Forgiveness is a strange beast. There are plenty of people who will offend you, disappoint you, let you down. Then at a certain point, you are supposed to forgive them. When and how are the tricky parts. This weekend, something happened that made me ponder the idea of forgiveness.
This time last year, I posted a video on Facebook about a brave young boy who spoke in front of a school board in Michigan. I posted the video for obvious reasons including the fact that I, too, am gay.
Just before I left work to go hang out with my girlfriend at the time, a cousin of mine who lives in Michigan commented on my link. I won’t go into specifics but if you are friends with me on Facebook, you can read the post. My cousin’s points were simple: being gay is a sin and being gay is a choice. He articulated his point in some infuriating ways, including comparing homosexuality to bank robbers and murderers.
Needless to say, things got heated. Being around Christmas, my family was in town and heard about it. My mom, aunt, grandma and cousin (all from the other side of the family) responded asking him to stop spreading his hateful thoughts on my Facebook profile and reiterating that they love and support me.
But it didn’t stop there. Friends and acquaintances of all types started to comment and defend me and try to reason beyond my cousin’s simple beliefs. They could all tell this was a family member because we share the same last name. I responded several times. I questioned why I would ever chose this life if it causes my own family members to hate me. I impressed that I know enough about the bible having been a active Christian for a portion of my life. I know quite a few relevant verses about love and used a couple.
He never quit. He would respond back to anything and everything that was argued with his core beliefs. I was wrong to him. What I am is a sin.
The hardest part of dealing with being gay is knowing that a large portion of the population will hate you for no reason. It can cause fear and anger. It is like a dark storm cloud constantly threatening your life and happiness. There are people out there who legitimately hate me because of who I am attracted to. My quest for romantic happiness will never be without this struggle. So why would I, or anyone for that matter, choose this?
Moreover, my girlfriend at the time was not “out” to her family. Despite anything you might know about whom she is, let’s talk about the issue at hand. Here’s this girl who I cared about deeply and her number one fear in the world is that her family won’t accept who she is. At the time, I remember being so annoyed that she wouldn’t talk to me about what was happening with my cousin. She would shrug it off or change the subject. Looking back on it now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why it made her so uncomfortable.
While I was dealing with a distant cousin, who I don’t know well at all, my ex-girlfriend was trying to deal with realizing she might end up spending the rest of her life with a woman and her family wouldn’t approve. All those vague ideas of random people hating me because I’m gay are nothing compared to the thought that your mom, dad, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc will all disown you because of who you love. There’s a chance that her family and most important people in the world to her share the same beliefs as my cousin – being gay is wrong and no different that being a murderer.
The fear and anxiety that must cause, I will never know. My cousin and I have only met a couple of times. My dad, mom, sister and any relative I’m close to loves me for exactly who I am. It’s a comfort not everyone has.
Maybe looking at all this via the family structure is the best way to describe my confusion over this hatred of the gays that’s perpetuating the American consciousness nowadays. When it comes to family, the one underlying belief I have is unconditional love. You don’t choose your family and they didn’t choose you. But you learn to unconditionally love these people despite their faults and differences. A year ago, when I explained to my dad why this girl I was dating wasn’t out to her family, he looked at me in confusion. He just said, “That’s their kid.” He feels, without a doubt, that the unconditional love of a family will prevail.
My dad didn’t ask for a gay daughter and I don’t doubt it was easy for him to accept, but at the end of the day, I’m his kid. He loves me and nothing can change that.
And I have to believe that love will win out in the end. I am no longer dating that girl (for reasons that further complicate my struggle with forgiveness), but I have to assume that her family will love her no matter what because family mean unconditional love. You may not agree with everything your family has to say but you love them anyways.
And yet I know there are parents who would send their kids to camps to “cure” them of their homosexuality. I know there are people who will always believe exactly what my cousin does – gay is a choice and it is a sin. Nothing will ever change their minds…
But this Saturday, my cousin, the very one that attacked me with his words a year previously, sent me a message on Facebook chat. It was a simple exchange that went exactly like this:
Him: Hi kim
Him: how goes life in seattle?
Me: great as always
I had a Friday Night Lights marathon tonight and am about to go to bed
Him: awsome- just wanted to touch base w/ you. Michigan is fine- busy as always.
I’d like to say, you are the prettiest Wetter ever- keep it classy Have a good night.
Me: ha thanks. you as well
Him: thanks- cheers
This small exchange is where the topic of my post comes from. To say I was shocked when he started chatting me would be an understatement. I considered not responding. I considered bringing up what happened between us last year. I considered a lot of things, but at the end of the day, that was it. That was our exchange. There was no discussion, no apology, no implicit middle ground. He gave me a compliment and he was completely cordial. The “I’m sorry” I expected or even felt like I deserved did not come.
And yet it was enough. I have no idea if his views have changed or remain as hateful as they were last December. I’m guessing he wouldn’t join the cause for marriage equality in Washington anytime soon. When this all happened a year ago, I deleted the post to end the conversation, but I did not “defriend” or block him on Facebook. Maybe through the year he has come to know me online a bit more and sees me differently. I am more than just my gayness. I have interests and dreams and a personality. Whatever it is, I felt like this small conversation was an olive branch. Both he and I can coexist in this world.
I can forgive what transpired between us last year without the “I’m sorry” I expected. We may be family, but in the loosest sense of the word. What really matters is that we put our differences aside. What really matters is that we find some common ground in unconditional love.
I hope that one day he can see that just as he didn’t choose to be my cousin, I didn’t choose to be gay. I hope that one day tolerance becomes understanding. I hope that one day he doesn’t see who I am as wrong. But, for now, I will love him. I will forgive him for hurting me because me holding onto that anger would be the same as him holding so steadfast to his beliefs that were at the core of our issues last year. I will cherish his olive branch and count myself among the lucky ones. I will do my best to love unconditionally and I hope more people want to do the same.