I recently broke up with my oldest sister on Facebook.
You have to understand my sister. She is a right wing, dyed-in-the-wool, Bible-believing fundamentalist Christian Republican. She believes, as she has stated on my Facebook threads, that if President Barack Obama is reelected, he will no longer be a "secret" Kenyan-born Muslim, but instead will reveal his true Muslim identity and force all American women to wear burqas. She also believes he is a socialist, fascist, communist who will lead the government to take over all facets of American life, suspend the Constitution and force us all to eat broccoli and exercise at least 30 minutes a day whether we want to or not. OK, perhaps those last two are a stretch, but she has said that the government can't tell her what to eat.
I always dread the notification that she has replied to one of my posts. It's the same feeling I get when I have to go to family functions and deal with her face-to-face -- a sense of overwhelming doom that I will be pummeled unmercifully with "facts" from FOX News. I was raised a polite Southerner, which keeps me from walking out of the room when all this starts. My partner, who is not a native Southerner, has no compunction about evacuating the room when my sister starts in on the crazy.
A kind therapist of mine suggested that I set boundaries with my sister, telling her that I preferred not to talk about political or religious subjects with her, which really just leaves the weather as a hot topic.
"That won't make her stop," I sighed.
"Then you can walk out of the room without being rude," my therapist said, "because she's the one rudely ignoring your boundary."
Again, I sighed, but on Facebook that fateful day, it all clicked into place. She had been posting her usual nonsense on a political post and I politely (as politely as you can on Facebook) asked her to unsubscribe from my feeds and stop posting on my status updates and links. If she didn't, I firmly told her, I would unfriend her, which is the Facebook equivalent of walking out of the room.
She sent me a long, personal message expressing her hurt feelings and accusing me of hating her. She would, however, comply with my request.
Then she dropped the bomb.
She accused me of having a "myopic view/obsession" about being gay. There it was, the crux of the problem in our relationship. She has no idea why it is so important to me to constantly talk about being gay, to constantly talk about marriage and other rights denied to gays and lesbians. Because in her view, being gay is not "something God endorses."
Suddenly, I completely understood her "side" of the argument against gays and lesbians -- and it comes from an equally, if not more, "myopic view/obsession" with being straight and/or a deeply conservative Christian.
In my reply to her, I tried to spell it out as clearly as I could: I am not "obsessed" with my sexual orientation by choice -- any more than I actually chose my orientation in the first place. Every single gay or lesbian person who is concerned with any part of their lives is forced by society and the church to be "obsessed" with their sexual orientation.
I would love to live in a world where my sexual orientation did not matter. I would love it if society and the church never thought to ask, or shrugged and moved on when they found out. But I don't live in that world. I live in a world where, no matter how many years my partner and I live together, and no matter how many legal documents we compile between us, we will always be strangers under the law.
We may have wills, body disposition papers and other documents stating what we want done with our property, bodies and other worldly possessions, but all of those are up for grabs when family members smell money. Those legal documents don't stand a chance in a homophobic court system, especially here in the South, so don't tell me I can cobble together enough ad hoc legal protection to mimic marriage rights. It's impossible.
Society also won't let me forget about my sexual orientation when I go to work. In right-to-work states, I can be fired from my job just for being a lesbian -- or even being suspected of being one. More forward thinking companies are actually offering health benefits to same-sex partners, but we're taxed heavily on this "benefit," thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits federal recognition of even legal same-sex marriages.
Society won't turn a blind eye to my sexual orientation in other legal matters like hospital or jail visitation rights with my partner, especially if "real" family members object and even if I have a medical power of attorney. Again, we're strangers under the law, no matter how many years you're together or how many documents you produce to swear what your intentions are toward one another.
If we wander on over to the church building, we find, once again, it is the institution that refuses to ignore my sexual orientation -- and in some cases, my gender. There are many churches that, based on their view of Scripture, would refuse to have me for a member, let alone a deacon, board member, elder or, heaven forbid, the pastor. Many mainline churches have stepped up in the past few years and embraced openly gay and lesbian members, leaders and clergy -- but that's only because our community has been successful in its "obsession" about moving the church forward.
But I get my sister's blindness on this issue. Her life doesn't have to revolve around her sexual orientation because society has accepted her lifestyle as "the norm." She doesn't have to think about "coming out" at work or paying steep taxes to get on her spouse's medical insurance, or who may take away her right to make those heart wrenching decisions when a spouse is sick or incarcerated.
She doesn't have to worry about which church will condemn her for simply walking in the front door. She doesn't have to do her homework on churches in her community and find one that will accept her. All she has to do is see "Southern Baptist" or some other mainline denomination's marquee and she can walk in the door without fear of being a theological outcast.
In short, her "obsession" with being normal blinds her to the very real truth about how minorities are treated by the church and society she swims unconsciously in every single day. She has the luxury of telling people like me to sit down, shut up and get over it. If I just stopped being gay, she reasons, I'd have all the same rights she has, so she can't understand where her little sister has gone -- choosing this life of obsession over sexual orientation instead of the normal life that church and society offers everyone.
I get it. She, along with many other heterosexuals, believe that gays and lesbians can change, so the laws don't need to. But that doesn't make her right. It simply makes her like Pat Robertson, who just told gays and lesbians to "shut up" until they can get together and make a baby. If that's not being obsessed with your sexual orientation, I don't know what is. People who can make babies together are normal, people who can't aren't and they need to just shut up. (Wonder if that means infertile heterosexual couples, too?)
Well, we won't shut up. Their protests simply mean there's more education for the LGBT community to do around the reality of our lives. But we also have to realize that there will always be people like my sister who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, will continue to believe gays and lesbians are simply obsessed with their sexuality, and refuse to see it is really the heterosexual community who is obsessed with our sexuality. They will never sit down and shut up -- and neither will we.
Follow Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revtheodyke