By Thomas Ehnert
One of my favorite T-shirts has in huge black letters, “It’s my LIFE, not a lifestyle.” I was talking recently to someone who says he is becoming disenchanted with the “gay lifestyle.” This made me think through just what the “gay lifestyle” looks like among my friends:
Is it the married couple who just found out they’re going to be foster parents?
Is it a friend who adopted a son, met someone who adopted a daughter, and now the two single parents are engaged?
Is it my friends who, having married, bought a starter home together, and spend their weekend doing housework and yardwork?
Is it my friend who has presented a TED Talk recently because of her successful business?
Is it friends who post weekly shots of their beautiful garden all through the seasons after spending Sunday morning doing yard work?
Is it a couple posting pictures of their cat all the time?
Is it a couple who moved out of their starter home and into a bigger home, and I helped them do an Ikea run to fill up the place?
Is it my friend who grieves the death of his husband?
Is it my friend who, recently diagnosed with HIV, donates his time to a clinic that does testing and counseling?
Is it my friend who posts pictures of his algebra homework (which he’s doing on a Saturday night)?
Is it my friends who are priests?
Is it my friends who are up early every Sunday morning to play organ for the first Mass?
Is it my friends who are getting engaged and looking forward to starting a family?
Is it my friend, the philosophy major, with whom I sit and talk metaphysics over dinner?
Is it my friend who’s developed his own clothing line that’s far exceeding anything he ever imagined?
Is it my friend who is a professional gardener at the most expensive home in Minnesota?
Is it my friends who are married, posting pictures of the healthy dinners they cook together? (But there was one picture of a big conglomerated cookie that grew together as it baked. The caption read, of course, “I only had one!”)
Is it me reading Madeline books with my son, teaching him piano, and walking through Loring Park teaching him about trees and flowers?
I hope the point has been made. What is the “gay lifestyle?” Is it not simply life?
Someone might scoff, “Look at the high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, smoking, and sexually transmitted diseases.” All of that is true. It is not the symptom of a “lifestyle” that is wrong. It is the symptom of a subculture responding to oppression from family, friends, religion, society, and government. Even the laws tell us we are subhuman, so that in many places, our jobs and housing are still not protected. We are the only minority that faces the loss of family and the support of religion if our minority status becomes known. No wonder we use drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex to cope. No wonder some of us can’t handle the pressure, and we kill ourselves.
The traditional gathering place of the GLBT community — the bar — is not the summit of the “gay lifestyle.” It is an important part of GLBT culture. We need places to gather as well where “everybody knows your name.” When I hear “gay lifestyle,” however, I hear “stereotype.” And it is simply not true. My Facebook feed is not filled with pictures of people clubbing (although we do that too). My Facebook feed is filled with people expressing political opinions, gratitude for a beautiful day, goofy pictures with pets, descriptions of homework, excitement over a new home, a new relationship, or a new job.
So why do people cling to the stereotypes? For the same reason that Nazis advanced their stereotypes of Jews, the American government advanced its stereotype of Natives, the English advanced their stereotype of the Irish, and so forth. When one group can sub-humanize a minority, one of three things happen. People look down on the minority (the minority is “subhuman” after all), benevolently seek to lift the minority up to the supposedly better level (again, the minority is “subhuman” after all), or even get rid of the minority (send the minority to a ghetto or a death camp, shame them back into a closet, or stand idly by as they die of a virus).
Even the word, “lifestyle,” sub-humanizes GLBT people, because we don’t even get to have “lives.” We just get to have “lifestyles.” After all, if we just have lifestyles, one can leave a lifestyle, but one can’t leave a life. Those who speak of us as having lifestyles don’t want to admit that our GLBT identity isn’t just something we do. It is something we are, and we cannot stop being that. It’s an essential part of our life.
Look back on this year for yourself, and look ahead to the next. What was part of your human, GLBT life, which you are thankful for? What good, creative, beautiful things would you like to do more of?
What I see in the “gay lifestyle,” is simply life. Human life. Beautifully creative, human life.