Plus: what’s the best way to support a (possibly) gay friend if you’re not sure he’s ready to come out?
By Shannon McGill
You can’t be a rebel if you’re not willing to put the work in.
What I mean by that is the idea of “thinking outside the box” is ineffectual unless you already know how to think inside the box.
You can scream about your own politics until you’re blue in the face, but if you sound like a dummy doing it, nobody’s going to take you seriously, and that’s a fact, Jack.
If you’re trying to make a positive difference in the world, here’s the first thing you need to do: get rid of your false idea of the evil They.
I mean the They you refer to when you say things like, “I wish They’d raise the minimum wage” or “I wish They’d stop factory farming” or “I wish They would stop making so many terrible songs and television shows and trying to force me to watch them.”
They is a myth, man. If you find yourself continually calling out the imaginary They, it’s because you are too lazy to figure out which individual(s) you are really mad at.
They is always a real person or a group of people, and people, regardless of their suspect agendas, can be brought into a conversation.
Blaming every bad thing on They makes change impossible. Giving the responsible parties names and faces makes your grievances workable, hopeful. It provides a basis for dialogue.
That is the first step to peaceful revolution, friends: figuring out who specifically is preventing progress, and asking them nicely to get out the way.
If you find yourself calling out the imaginary They, it’s because you’re too lazy to figure out who it is you’re really mad at.
A lot of things in this world are seriously jacked up, and I want to fix them too, but I’m no anarchist. You have to learn what the rules are before you break them. You have to know the laws and conventions that hold a toxic, unjust system in place and then you have to work to undermine or reform them. Starting from a place of ignorance, however loud you get, doesn’t strengthen your argument.
As tedious and painful as it may be, you must educate yourself about the things you hate most before you blow them apart to make something better.
Allow me an analogy here, ok? Let me talk about Picasso, arguably the greatest painter in the world. We see some of his later works and they seem deceptively simple. A line here, a swirl there; we say to ourselves, “Psh! A fool could have done this!”
What we don’t see so readily is the genius in his technique. We often don’t see how thoroughly Picasso absorbed the traditional approach to painting, how it became so second nature to him that he was able to just as thoroughly dismantle it and create a thing wholly new and provocative and alive.
Do you see what I’m saying? All your shapeless anger and wild protest of the status quo won’t amount to so much as a hill of beans in this crazy world unless there is structure behind it—knowledge and discipline.
Know who’s on your school board. Learn the names of your state representatives and check their voting records. Meet your mayor, your landlord. Know the people who are growing your food, who are driving your kids to school, who sign your checks. If you don’t know their names or anything about the systems within which they operate, then you can’t complain—at least not with any credibility.
Angry ignorance is ten times worse than complacence; there, I said it. We are the ones who watch the watchers. The buck stops with us.
A Little Less Conversation
I have a troubled friend I have been trying to help for many years—drugs, alcohol, money, relationships.
In recent years, some of those things seem less troublesome, but he never seems at ease, and it seems like there is something else going on.
I borrowed his phone to look something up, and his browser was on a gay dating site. I quickly went to the site I was looking for, and I’m not sure if he knows I saw it.
In the modern world, I don’t see why anyone would be closeted, but knowing him and knowing his family, I can see why he would be nervous about it, if this is who he wants to be full-time.
I want to help my friend find some peace and be the person he wants to be.
Thanks for writing me, Secret Keeper. You seem like a good sort, and I genuinely believe that you care about your friend and want to help him.
But you need to get a handle on yourself right now, Mac.
Pump the brakes, my man.
See, in this day and age, we are starting to learn to honor every person’s individual sexual preference. We’ve got a word for and an awareness of every flavor of sexuality, and that’s a wonderful thing. Our civilization is progressing beautifully toward acceptance and tolerance, and even though you can see that and appreciate that—it has almost nothing to do with your friend and where he is right now, personally.
They say that the personal is political, and that is mostly true, but sometimes the personal is just the personal.
This business with your friend and his phone and the gay dating website is PERSONAL.
In order for most relationships to work and to be respectful, there needs to be a line someplace. The line is right here, SK. If you think your friend may be gay, and he is not revealing that to you right now, that is because he has not chosen to reveal it to you right now, because right now, it is none of your business.
And just allow me a little aside on this subject, okay? Let me just remind you that sexuality is a continuum. Obviously, there is nothing wrong if your friend is gay, but that isn’t the only possibility here.
Maybe he’s just exploring, maybe he’s bisexual, maybe curious. Maybe he’s doing research for a paper he’s writing on homosexual dating habits. I’m just saying there are a lot of possibilities here, and you should examine your own assumptions and be honest with yourself about whether or not you have any real evidence to support this guess you’re making.
But let’s say your friend is gay, okay? Let’s say your friend is full-on gay, right down to the cellular level. Let’s say your friend has always been gay, and has always known that he’s gay, and he’s trying to come to terms with that, and trying to figure out how to navigate through a world that has always perceived him as straight.
If this truly is the scenario, I’m going to tell you unequivocally what I think your role is here.
It is your friend’s choice—hear that? HIS CHOICE—to make about when and how and if he will reveal his sexuality to you or anyone else.
Because, look, the only reason you would even need to know your friend’s sexuality is if you wanted to be sexual with him (and that is, like, a whole other column for me to write, so you will have to send me a separate letter for that).
If you think your friend is really struggling, though, and is really conflicted about his identity, I understand that you want to do something. That’s your friend—you care about him and you want to make his pain go away. I get it and I think you’re awesome for that.
What you can do is just be around him. Be with him and make him laugh, and hang out with him, and let him know that you are down with him no matter what.
If I were in this situation, if the subject of gay rights ever came up in any context and I were with this friend, I would make it a point to be explicit about dropping my politics.
I would be very open about my feeling that everybody on this planet has the inalienable right to love whomever they please.
I might repeat what my mother taught me: that love, romantic or otherwise, always, always, moves us forward as human beings, whether that love is between two men or two women, or of the boring old hetero variety.
Love is love is love, man, and if you believe that too, I would make that clear to your friend somehow.
Please don’t say to your friend, “Hey man, look, you’re my bro. Even if you’re gay, we’re still cool.” Don’t be the one to initiate this talk in such a personal way. Realize that it really is only your friend’s decision to come to you if he wants to do that.
A person’s sexuality and identity are so complex and emotional; these are some of the deepest issues a person can deal with, and there’s a lot more riding on this situation for your friend than for you. You can’t be the one to take the reins here.
In the meantime, enjoy your relationship with this person, and understand that it’s okay for there to be boundaries between people—and that there are usually good reasons for those boundaries. Love your friend for who he is now; love him for what he is showing you now. Try not to make judgments or assumptions, and when and if your friend is ready to confide in you, love him then too.
It takes a lot of courage to come out, but it takes a lot of faith, kindness, and patience to keep your mouth shut and just respect and support a person going through a change like that. I know you can do it, SK.
Need some help? Send your imponderable quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.