12/19/2011 06:35 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Straight Closet

"You don't understand, Alex, and it's really hard to explain."

Ed stood only feet from me, his eyes squinting in the hot sun and his feet shuffling on the ground. His head was pointed straight up toward the heavens. We only had a couple of minutes between classes, and a huge conversation started up between us. I wasn't exactly sure how to approach this. After all, Ed was a devout Christian, not to mention a student.

I puffed away on my cigarette, playing Beat the Clock with each drag.

"Well," I said, trying to choose my words carefully, "I don't know that you need to explain it to me, Ed. It's yours, and it belongs to you. I don't need to understand it. But that's not really the issue, is it?"

Ed stepped back a few inches from me and smiled. He wasn't a student of mine, but we knew each other from the university and had spoken several times as we passed each other, racing like maniacs down various hallways, speeding to whatever class was next.

"God just doesn't approve," he said under his breath.

And there it was. It was that simple. It was that clear to him. It was that plain. There's really nothing you can do when that particular piece of text comes up. The discussion comes to an abrupt halt at that point. Everything ceases. You can't argue with God.

"OK, I get that," I said, remaining as calm as I could. "But again, that's not really the issue," I repeated.

"That is the issue, Alex. It's the only issue."

"Well, let's look at this way: God doesn't approve of my marriage to another woman. OK. That's OK. But what I'm talking about has nothing to do with being gay. What I'm talking about has to do with being an American. Doesn't God talk about treating other people the way you'd like to be treated?"


"You don't have to approve of us, Ed. You don't even have to like us. But you do have to live with us. Look, I understand you have a path you need to follow. And I also understand that you believe something very deep, and very true, and I respect that. But you also have to remember that I'm not fighting for approval. I'm fighting for equality. I don't want what you have; I want what I deserve. I live in America, Ed, and in America two people who want to share their lives together, both spiritually and economically, can do that. So that's what I've done. It doesn't matter if you like it; you don't have to. No one wants you to. The only thing that matters is that it's legal. And I don't think God gives a hoot about what your neighbors do when they're front door is closed. Now, whether you care, that's another story. But that, to me, sounds like you're taking on a role that might take more energy than you're willing to give. I mean, if you're going to run around attempting to save all the sinners in all the places that need saving, you're not going to have much time left for anything else. That's pretty much a full-time job. I'd say, take all that glory, and all that power, and all that beauty, and put it into your own community. There must be people who need you who are closer to your own house. You don't have to search quite so long and quite so hard trying to change things that are working just fine for other people. My love for my wife doesn't need to be fixed. It's working just fine."

Ed looked down at his feet and smiled. Ed and I got along really well, and we had had several conversations about what it means to be gay, what it means to be transgender, and what it means to be a Christian. Ed is 19 years old and is entitled to pray to whomever he wants, and I've told him so, many times. I don't believe I have the right to preach to anyone I wouldn't want preaching to me. So I don't. And I haven't. Not with Ed, anyway.

We spoke for another couple of minutes, and I certainly didn't change his mind in the span of a six-and-a-half-minute conversation, but as we left, he hugged me and told me he'd seriously think about what I'd said to him. I don't know if that's actually going to happen, but I do know that being at this university, teaching here, and being around this particular generation is doing something. I don't think it's doing any more or any less than any other person, but I feel the eyes on me. When I walk into a class, when I'm running down the halls, when I'm in a meeting with my office door open, I can feel the eyes on me. There've been times when I've shown up at performances and had groups of students lean in to each other, gesture toward me, and, as soon as I see them, jump as if someone had put toads in their socks. It's not about negativity or judgment; this isn't people judging me or treating me as though I were locked in some transgender zoo, with all the people trying to photograph their kids next to the transgender zebra. It's not that. In fact, it's just the opposite.

There's something very different about this generation. These are people who grew up with gay, lesbian, and transgender people. We aren't odd; we're fabulous. We're interesting. We're cool. I find it incredibly ironic that the last time I was in a school of any kind, I was a walking trailer for the movie Carrie. And now the whispers are different. The text has changed. And what I've found is that it isn't the students who are bothered; it isn't the students who seem angry, or vengeful, or out for blood.

It's their parents.

I'm still fighting the same people; they're just old people.

And so when I find people around my own age (I'll be 50 years old in March) who are not only speaking their truth from a giving and loving place but are actually heterosexual, I want to shout it from the rooftops. And so I bring you Diedra Edwards, who's a great actress and a great friend, and who makes a great matzah ball soup:

There's something beautiful about our own people coming together, putting the in-fighting aside for five seconds, and rallying around each other with grace and kindness. That's gorgeous. It's difficult enough to get all the gays in one room and not have to worry about who's got the most fabulous Gucci bag, but for us all to agree and for us all to speak with one voice, that's a miracle. The one thing we don't need right now is more gay people talking about how great it is to be gay. Gay people know that. Gay people like to be gay; that's why we're gay. Even the people who hate us know that. What we need is the average couple down the street, the ones you see at the store and go to movies with and pray with and barbecue with and run errands with and babysit with and play golf with and give raises to and go on vacation with. We need those people to start speaking.

We need those people to rise up and stop being so silent and complaining to their gay friends and sympathizing and pretending everything's going to be all right because there's enough of us fighting the fight, and making a big deal out of something right now would take way too much time and money, so better to leave it to the gays. We need these voices who claim to be our friends to actually stick up for us. If they're our friends, then they need to start acting like our friends. When my friends are bullied, ridiculed, hurt, slapped, screamed at, denied, chastised, or punished, I stand up. I say something. I run out into the middle of the street, and I put a stop to it the best way I can. I don't wait from someone else to come along and sign a petition. Friends protect each other in public. That's what makes them friends.

So I say to you straight friends: enough already. Come out of the damn closet.

And those voices, the ones that are seen as normal and middle-of-the-road and average American, those are the ones that will continue to change this generation. Those are the voices that will allow kids to be Christian and not have to worry about what happens next door, because in the long run, it has nothing to do with them. They'll raise this generation up to use their hearts as well as their heads, and teach them that being a young Christian means brotherhood, not exile. And as that continues to happen, as those people move forward and get louder and angrier and get moving, this generation will, too.

And all the Eds all over the world might go home actually thinking about the transgender teacher lady they met having a smoke between classes, and the fact that her wife of 15 years is waiting with dinner for her, and a little pissed off because her meatloaf was overdone, just like every other married couple he knows.

Because we are just like every other married couple he knows.