I've been called many things in my life.
Sissy. Asshole. Ugly. Faggot. Someone even asked me if I was a boy or a girl one time.
These jabs are all par for the course for an adolescent, given the world in which we live.
Sad and true, but we overcome.
One thing I never thought I'd be called, however, is a homophobe. Sort of an oxymoron, I think, considering that I'm an unabashedly homosexual guy who wouldn't trade who I am for anything. Sure, there were times when I was younger that I used to pray that I could be like the other boys; times that I would cry myself to sleep over the pain of being different without understanding why, but, as you know, with age comes wisdom -- and, now, I think it's truly a blessing that I'm gay.
You can imagine, then, that I was surprised and confused when -- in response to an article I wrote for my syndicated LGBT column "The Frivolist," about how coming out on a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas isn't a great idea -- a reader wrote a lengthy diatribe in a letter to the editor about how I was a self-loathing hater of the homos.
In my original piece, I touched on points that included how the focus of the holidays should be on togetherness, not divisiveness; how there may be few options for refuge this time of year if the coming out doesn't go well; and, how breaking the news at a festive gathering can be awkward for extended family and other guests who aren't vested (and likely prefer not to be) in immediate-family issues.
Granted, my take on this topic was perhaps a bit glass-half-empty, but not undeservedly so.
Just like the names I was called growing up, the reaction to one's coming out -- especially when a celebration is under way -- is not borne from idealism, but rather "real worldism" where the people we love are capable of being shockingly terrible and cruel. Occasionally, malignancy rears its ugly head, and those consequences should always be considered.
I wish this wasn't reality, of course, but there's a long list of untimely LGBT suicides to support my argument.
Conversely, though, that's not to say that everyone's coming out will be met with resistance and disdain. Lots of LGBT people come out to their loved ones who respond by extending open arms. I like to believe that we're all progressing toward a more humane outlook on life and treatment of others. But, we're not completely there yet (there's a long way to go, in fact), and rejection by friends and family is still all too common.
Even so, the author of the rebuttal to my piece picks apart my argument one by one -- nine times over, actually -- to provide a militant take on my personal opinion, which, strangely, is masked by a sunshine-and-rainbows approach to modern-day gay existence. He or she (the author's name is androgynous, and I don't want to get into more trouble by gender-misidentifying) suggests that I seek therapy for my "own internalized homophobia," calls the article "garbage," deems me a "self-hating homosexual man who really ought not be giving advice on coming out," and recommends that I participate in a pride march.
A lot to chew on, if I say so myself.
To provide you with a little more perspective from my point of view, it's important to note that my journalism career is deeply rooted in LGBT media, and I've received plenty of hate mail in the past.
You should have seen the influx of nasty-grams I received when I wrote a piece called "Gays: Get Out of the Military," a title that lured in both supporters and deniers of LGBT rights, and which ultimately won an Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
To be honest, I rather enjoy those emails, tweets and letters that are seething with rage. Such a passionate response to what I've written means that I've compelled the reader to react -- for better or worse -- and that's for what I'm always striving.
Nevertheless, I've never responded to any disagreeing content sent or published by my readers for one infallible reason: Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and they deserve it.
Yet, I feel obliged to reply in this instance because "homophobe" is a severe and callous accusation that isn't at all accurate in describing me. Furthermore, it's uninformed, a gross mischaracterization and, frankly, just plain ignorant to call me a homophobe for having a solid opinion that doesn't adhere to the code of queer dictators.
Oddly, though, I don't know exactly how to prove that I'm not a homophobe; that, quite oppositely, I'm very proud to be gay and embrace all that is associated with my sexual orientation.
I can tell you that I've worked pride events; I've publicly participated in equal-rights rallies; and, I've been a member of a gay kickball team. I play trivia with a group of gay men (and a few fab ladies) on a regular basis; I attend a gay men's AA meeting, and I'm currently on a gay bowling league with my face splashed across my local newspaper in support of it. I've written innumerable articles supporting all manner of LGBT topics. I repost Queerty and Gay Voices articles to social media. And, I even watch HBO's Looking, despite that I find it incredibly boring. (What can I say? -- I like the bare butts.)
Then again, I do prefer to date masculine men (which my fellow Huffington Post blogger regards as an indication that I might be a homophobe) because that's my personal preference. I tend to make heterosexual friends wherever I go because they're more abundant, and I don't want to live in a glittery bubble (I have lots of gay friends too, though). I thoroughly enjoy non-gay bars and establishments (that's not to say I don't support LGBT-owned-and-operated businesses -- I do, frequently -- but, let's face it, the eye candy is tastier at a Buffalo Wild Wings than at a Hamburger Mary's). I don't mind when bachelorette parties come into our bars. And, I generally think that some LGBT people should put down the pitchforks and torches and get over themselves already. Because it's not a good look, hun-ty.
In light of everything then, do any of these unrepentant revelations make me a homophobe or not a homophobe? I don't necessarily think so. Because, if you want it straight, the only thing that has any validity in absolving me from the homophobe misnomer slapped on me by one over-reaching reader is me saying that I'm not a homophobe. I'm not apologetic for who I am, but I'm also not afraid of who I am as a successful, self-loving gay man.
Take it or leave it; that's your decision.
I like who I see in the mirror. I sleep perfectly well at night.
And that's all the validation I need.