Brent Bailey, the wonderful guy who writes the wonderful blog Odd Man Out, recently posted three heartwarming examples of how his friends “got it right,” specific stories of being treated so correctly that they stuck with him. He then asked a few of us to post something similar, and seeing as how I love what he writes I pretty much had to do it.
What happened: A large group of my guy friends had planned an international (ok, we were just going to Canada) camping trip that would take us to a remote island for a week. A friend and I needed to wait an extra day because I’m an idiot and left my passport at home 2500 miles away and it had to be Fed-Exed to me. As my friend (this friend) and I talked, I commented on how bummed I was that my accountability partner/one-of-my-absolutely-closest-friends flew home and wouldn’t be able to come to Canada with us. (I mean, come on, Canada has toffee and jell-o-in-a-cup and vast expanses of wastelandic nothingness, how coud he say no?!) The friend I was with, who knew I was gay, interrupted me and said, “Hey, you know he loves you a ton, right?” “I mean, yea, I know that.” “No, but listen. Before he left he told me to make sure to look out for you, and to be aware that when the guys decide to strip naked and jump over the fire or something I should go over and just talk to you. He made me promise to be there for you. Which is stupid because I was going to do that anyway!”
How he got it right: They both were winners in my book, but I want to focus on the guy who had to go home. At that time of my life I struggled immensely to know if he really cared or not. He was the first friend I told I was gay in person and had been with me through the whole, slow, agonizing process of coming to grips with my sexuality, and therefore bore much (too much) of the weight of my anxiety. This small revelation made me feel overwhelmingly seen and loved in a relationship often punctuated by uncertainty and tortured invisibility. His comment showed that he took our relationship seriously, that he was thinking and learning and growing with me. We ended up not going camping anyway because of a certain, now-notorious, explosive incident that required a trip to the ER and some minor surgery, but the excitement of being known, of being carried in the hearts and minds of my friends even when we weren’t in the room together was a gift I haven’t forgotten.
2. Pillow Talk
What happened: My freshman year of college, while I was still deep enough in the closet to have one foot in Narnia, I went to a friend’s house for Easter. I instantly noticed there were no sleeping bags laid out in his room, and sure enough when night-time rolled around he simply asked if I wanted the left or right side of the bed. I tentatively chose the left side, unsure if there were, you know, rules to this or something. He slept with his arm draped across my chest, which was nice and not awkward but made it rather tricky when I woke up and needed to go to the bathroom really bad. Four years and an email saying I’m attracted to men later, I’m crashing at his apartment for a few nights. Still no sleeping bags. Left side. Arm across my chest as we talk late into the night.
How he got it right: He’s always been a deeply affectionate friend, and I had no doubt he would still love me, but there’s this lurking fear that once straight guys know you are gay they’ll shy away from physical affection or closeness. Yet he displayed the same warmth and intimacy as before with the ease of someone who wouldn’t even have considered the possibility of treating me any differently in that regard. Having a friend like him is just one more nail in the coffin of my anxiety and fear.
What happened: I’ve mentioned this before, but at a recent wedding reception I was sitting next to a very dear friend who, during a lull in our conversation, asked if I was often attracted to people of different ethnicities. It was the first time anyone who knew I was gay had asked me for specifics about what I found beautiful, who talked about attraction in a way that included me and my experiences. The conversation shifted from that topic to others with ease, helped by a steady flow of sparkling apple cider, sometimes touching on my sexuality, sometimes not. Eventually we wound up talking about Harry Potter or something (as we always do), and that was that.
How she got it right: She treated the fact of my homosexuality like any other part of my experience and allowed me the privilege of being able to, finally, talk about my attractions concretely without having to lie (the answer, by the way, is yes, far more often than being attracted to people of my own ethnicity). Coming off of a summer in which my sexuality dominated my daily life and was a perpetual source of debate, she gave me a much needed reminder that my same-sex attraction could come and go in a conversation without shoving everything off center stage. It was a small thing, but it felt like a spell was lifted and I could finally see myself without the cursed distortion of being controversial.
So those are just a few – I have many, many more examples just as life-giving. If you’ve experienced anything like this, please tell us the story! Lord knows we could always use a bit more encouragement in our days.