After reading my recent article "What It's Like to be a Gay Country Singer in Nashville," a straight friend wrote a message cautioning against pigeonholing my band's upcoming album as "gay," thusly alienating the hetero audience. She confessed that she, in fact, felt alienated.
I snarked back: "That is so unfortunate that only 99.9 percent of all entertainment ever created in the history of mankind caters specifically to your exact demographic. My music must make you feel like such an outcast." She didn't quite understand my sarcastic response.
I went on to describe how for my entire life I've had to translate most music, books and films that described heterosexual love and passion into something more aligned to myself. When Patrick Swayze lifted Baby into the air, it wasn't Jennifer Grey; after some imagination acrobatics, it was me. When George Michael asked, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could touch your body?" it was not a female figure to which he referred, but one like mine he desired. (As time revealed, that one was kind of on the money).
A mere decade ago, watching Brokeback Mountain in a mainstream, middle-American movie theatre was a strangely profound experience. Handsome movie stars portraying anything similar to my own life was, for me, uncharted territory. I was an adult male experiencing a silver screen love affair in a way my straight friend probably experienced when she was a teen. I'm living in a straight man's world. That made sense to her.
"Well what about gay pride parades?" she innocently asked. "Aren't you just separating and isolating yourselves? We don't have a straight pride parade."
This friend is truly an ally to the gay community, but like some allies, is lacking a bit of empathy in her ability to understand the struggle. My friend has overshot her acceptance of the gay community in a way that unintentionally dismisses the LGBT experience.
Of course, there's no need to assemble a "straight pride" parade because that group already has the power. There's not an overcoming of oppression in which to be proud. She wanted to understand, but didn't really. It then occurred to me there was simply no pain in her heart to ignite understanding. No adolescent memories of prayers to God, begging to be fixed. No cruel names thrown her way. No conquered identity confusion. She just sees the person I am today.
She then asked sharply: "Do you want to be equal, or do you want to be a victim?"
I never responded to that. I wasn't sure how. I don't think I live with a victim's mindset. Considering the fundamentalist Christian head games I endured as a kid, I feel like I'm pretty well-adjusted. More than well-adjusted, actually. I have forgiven my oppressors. I have forgiven the unfortunate, small-town Indiana circumstances. I have even forgiven myself.
Must I now erase my memory to be equal? I don't want to forget. The pain is a teacher that taught me to see myself and the world around me from a perspective most don't see. I look back on my own piece of the LGBT struggle with utter respect and reverence.
As gay acceptance is sweeping the country at an unprecedented rate, let it do so in a way that allows us to sing our songs without being viewed as exclusionary. Let it do so in a way that allows us to have our parades, while welcoming all who will accept us. Let it do so in a way that doesn't ask us to forget the struggle that brought us here.