One died. One lived.
Both were gay.
Before you click away, this is not a post meant to change your views on homosexuality. I’m always amazed when people write in the hopes that someone’s religious or political beliefs will be swayed in one fell swoop, with a few keystrokes. No, I’m not that arrogant.
This is instead a story of people, regardless of their sexual orientation, who suffered. And if you can learn from others’ suffering, now there’s a post worth reading.
I knew Kathleen via work. She was a no-nonsense, Type A, get-down-to-business kind of gal. That’s why I contracted with her agency for creative talent. You knew Kathleen’s crew would get the job done because she would accept no less.
After a period of months, we were at her office and the meeting ran late. In walked her partner of many years. I had no idea MJ was her other half and Kathleen could have kept it quiet but instead, in a voice filled with pride, she introduced MJ as her life’s love. This was at a time when being a lesbian could mean career suicide. I felt honored that Kathleen trusted me enough to be open. And I made sure she never had reason to regret that decision.
Years later, when I had moved on to other positions in my field, Kathleen’s kindness remained. She stood by my decision to leave my career for a while to raise my kids, something many of my former colleagues thought less than wise. “You’ll never get these days back, Kristine. Grab them before they’re gone.” Her exact words. She mentored me to advocate for myself in an industry that at the time was still a man’s world. I learned a lot from her.
Her words came back to haunt me when I found out, far too late, that Kathleen had cancer. I was scheduled to pay her a visit after she was given just a few months to live. Instead, she lasted only three weeks. I never did get to pay that visit because she was unconscious in a hospital bed on the day we were to meet.
At her funeral, MJ was just as composed and gracious as ever. I finally got to meet the daughter they had bragged about for so many years and could see why. She was the product of two loving parents and her poise during such a difficult time took me aback. At a mere 13 years old, her memoriam to her mother brought the house to tears.
I thought of Kathleen because this month, a friend’s son tried to take his own life. He is a handsome boy, a talented landscaper, an accomplished musician—and gay. Guess which one pushed him over the edge? Someone decided outing him in the worst possible way was a grand way to spend a Friday night. By Sunday, he was in a hospital on suicide watch after having tried to take his own life.
So here’s why I took issue with a bumper sticker I saw while driving home today that said: “Keep marriage sacred. Keep it between a man and a woman.” You may believe that only heterosexuals have the legal right to be married. That’s your prerogative. But when you talk as if you are the authority at delineating what is sacred and what is not, that’s just plain presumptuous.
When two people decide to love each other for better or for worse, through unemployment, bad breath and obnoxious in-laws, I believe God blesses them. Man and woman, man and man, woman and woman. No matter. They’re two souls pledging a promise that’s going to be mighty hard to keep through the years ahead. That’s brave. Audacious. I know this because I have friends in all three types of marriages. And sacred doesn’t seem to be determined by the sex of your partner.
I’ve seen sacred. It’s watching a woman at the bedside of her dying partner, reassuring her daughter that her other mother loved her, even if she’s unable to say it now because she’s dying of cancer in the bed before them. It’s seeing the family picture of the three of them beaming, next to the coffin at the funeral. It’s hearing that the deceased, who was the major breadwinner, provided for her two remaining family members through insurance so they won’t go through undue hardship in the years to come. It’s watching her teenaged daughter deal with the mourners with grace, eloquence and class, just the way her mothers—both of them—taught her. If that’s not sacred, I’m not sure what is.
I’ve seen sacred in two men who support each other emotionally and financially so each can find his true calling. One is now a very successful professor and the other has found making a home his true calling. They give each other plenty of emotional love and space in which to flourish. They volunteer at hospices, are active at AIDS runs and cook a mean dinner for tired or sick friends. How is any of what I’ve just described not sacred?
Here’s what I have to say this week as I thank God my friend’s beautiful son is still alive: We get hooked on what happens in the bedroom and who it happens between. Quite frankly, who cares? If you’re not there, it’s not your business. The sanctity of a relationship has absolutely nothing to do with the sex of the partners. It has to do with the intent they bring to the union, the commitment, the kindness, the caring, the love.
Do stereotypes exist in homosexual relationships? Certainly. We’ve all seen them. But they’re as uncommon as June and Ward Cleaver are in heterosexual marriages. They’re not the norm. They’re not sacred. Not because of their sexual orientation but because they bring none of the grace and love into life that they could. Sacred means allowing the divine in. If you welcome the divine, regardless of your circumstances, It will enter. And won’t stop to check your sexual orientation at the door.
Is anyone happy to find out a loved one is homosexual? Probably not, if we’re all extremely honest. Being gay, even in the 21st century, means being hurt. You will be ostracized. You’ll have to fight to marry, in most states. And you’ll have to live with stereotypes and the resulting fallout.
Do I think posts like this one will change attitudes? Not on your life. But I know what will. When someone you love dearly, be it family or close friend, is gay. Then you see things in a new light. You see them suffer and you want it to stop. And you add your voice to the chorus of kindness and acceptance, to help drown out the chorus of hate that is all too often the loudest in a gay person’s life.