First appeared in Integrity Forum 2.5 (March 1976)
© 1976 by Integrity Forum; © 2004 by Louie Crew
Embarrassment threatens to paralyze vast portions of the Gay community. Each person fears that the next will behave in some vaguely defined but clearly unseemly way. Too many of us are like the young hero in the antediluvian play "Tea and Sympathy" when his roommate suggested that perhaps there really was something wrong about the way he walked, something suggestive of being different. The character struggling so desperately hard not to be Gay complained that he'd wondered the same thing about himself, but that to ask the question of how one walks is to paralyze one's movement altogether. Ask the centipede, and watch him stall.
Early Christians experienced the same threat. Almost half of the New Testament references to being "ashamed" are cautions NOT to be. The writer of 2 Timothy cautioned: "Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God .... I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed .... May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me." Likewise, St. Peter said, "If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God." Christ too warned: "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed." Being ashamed of a sister or brother may be itself what is shameful.
An Episcopal female leader told me confidentially recently, "Our Church can accept almost anything except bad manners." I hope she is wrong, lest we have come so close only to miss the joy of heaven. Catholic must mean indiscriminate, yet I often get the uneasy feeling that in our Church we mean catholic only metaphorically, only after persons have been deodorized, leaving "the great unwashed" to Rome or the evangelicals.
For years now I have allowed as one of about 20 topics for the final essay in first-year composition, "Jesus had B.O." Rarely is it elected, but I have never read a bad essay on the subject.
In Gay terms, embarrassment always registers the way in which we as Gays have internalized the hostile judgments of our oppressors. We reward ourselves when we can say, "I am Gay, but ...." rather than when we say "I am Gay and ...." It is as if the mundane realities we fill in our blanks are the source of our life rather than we the life-giver to the mundane realities we indulge.
One of my handsome students once wrote, "I have a flat nose, but an attractive face." The sentence shot out at me from the composition where it was buried. "I thought you believed your cliche 'Black is beautiful,' and here I find you apologizing for your gorgeous African flared nostrils!" I said. "Where did I do that?!" he replied. "Compare," I said, "'I have a flat nose and an attractive face' or, better still, 'I have flared African nostrils which make my face attractive."'
To be ashamed of another who is a member of our tribe is tantamount to believing that we are a monolithic group, or ought to be. Thereby we deny the pluralism of the world's most integrated minority, as should be perspicuous to even the most insensitive Gay person. We say that we attack the alien style: I suspect that we merely coverup the real fear, that of being either discovered or placed in "too narrow a niche" by others viewing the scene, as was St. Peter before the cock had thrice crowed. Sometimes the mobility to leave the fold, which we always retain, can be self-alienating rather than liberating.
Our oppressor has also programmed us to be afraid of uppity sisters and brothers. A priest who has one of the largest Gay congregations in the world wrote me confidentially recently: "My own feeling, as you would guess, is leave well enough alone. There is no trouble being made, and I expect none so long as there is no pushing for recognition." That's as articulately as anyone I know has ever been able to say, "I know how to stay in my place." Of course, the price is rather high, considering the darkness of millions of sisters and brothers who do not know, as this priest does, that God loves all unconditionally. Add to that the price of our suicide rates, our mental health bill in preserving this quiet place for a few safe Gays, et al.
I have not yet met a Gay leader who has not been preceded by debilitating rumors. "She's too pushy." "He's not very diplomatic." "He makes public spectacles." "She's not as smart as she ought to be." "He's a bit floozy or effeminate." "She's too closety." ..... We really don't need nonGay oppressors: we do the task well enough ourselves. A familiar way of avoiding repentance is, after making the insults then patronizingly to add, "Well, my world is big enough for you; is your world big enough for me?" Of course the world is big enough. The question is whether we can behave towards our co-inhabitors as towards Children of God.
In the Gospel account of "The Good Queer" we learn that Goodness is defined by neighborly, caring conduct. There the outsider nonconformist was the highly disrespectable Samaritan who took the Jew in distress and bound up his wounds and placed him safely in an inn. It is not enough to be Samaritan or Queer. Who proved to be neighborly? "The one who showed mercy .... Go and do likewise."
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