Monday, April 2, 2012

Gay Or Straight? Black Or White? Would I Have Chosen to Be Born This Way?

Hmm… Did I choose wisely? Should I have gone with straight and blond?
Sundays, bloody Sundays.

For me, the ones that follow Saturday nights out on the town are pretty hit or miss, mostly miss. It's always nice to indulge in all of the comfort food that doesn't seem quite as bad for you as it does every other day of the week, but I've learned not to expect scintillating conversation, never on a Sunday. Yet there I was yesterday with Rudie, my new friend who is visiting Bangkok from Melbourne, on a conversational roll. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, both of us were doing some heavy lifting.

Over the course of several hours, we bounced from heavy topic to heavy topic (with enough comic relief thrown in to keep it from becoming a navel-gazing party of two). After spending some quality time on racism in Thailand vs. racism in Australia vs. racism in Argentina vs. racism in the United States, we'd moved on to new business: coming out of the closet.

I told him about the excellent coming-out story currently being told on Days of Our Lives (much to his surprise -- like so many others, he'd always associated Days with tales of demonic possession and various other supernatural improbabilities), and he made an offhand comment regarding the nature vs. nurture gay debate that, in my mind, clinched it for Team Nature. Why hadn't I thought of that?

In our society, he reasoned, it's so difficult to be gay compared to being straight. If it were up to us to choose which one to be, who would choose to be gay? Why would anyone ever choose to be gay?

It was such a simple yet profound observation, a question that I'll challenge the religious right to answer the next time someone shoves a bible in my face and tells me that I'm going straight to hell. (Actually, no one has ever done that, but if anyone ever has the nerve to, at least now I'll be prepared.)

Then, returning to our previous topic -- racism -- he made it personal. "If you had the choice, would you have chosen to be black and gay?"

It's not a question that I hadn't been asked before, or haven't asked myself, but I'd somehow always avoided answering it. I was afraid that my response would reveal something about me that I didn't want to admit, or make it seem like I thought it was better to be white and straight, or that I would prefer to be white and straight. So not true!

I tried to make that argument, but Rudie wasn't letting me off so easily. "That's not what I asked. Regardless of how you feel now, knowing what you'd have to deal with as a gay black man, would you have chosen that if you'd had the choice?"

"No." I felt a surge of shame, rising from the pit of my stomach. Why couldn't I be more like Cynthia Nixon, who says that she made the choice to be currently gay? But she's a grown woman, and she conveniently side-stepped the most difficult gay years -- the teens to early twentysomething -- and went straight (no pun intended) to the gay period that gay grown-ups are talking about when they say, "It gets better."

If God, or whoever is in charge of such things, were handing out choices now, I'd pick gay, too. It's a lot more fun, and you're not expected to do all of the wooing. I'm not sure that being black would be such a no-brainer, but it would have as much of a chance as anything else. That's not what Rudie was talking about, though. If my possibilities had been laid out before me on a projector screen before birth -- gay and black, gay and white, black and straight, white and straight -- would I have gone with what I am?

Had I known that I'd have to live my life battling prejudice and racism, that whenever I walked into a room people would make all kinds of assumptions based on the color of my skin, that one day I'd live outside of the U.S. and every time I met a non-black guy who was interested in me I would wonder if he was into me mainly out of curiosity about black men, would I have chosen to be black? Would I have chosen to be gay, something that so many people perceive as being associated with shallow, sinful, promiscuous, unnatural behavior?

No. I would have opted for the easier life.

Would I change a thing now? Perhaps I'd make a few cosmetic alterations -- smaller feet, thicker eyebrows, a stronger jawline, but otherwise, I love myself just the way I am. Yes, life has been something of an uphill climb. But it's that difficult journey that's made me a person that I'm pretty fond of and that my friends and loved ones want to be around.

Had I not felt so much like an outsider growing up, had I been the blond, blue-eyed stud that everybody wanted or wanted to be like, who got all of the dates with girls, and actually wanted to go out with them, too, or had I even been an average white guy who blended into the crowd, I wouldn't have been forced to develop all of the non-physical aspects of who I am.

I might not have become a bookworm who spent so many lonely hours cramming his head full of knowledge, some of it useful, some of it not, all of it so crucial to the person I ended up becoming. I might not have evolved into someone who roots for underdogs because I identify with them. I might be someone without much of a personality, a truly forgettable social experience. I might be the kind of person who doesn't know how to steer a conversation out of the "What do you do?"/"Where are you from?" stage. I might have nothing to say.

I probably wouldn't have seen much of the world because I'd be too dependent on having a travel companion. I might not have learned to love solitude, to thrive on it, because I never would have learned how to be alone. You wouldn't be reading any of this right now, because I wouldn't have anything to write about. I'd probably be stuck in a career where expression is secondary to making money.

Not to overstate the importance of being gay and black -- there are plenty of straight white guys who are worth knowing and a lot of gay black ones who aren't -- but a youth who feels like he, or she, is on the outside looking in, whether it's because of skin color, sexuality, or something else entirely, has a better chance of growing up to be an interesting, independent adult who is comfortable coloring outside of the lines.

So yes, not knowing what I know now, had my input been requested during the pre-embryonic stage, I probably would have requested that I be born another way and grow up to be a straight white man with thick eyebrows, a strong jaw and size-10 feet. But as the old cliche goes, everything happens for a reason. I was born this way in order to become the man I was meant to be.

Why would I want to be anyone else?

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