For those of you that know me, it might not be very surprising that I have trouble ignoring strangers that talk to me. On my flight home, which was a five hour flight, as soon as I found my seat, the man sitting next to me struck up a conversation. I figured we would talk and say hello and then when the flight attendant finally made the announcement that I could turn on my electronic device, I would watch the movie I had rented and all would be fine. That’s not how it happened.
I very quickly learned that Dale, the only person sitting next to me, had also attended Bothell High School. He was so excited that we attended the same high school, despite the fact that he graduated in the 70s and I graduated in 2004. He started by asking me about teachers and then realized quickly we would have none in common. Then he asked me about Bothell. The Ranch Drive-In, Main Street, and other landmarks. I’d tell him which were still there and which I didn’t recognize.
He let it slip into conversation a couple times that he was in the Special Ed classes as a handicapped student. I wouldn’t have noticed his handicap unless he had told me. Dale spoke of a kid named Sam who used to take out the handicapped students once a month wherever he wanted to go. You could tell he really admired and appreciated Sam.
I learned a lot about Dale. He also mentioned that most people don’t talk to him but he’s convinced that I’d be one of the first to come up and say hello. I learned his dad is in the military and is a very good soldier but was never great at being a father. He still lives with his dad, he’s 57 and he’s a mail man in Tacoma. He has trouble living as a “citizen” around the military base and many of his neighbors don’t understand why he was not in the service. I told him about my niece who was born with a sunny disposition and about my amazing friends and life in Seattle.
Then, Dale asks me out on a date. At this point, we’d been talking for several hours. He tells me he thinks I’m very attractive and warm and generous and that he thinks I have a good heart. Awkward.
I first make some joke about how I always tend to date younger people but it didn’t really work. Dale tried to impress upon me that he’s the perfect gentleman and he wanted to get to know me better.
So, I decided to be honest with him and tell him that I’m gay. It went over fine. I shared with him the story of how the one girl I’d been in love with cheated on me and broke my heart. He told me the story of how he was deeply in love with a girl that ran off to marry one of his friends. After a while, Dale admits to me that he’s a virgin. He’s 57 years old and the furthest he’s been with a woman was “necking in the back of a car.” We discussed online dating and I gave him some tips on how he should change his profile if he were to give it another shot.
He gets up to go to the bathroom and the woman across the aisle leans over and says, “Do you want this?” I take what she handed me and realized it was a pamphlet called “4 Things God wants you to Know.”
Dale comes back ad it doesn’t take him long to realize I’m upset. I finally tell him about the lady and the pamphlet and that’s where things really went south (as if being asked out by a 57 year old virgin wasn’t south enough)…
Dale: Well, did you read what’s inside?
Me: I’ve read the bible so there is nothing in here that I don’t already know.
Dale: Have you ever read about Sodom and Gomorrah?
Me: Yes and in those same passages, don’t the daughters sleep with their father? And they frequently tell you to stone people in the old testament. Do you still stone people Dale?
Dale: Well, in the new testament, Jesus said, “He without sin cast the first stone.”
Me: Oh, so things change? Why is it that people can follow certain parts of the old testament and ignore others like eating hoofed animals? (I was trying to think of all of these examples about Leviticus but couldn’t remember them)
Dale: I believe the Bible to be the truth.
Me: Okay, well then, if you really wanted to take what the Bible says at face value, it’s funny to point out that the bible never mentions lesbians. They talk a lot about a man sleeping with another man but make no mention of two women sleeping together. Does that make lesbians exempt or do you just extrapolate the rest because then you want to? Moreover, the Bible tells us that no man is without sin and Jesus also tells us to love one another and leave judgement up to God. I believe in the power of love. I also believe that a man should not judge another man. I think judgement leads to hate, as that woman who handed me this flyer probably hates me. And God didn’t tell you to judge or to hate, he instructed you to love.
Dale: God hates the sinner, not the sin.
Me: I find it very difficult to believe that God would make someone who was put on this earth to be hated for who they love.
Dale: We have a very jealous God.
Me: I find it hard to believe that God would put me on this earth and expect me to be alone for the rest of my life. I find it hard to believe that he would despise the love I feel.
Dale: Well have you ever tried to not be gay?
Me: Impossible. I cannot change who I am just as a man is born with red hair or a lazy eye or how my niece was born with a sunny disposition. It is not a choice.
Dale: Have you ever prayed to God to ask him why you are that way?
Me: You know what I pray to God for? I pray to God that people wouldn’t hate me for who I am. People who have never even met me hate me.
Then I told him about the time my cousin compared me to a murder, bank robber and someone who walks around freely spitting in other people’s faces because I am gay. I impressed upon him that I cannot change and I wouldn’t want to. The conversation sounds tense and it was a bit, but you also have to remember I was talking to a sweet, slightly mentally handicapped, 57 year old virgin. He honestly meant no harm. Not like the woman from Colville’s First Baptist Church who handed me the flyer who would have gone about this very different. An hour or so later, I overheard this conversation she had with her husband:
Husband: Did you give it to her?
Husband: Good, I hope she reads it.
Wife: Me too.
Husband: Do you think we should give her a $15 gift card to the Christian Family Book Store?
Dale was not like them. He eventually got up to go to the bathroom and when he returned, he tried to strike up more conversation but I was upset and clearly done talking. When our plane landed, he told me that a friend is someone who is considerate of the other person’s feelings and he felt he hadn’t been a very good friend to me. He apologized and told me that talking to me was fascinating for him and he reminded me what a wonderful girl he thought I was.
Dale: Just don’t be a Sheldon.
Me: Who is Sheldon?
Dale: You don’t watch The Big Bang Theory?
Me: I know what it is but I don’t watch it. Who is Sheldon?
Dale: Well Sheldon is very smart.
Me: I think that’s probably a compliment so why wouldn’t I want to be Sheldon?
Dale: He’s too smart for his own good.
Finally, Dale earnestly wished me all the best. He told me he wishes great happiness in my life. I returned a “You too,” but was honestly too upset to make it sound chipper. It was clear Dale was just repeating the Southern Baptist teachings he had heard his whole life. But if his jealous God doesn’t want me to be smart enough to reason through these arguments and clearly see that love and acceptance should be the order of the day as opposed to war and hate, I don’t want to be apart of that religion. I grew up Christian, I have read my Bible and I know enough to know those who hate the gays are not acting as Christians.
When I recounted this story, many people just said, “this is why I don’t talk to people on planes” or “why didn’t you tell him off?” but that’s not me. It will never be me. I can just hope that talking to me really was fascinating for Dale. I hope meeting a gay person who would take the time to talk to him would make him rethink all his understanding of the Bible.