I now believe I'll find a rainbow.