This is a guest blog by Joni Bosch, religious education teacher, and longtime LGBT ally.
I took a human sexuality class in college. The last day of class, the professor gave us a scenario. The world was going to come to an end in one hour. What were we going to do? A few of us started by saying we were going to contact loved ones or go someplace beautiful. The professor said, no, the doors were locked and we were stuck with each other.
What followed was both weirdly powerful and somewhat scary. It was the kind of thing you almost want to forget later, but wish you could do all the time. We started to take off our masks.
One person whom I envied because of her apparent self-confidence and self-possession was hitting a couch cushion in tears. I know I shared insecurities with others—including some around whom I felt insignificant. The masks were off, and we connected at a level we had never connected at before. So very powerful. So very scary. So very vulnerable.
Someone once said that opinions that are based in emotion need to be changed with something other than logic. I certainly found that to be true that day in class—and in a few subsequent church retreats as well—there was change but it was not through logical reasoning. The raw honesty reached the emotional core and had a profound impact.
I suspect that so much of the angst related to sexuality is related to similar life masks, and there is vulnerability in removing them.
My first experience with homosexuality was also back in college where people were whispering about a couple of classmates reportedly caught kissing each other. Out of my comfort zone and beyond my experience to that point, my thoughts were pretty much “ick”, ignorance in play.
When I got into grad school, I actually met some people who were gay. Oddly (to me), they were pretty normal too. One woman became a close friend. She was able to take her mask off to me. She was able to share the pain of not being able to share the pain. I joked once with her that she was really a closet straight and hid Playgirl under her mattress. Apparently I was the only person she felt close enough to be able to joke with like that. How lonely that must have been.
There were a couple other gay women in my class as well (and I believe they are still a couple). Somehow in one master’s level nursing class we got into the topic of homosexuality. Here both the advantage and disadvantage of the masks became clear. This was in about 1984—not a good time for tolerance. The discussion turned ugly. Really ugly. During a break in class I walked into the restroom and one of the women was in there sobbing her heart out. This was not a weak woman either. She was strong. Her partner walked in and I barred the door and made everyone else go, no matter how grumbly, to another restroom.
There are risks to removing masks, especially for those who are gay. These risks are not only the emotional vulnerability, but legal, physical, work and home related ramifications as well. Although I have no personal experience in this particular mask, it is clearly a hard one to remove.
Unfortunately, in order for those of us who are straight to understand your path, we need you who are gay to have the courage we will never have to muster ourselves, and take your masks off. We need to see that you are no different than those of us who are straight. I wish we had the foresight to see past the masks on our own, but many of us in the straight world can’t, or won’t.
I needed to see that my friend was a nurse and liked racquetball just like me. I needed to see that my friend, Rob Watson of evolequals, had the same trials and tribulations in his marriage and with his children that I had in mine.
I confess, I needed to make those connections on an emotional level. I understood intellectually about equality, but I suspect even for me, that it is these emotional connections that made a difference. Logic played only a minimal role.
It’s not fair to have to ask you to unilaterally remove the mask. I know that. However, I think it is thanks to people like Rob and my friend Carla, who were willing to risk removing their masks, that tolerance is finally making inroads. I have been working to get others to look beyond masks ever since, including their own masks of bigotry and apathy.
My thanks for helping me lose a prejudice.
Please like the evoL= Facebook page here.
Follow us on Twitter @ JandJDad