As many of you know, I participated in this year’s Coming Out Monologues, benefitting JASMYN and PFLAG Jacksonville. I can’t really describe how amazing the experience was. I can’t wait to be a part of next year’s show in some way — either on stage or off. For those of you who don’t know, people write their “coming out” stories around a certain theme and either perform them or have someone else perform them. This year, we all performed our own stories. This can be liberating…and scary as hell. This year’s theme was ‘labels.’ I’m thankful for the hundreds of people who attended, but I realize not everyone could. I wish I could share every monologue with you because they are all insightful and worthwhile. But I can only tell you my story. With that in mind, here is my monologue:
I love to tell stories. I can’t tell you how many family members have told me I never shut up as a kid…or as an adult. But I love to tell stories. And I love to write. Over the years, I’ve been called a lot of things. Good and bad. It’s all about how you take what’s said to you. Wasn’t it a famous lesbian who said that no one could make you feel inferior without your consent? I don’t know. But it’s true! Being called something – being labeled something can be a good thing. It’s the stereotypes that go along with them that can be problematic.
An example: I’m gay. I own it. I’ve earned it. To those who would say, “Are you sure?!” I would say…yes…I’ve double-checked. And triple-checked. And…well, you get the point. Anyway. There is a whole community out there of people like me and people who support me.
The trouble comes when people try to tell you how you’re supposed to act because you’re gay. One of the first people I ever came out to was one of my best friends. She’s amazing. We’re still best friends. Closer than ever. I knew she was totally OK with “gay,” but it still took me two attempts to actually tell her. She basically knew and I still couldn’t say it out loud. Finally – over Chinese food and beer – I said the words. “Great! Now we can go shopping together,” she said! As you can probably tell by looking at me right now, shopping isn’t exactly my forte.
I knew coming out to another best friend at the time would be tougher. Like me, she grew up in a strongly conservative Christian environment. When I told her, she thought I was kidding. Side note: I have yet to hear anyone say that as a joke. So anyway, I say it again. Her hands go to her mouth and she starts to cry. A lot. It took her a week to formulate this response: “Love the sinner…hate the sin.” I eventually had to end the friendship entirely after she compared my “lifestyle choices” to getting a tattoo. I just can’t call somebody a “friend” if they believe I shouldn’t be allowed to marry someone I love. Or if they feel my love is somehow inferior. Or if they think I shouldn’t have equal legal protection.
A lot of people like to use “sinner” as an excuse to discriminate, which is funny because most of those people were taught that everyone is a sinner. Everyone needs forgiveness. But being gay — sorry — “homosexuality” – is different. Gays aren’t people who have sinned, we are sinners who happen to also be people. It’s funny – popular Christian evangelist Billy Graham himself once said:
“What really matters is how God sees me. He isn’t concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of man’s soul.”
Guess not everybody got that memo.
Coming out to people really shows you their true colors. And yours. My best friend’s dad joked that I didn’t hide it very well. My Grandma, on the other hand, told me she would’ve preferred I said I was going to jail. I really wanted to say, “But Grandma…do you know what happens in jail?”
My mom was always one of my fiercest supporters. As a kid, if I ever had trouble with other kids, she’d tell me she’d kick their ass. Her words. That didn’t change when I came out. She unexpectedly died a couple years ago. I can’t remember the last time my mom set foot in a church, but my grandmother – not the one who said the jail thing – decided to have a memorial service. I spoke at it and I was honest, emotional and unfiltered. After I finished, the pastor, who had never even met my mom, launched into this sermon about how “America has gone down the drain, especially with things like gay marriage.” I thought about just sitting there, like a proper lady might. But then I thought about what Mom would do and knew she wouldn’t tolerate it. And I thought, “She’s my mom. Fuck this.” So I walked out. As I walked down the center aisle, with eyes turning toward me from every direction, the pastor shouted something about how “the Lord can hit moving targets.” I really thought about swerving right about then.
I can’t remember a time when I was angrier. I threw my iPad down and I don’t throw Apple products down on the ground. Ever. I like to think I made my mom proud by walking out of that place. Fortunately, I know many more wonderful Christ followers who were just as appalled as I was at how that so-called “pastor” behaved. He misrepresented his faith in some of the most egregious ways.
A few months ago, I was at the wedding of my boyfriend’s best friend. He’s a great guy. Clearly, my boyfriend really knows how to pick ’em. Anyway, the groom and his now wife are also both from conservative Christian backgrounds. While they knew my boyfriend and I were more than just friends, few others likely did. I was watching the rehearsal when the wife of another groomsman walked over and sat down near the rest of us, saying something about how it was lonely where she was sitting. I said, “Welcome.” As she sat behind me, she said something like, “Yeah, I figured I’d come and sit with the other significant…” and then she trailed off before she said, “significant others.” I definitely thought of finishing her sentence for her. The next day, one of the groomsmen asked my boyfriend if I was his brother. I’m not.
Some people freak out when they don’t have a definition or answer for something. And they try to mentally sort it out by playing a game of 20 questions. They want to put a name with something so they can wrap their minds around it, even if what they’re thinking is inaccurate. I want people to know me as, “Kyle, the awesome guy who happens to be gay” and not, “Kyle, the gay guy who happens to be awesome.” Regardless, I hope to teach others that “gay” is OK. And we’re not all the same just like not every Christian is the same.
It’s not as much about the label as it is how you let it define you — confine you — relegate you to something lesser than what you deserve. Labels — even bad ones — can motivate you to be better. To change. To break the mold. To be bold. They can be transformative. They can make you a part of something. Someone asked me a while back why gay people always seem to want to hang out with each other. She asked if it was a sex thing. I told her – for many of us, at least – it’s about community. Shared experiences. Labels help us connect – to better understand our world and ourselves. But placing too much of an emphasis on them can be devastating. Everything in moderation.
My favorite label these days is probably “significant other.” Boyfriend. I look at him and I can’t help but think about how lucky I am. And how lucky he is. In all seriousness, I had kind of started to think that my standards were just too high. I was looking for a needle in a haystack…someone who didn’t let only one thing define him. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself, but someone who also wasn’t afraid to change. Someone with a smile that could make me melt. Someone who was hot.
I had given up on all that. Turns out, he was in front of me like the whole time. He just didn’t know he wanted me at first. Or that he wanted boys, for that matter. Safe to say, he knows now. And while I may not understand why, he doesn’t just want any man. He wants ME. Obviously, I have better taste than he does. A few months ago, my Grandma – the one who made the jail comment in 2008 – finally met my boyfriend at a family wedding. As she was getting in the car to leave, she pulled me in and said, “I like your friend.” To which I replied, “Good! So do I!”
And that’s what all of this really boils down to: Love. Community. Transcending that which confines us. Learning from each other. All I want in my life is love and equality. And someone to walk through life with me, every step of the way, through the good and the bad. Willing to learn from me and from others. Willing to love me and love others with me.
It’s interesting and perhaps ironic that – when it comes to how important love is — I’m reminded of First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through three:
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith to say to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give all I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”
And “lover” is a label I’m willing to accept.
All money made from Coming Out Monologues ticket sales benefits JASMYN and PFLAG Jax. If you’d like to support the Coming Out Monologues mission, there is a GoFundMe page set up, as well. Or you can of course donate directly to JASMYN and PFLAG. We are already kicking around some amazing ideas for next year and beyond and I’m excited to be a part of such a wonderful movement in Jacksonville.