Why I Stopped Being Anti-Gay: Heather Doney
Heather Doney blogs at Becoming Worldly.
I was homeschooled until my grandparents forced my parents to put my siblings and I in public school. I landed smack into the middle of 9th grade and big time culture shock. It wasn’t that my high school was some liberal bastion of anything (being in the suburban Deep South, it definitely wasn’t), it was simply that I was around a ton of people my own age for the first time in my life and most didn’t seem to care about or hardly even notice me at all. I was that unsocialized homeschool kid, the only one like me, alone in the crowd, awkward, lonely, and vulnerable.
I tried hard to adjust and at the end of sophomore year something amazing happened – I finally, for the first time in my life, made a close friend. He was smart, so we competed for who got the higher grade on assignments, and he made me laugh with his mischievous sense of humor. We lived in the same neighborhood and soon became official “best friends.” This meant that we sat by one another in every class we could where there wasn’t assigned seating, passed notes, and got together to ostensibly help each other study for tests, then mostly sat around listening to music and talking instead. He really helped my transition into public school get better and made me feel much more normal. I finally, for the first time in my life, did not feel socially alone. It was awesome.
We generally got along well except for a couple serious arguments on faith and morality. The first was after he’d convinced me to go to church with him and ended up trying to pressure me to “get saved.” The fact that I was agnostic really bothered him. “I just want you to go to Heaven, Heather,” he’d said. He’d also once told me (when unsuccessfully trying to skip an extra credit event and convince me to just sign his name to the attendance sheet) “Come on…please? You don’t believe in God, so what does lying bother you?” It was such a hurtful comment that I remember my reaction to this day. I’d started crying and explained that just because I didn’t pray didn’t mean I didn’t have a decent sense of right and wrong! I had rebelled against some things, but still kept a lot of the morals I’d been taught as a homeschooler. Lying was wrong. Cheating was wrong. Stealing was wrong. Being gay was wrong.
Looking back, I guess one reason my friend and I bonded is that we both had painful secrets. I never told him, not even once, about the patriarchal violence, supposedly based on Christian values, that I still endured at home. After all, the only thing worse than it happening was people knowing about it. Sometimes I called him up and asked to come over though, not telling him why I needed to get out of the house. During one of those hangouts late in our junior year, as we idly sat around listening to Eryka Badu, his new favorite singer, he’d said “would you be my friend no matter what?” “Yeah,” I’d responded, “Why?” “Nevermind,” he said. “I’m not ready to say yet.”
He didn’t say until the beginning of senior year. We were painting set pieces for our senior play behind the cafetorium (yes, a cafeteria/auditorium combined) and he told me he was in love with “Jay,” another high school guy. They had kissed and he felt so happy and he also hated himself, figured God would hate him, that his grandmother would hate him. I told him that I was shocked to hear this but I loved him no matter what and he was my best friend no matter what. We changed the subject to other things.
I kept my composure until I got home and then I got in the house, dropped my backpack on the stairs, sat down next to it, and bawled my eyes out. My Mom came out of the kitchen to ask me what was wrong and when I blurted out that my friend had said he was gay, the horrified look on her face made me cry even more. I felt so confused about everything. This was the same mother who, in a lecture to me once on how I was “so disobedient and disrespectful,” had said “at least you’re not a lesbian.” Like most homeschool kids, I was not raised aware of the fact that both gender and sexuality are a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, some either/or. I was instead taught it was all black and white and being gay was just a really bad choice, terrible in fact, made by messed up people. Fact is, while I’m pretty straight, I have occasionally found other girls attractive before, so at the time my Mom had made that comment, I’d felt silently guilty for that.
I was now quite heartbroken for my best friend. I cried for the “disorder” he had, the wife he’d never have, the babies that would never look like him, the unhappy, shunned life I imagined he would always lead, and then, after I was done crying, I had to think about homosexuality in a light I’d never done before, not as I’d been taught to view it, as something done by disgusting and warped people, but as the seemingly innate orientation of a loved one. It made me feel very confused and start to reconsider my beliefs.
The next day at school my friend passed me a note, a letter he’d written. It said that if I told him to stop being gay that he would, that he wanted me to tell him if I thought he should stop, convince him out of it, that because I was his best friend, I could. Now, as an adult, the answer to such a letter seems easy but back then it wasn’t. It was while writing him a response by flashlight in my bed late that night, thinking the situation and my response through for hours, that I realized that being gay was obviously not a choice, like I’d been told. It was just how he was and it was society that was hurting him, not his orientation. He would not be risking everything for this if he could help it. He found guys attractive like how I found guys attractive and he always had. I thought about the tone in his voice when he said Jay’s name and then the answer was clear. He had to be himself and he also needed to avoid emotional abuse as much as possible. I wrote him back a note saying that I loved him no matter what, that he was my best friend, and if he loved Jay and wanted to be with him, that I would keep his secret, wouldn’t say a thing, so no one would be mean to him about it.
I kept my word and was fiercely protective of him when rumors started, but another friend he confided in wasn’t. She told people he was gay. Word spread fast in our small southern high school. Suddenly social life became harder for him, and my friend, the stellar student, always put together, always chatting with everyone in the hall, started getting lower grades and seeming to hate school. I was worried about him. Being a marginally popular guy had always mattered to him and now he endured all this social judgment and it was a huge weight on him. I could see it. His boyfriend Jay had it even worse. Jay’s father found out about the relationship, called Jay a faggot, threatened to kick him out of the house, and forbid him to speak to my friend. My friend and Jay’s newfound love did not survive the stress and they were over before the senior play happened.
Soon afterwards, my best friend and I were in cap and gown, walking across the stage at graduation. Southern graduations are loud affairs, often with airhorns, whistling, and stomping involved, but it seemed like hardly anybody around me even clapped for my friend as he walked (although personally I yelled like a banshee because hey, that’s how it’s done). None of the football players, baseball players, or basketball players (and my high school was a sports-first, academics-second kind of place) wanted to be seen as being too heartily enthusiastic for a gay guy though. After all, then someone might suspect them. My friend was the exact person he had been before – smart, dedicated, competitive, good looking, fun to be around, and yet because of who he had loved he was now seen as tainted and dangerous. It was hard to watch this unfold, but I imagine it was considerably harder to endure. I can definitely see how homeschooling (in the right kind of non-fundamentalist environment) could help protect a kid from the pain of that sort of anti-gay culture.
Thankfully things have changed a lot since that graduation day in 2001 and my friend and I, who still keep in touch, have very different lives now. When they say “it gets better” I suppose that’s what they mean. I have a graduate degree and nobody has laid a hand on me since I was 17, and he has an accountant boyfriend and a good job today.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to come out as an “ally” and I actually never officially have before now, but I will say that this friendship definitely changed my perspective and I have been one ever since, just in quiet ways. After all, this friend was my ally at a key time in my life, the very first best friend I’d ever had. Once I saw the truth about how toxic and false the anti-gay worldview that I had been taught really is to people like him, I had to stop perpetuating it myself.
Shame on those parents who think that their children are an “arrow” in this “fight for traditional marriage.” Nobody, gay or straight, deserves to be another casualty in this “culture war,” and nobody deserves to be shamed or prevented from being honest about their romantic and sexual desires because it shakes up someone else’s little world of black and white thinking. Today I am proud to say that I am no longer anti-gay and I strongly feel that gay people deserve equal respect, equal love, equal opportunity, and equal honor for their love and relationships.