Years later, as he recounted the story to me, I saw what happened that day in a completely different light.
Andrew and I were grad school classmates, part of a small group of executives earning our Masters at a prestigious university. We had two difficult years ahead of us. From negotiation to leadership, onerously long term papers to scathing speech critiques, fate or Providence had made us compadres.
I had fallen in with Andrew a couple months into school, along with a few other kindred spirits. He and I rode the train to Evanston, Illinois from the city on Fridays and Saturdays. We walked and talked on our way to campus, braving below zero temps and more than one wicked thunderstorm.
Andrew had been with his partner for years. I didn’t think twice about it. Homophobia has never been among my many faults. It was 1995. Ellen DeGeneres had yet to come out. Recognized gay marriage was years away. The United States was not yet really facing the issue of gay rights head on.
Remember the times–Scott Amedure, a gay man, was shot to death by a straight man after Amedure revealed a secret crush on him during a taping of The Jenny Jones Show. Commissioners in Hillsborough County, Florida were busy repealing the county’s gay rights law.
Being gay, even in a big city like Chicago, could hurt you.
The woman who owned the editorial agency I used was a lesbian. She had a long-term partner and a daughter. And I kept my mouth shut about her sexual orientation, lest it hurt her status with the Old Boys Club at the company I worked for. I made merry with her and her family at the holiday party. We exchanged gifts each year. And I kept her secret.
Crazy, eh? That it had to be a secret. But her livelihood depended on it.
I knew Andrew was gay and it really did not matter to me. Gay or straight, short or tall—I could have cared less. I would have protested had he lacked a sense of humor or a knack for the written word, perhaps if he had fallen behind on projects. But what went on his bedroom? I cared as little about that as I did about anyone else’s bedroom antics.
Andrew came out to the class a few months into school. I did not realize he was going to do this, nor did I realize he had sported sweaty palms all morning. As he brought mention of his partner into an oral response, I was looking right at him—which is generally what I do when someone has the floor. He locked eyes with me for the full five minutes he spoke, not looking elsewhere for even a second. While I thought it odd he did not break the stare, I did what I usually do—I held a steady gaze. I smiled at him, nodded. The usual normal bits.
It is probably a sign of my 20-something naiveté that I did not understand how momentous this was for him. He was laying himself on the line with people who could make or break his grad school experience–and his career–for the next 20+ months and beyond.
Years later, he told me he could not have come out like that without knowing I was right there. Without feeling my friendship, my lack of judgement, my support. He said if I had broken his gaze, he would have stumbled. He got strength from the connection.
I was brought to tears when he told me that. I had no clue at the time, or immediately thereafter. As I look back, I realize what a huge risk it was for him. There were a few conservative types in our class who could easily have shunned him. They did not–whether because they had open hearts or because the rest of us made clear that shunning was not an option I’ll never know. But, I’m glad Andrew was just Andrew for our two years together. No label was attached other than that. And when he met my very reserved mother at my wedding, and proudly introduced his partner, I could not have been more proud of her. She had heard me speak of Andrew many times and knew his friendship was something I valued. She took his hand, smiled genuinely, and said, “I am so glad I finally get to meet you, Andrew. Kris has such high regard for you.” For a woman in her seventies, I thought that was just about perfect.
I recently came across the blog of someone who had been complimentary of mine some time ago. When I read her blog for the first time, my mouth dropped open. In it, amongst the copious misspellings, was the main thrust of her story—encouraging her readers to boycott clothing designers who are gay. Why? Because God counts being gay as a sin, she said. And then she went on, McCarthy-style, listing names of gay designers that no “good” Christian should buy from.
My first thought: “Really? Are we still here? In this ugly, unenlightened place?” My second: “How do I address this?” I felt inadequate to address it, as I don’t believe we change each other’s views with a war of words.
And then, I thought of Andrew—and it hit me. My steady gaze. Don’t back away. Don’t be hateful. Just do what you do.
I responded to her blog thus: “Oh my. I do not believe we share a Christ. Mine preaches unconditional love.”
I left it at that. Because sometimes, all we have to do is hold that steady gaze.
I don’t plan on wavering.
53 Comments Add yours
I’m new to WordPress and you’re the first person I’ve followed. I grew up in a conservative, Christian home where I realized how conditional love was when I came out to my parents. I came out over 10 years ago and I am still dealing with acceptance from family and friends. Thank you for being there for your friend, whether you knew you were being a rock or not. It’s the good people who act so supportive without even knowing it. ❤
There are plenty of us “good people” how out here! I hope you have some of them to rely on for support. Always amazes me when those who consider themselves most Christlike judge in a way that is the least like Christ.
I was in a church one day when one of the people around me said something similar about homosexuality, about how Christ meant for man and woman to be together.
I couldn’t say anything to that, I was beyond shocked
And in God’s house, no less. How the Divine puts up with us, I do not know.
I guess they don’t
What a perfect, perfect response, Kay. Thank you for making it. In a world as tough as ours, I’ll never understand the need to set ourselves apart or think ourselves better than those inferior others. We need each other too much.
Thank you! We do need each other too much . . .
LOVE this piece! As a mom of a gay child, and as conservative as I am, I am always taken aback by the venom that people spew. I too have a Christ of unconditional love, my child, or not….thank you. THANK YOU for holding that gaze and “daring” to stand your ground! For Andrew, for my son, for ALL who are “different” albeit gay or straight, tall or short, believe or atheist, red or blue, striped or spotted. We all receive and bring GIFTS into this world and Kris, you are a gift!
And thank you for the insight you shared. I cannot imagine having a child who is different in a world where different can be such a struggle. I am sure it is hard on both ends. Kudos to you for supporting him. I know there are plenty more like us out there. We just have to stand our ground.
That was about as perfect a response as you could have generated considering the emotions that were probably running through you. Some people aren’t worth the wasted DNA. Good for you, Kay.
Thanks, George. You’re right–I’m not sure any response would really have an impact. Which is sad.
Kristine, You did the right thing. I don’t understand anyone who cares what someone does in the privacy of their home. As for gay designers? Aren’t the vast majority gay? That’s why the fashion industry is so fun and creative! It boggles the mind.
I have to admit, when I was done being horrified, I chuckled. I mean–try to find a fashion designer that isn’t gay:). Heterosexuals are the minority in that industry. She may have to go naked if she is looking to blackball . . .
Powerful, I absolutely love your narratives. Good to know we share the same Christ!
Thank you for the kind words! And I’m glad we share Christ. It’s always amazing to me how humans seem to take him captive and shape him for their own purposes.
And Jesus wept… In these times we live in I’m inclined to think that he weeps torrentially.
I like to hope instead that he whispers in our ear so we can be his hands here on earth.
Such a great article! You and Andrew are amazing people! So glad, I found you guys years ago!
The feeling is more than mutual, friend:).
Thank you, sis:)
Glad to see you standing up for what’s right – I wouldn’t expect any less from you. It’s amazing how much things have changed in a relatively short period of time, but also how little some people have changed.
I hear you! I see the great strides we have made and then I read a blog like the one I mentioned, and I think-but this still exists. I hope it’s two steps forward and only one back.
It means everything to me that you were a rock for your friend. Quite frankly, I’m not surprised you were. Because you are beautiful through and through. Thank you for sharing this. xoxo
Thank you, friend. At the time, I did not realize that I was being a rock. Isn’t that strange? But I’m so glad that he was able to draw strength from my support. I guess wisdom really does come with age :-).
This is such a beautiful, powerful post. I am uplifted and inspired at a time when so much around me seems out of control and terrible. I too will try to hold my gaze.
I hope the out of control and terrible fade as you hold a steady gaze on someone or something beautiful :-). Sending you good thoughts.
Great story, and heartwarming. In some respects, such as this, parts of our world are moving in the right direction. It’s the haters and bigots that are now isolated. A positive forward step in otherwise worrying times. Thanks for this Kristine.
I certainly like to believe so, Roy. Here’s to basic decency.
I abhor the unchristian attitude you describe. Isis destroy in the name of… bigots and homophobic disgraceful beings, to name but a few, do so under the cover of some god or religious belief.
We can’t change such despicable acts, but l refuse to tollerate any such speak in my presence… I don’t waver, or raise my voice. I too hold the gaze as if by telepathy they know. A superbly constructed post full of humanity, thank you .
There is such a quiet strength in seeing someone for who they are and honoring it. Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad I’m in good company as we stand for those we love.
“Like” is not good enough for this post. I love it. And yes, it brought me to tears too. Beautifully expressed. I have many gay and lesbian friends, some of them among my closest (those we consider “family”) and I treasure them as individuals who bring much to my life, as do my straight friends. Holding the gaze with you, and not wavering.
I love the power that seeing someone clearly and loving them fully has. I’m glad this post touched you. And glad we stand together.
Powerful, unconditional and beautiful Kristine . Are we still there? Yes I do believe some are. My divine gay cousin who died in May this year at 33yrs, had more love and spunk in him than most people I have ever met. I’m not wavering either 💕
Then we will not waver together :-). I couldn’t be in better company.
Ah, the breath of unconditional…well said Kristine 🙂
All judgement is based on fear…our fear. Once realised it no longer matters, we ‘see’ the truth of anothers journey because of our own journey, wish them the best, even help where we can…and let them live their lives as they wish, regardless.
That is unconditional 😀
Let’s hope it’s contagious, Mark :-). I am wise enough now to know there is still a lot of conditional out there.
Conditional has great purpose Kristine…it is the one thing that shows us where unconditional is 😀
Oh, this is such an excellently crafted post — as is all your other posts — and such a powerful message — again, as with all your other posts! 🙂 Thank you for sharing this. ❤
Much Love & Brightest Blessings to you! ❤ 🙂 ❤
Thank you! Truly. Those are kind words and mean a lot.
You’re most welcome! 🙂
Exactly right. Why do people care who others love? I will never understand that.
Me neither. But I guess we don’t have to understand it to be part of changing it :-).
So many times I have come to your blog for a breath of fresh air. I am never disappointed but this post brings tears of joy and gratitude to this sexagenarian lesbian. They are not tears for or about me but about and for generations to come. Blog posts like this allow people to catch their breath, to feel safe sometimes, and maybe even renew their resolve. This is the kind of post that changes lives so yes, tears of joy and gratitude.
Oh Karen, your words now bring me to tears. I am so glad that this post touched you. And if it gives anyone a safe place to “sit” for a few moments, then all the better. Thank you for your bravery in just being who you are. That takes a lot of courage and is really what will spur the world to change.
Simply brilliant!! How do you do that? Just hold that steady gaze and do what you do. Yes. This.
That message has been thick lately for myself and so many others. I love how you crafted it.
Thank you! I know there are countless other steady gazes out there.
One of your bravest – and best- posts. Reading this gives me renewed strength. Thank you.
Oh, I’m glad. Glad it struck a chord. Wishing you a happy and peaceful holiday season.