Language is a funny thing, especially from small kids. One of my favorite kid butchered sentences in my house was “I wanna stand.” We were not talking about walking or standing up. This response came when they were asked if they understood something I just said. I think of this sentence often, especially since I published Switching Teams. Numerous people have reached out to me through email and private message with genuine questions about my journey. I have done my best to answer honestly and with kindness. I respond without getting defensive or argumentative. Those that are looking for a fight will not find one from me. There have been countless comments posted on my social media that have been uplifting, full of gratitude, and has been validation for my decision to write it.
There have also been a few naysayers pop up here and there. I expected it. Yesterday, a lifelong lesbian let me know it was “kinda boring” and she “could barely get through it.” This comment might have brought my writing house of cards crashing down if I had thinner skin. The truth is the book is not for everyone. No book is. There will be those who will not relate to or feel a connection with my story, especially those who have only known being gay their entire lives. I wrote it with full awareness of this. The topic of coming out later in life is merely the vehicle that I chose to talk about many things every one of us experiences in our lives, regardless of our sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation, or gender.
My intent was to offer a glimpse of my experience, but more importantly to paint a picture of how change affects each of our lives. Far and away “how I could not have known that I was gay until after 17 years of marriage and only having experiences with men” is the question I am asked most. My response is the same each time. I don’t know. This confounds me just as much as the next guy and I still have moments when I do not understand how I did not know this about myself. Trust me on this one.
I spent a long time beating myself up for what I did not know. But eventually, had to put down the bat. I now sleep at night knowing that when I did know, I took action. Reaching deep within to acknowledge this truth was difficult and frightening. These exchanges, with both my gay and straight brothers and sisters, all led me to a similar conclusion. People are not interested in moving past what does not make sense. In a perfect world, our goal is to strive to understand one another. However, many of us find it difficult to make sense of, or find the ability to move beyond, what we personally do not know.
I also can appreciate why when some know, they do not take immediate action. This is a hard pill to swallow, especially when life as you know it suddenly changes. We each have our own timeline and unique journey. Our stories, actions, and decisions should not be undermined by what others opinions may be or by differences in how others process our personal information.
We tend to operate with mindsets that are cultivated from our own experience and perception of the world. Each individual has their own story, complete with characters and plot lines that may not always follow reason, logic or commonly accepted practices. Our lives are not meant to be carbon copies of one another. How boring would that be? It is within our differences the potential for growth and acceptance is found.
Why does a lack of understanding prevent some from accepting the person when their personal story differs from their own? Why is it so important to grasp the how or why before we can fully accept the what? When did it become so difficult to embrace people that have dissimilar experiences from our own? My experience tells me that there are many people who cannot wrap their brains around how I did not know I was a lesbian until later in life.
By focusing on differences, we are more likely to ignore and forget the existence of the common threads woven throughout our varied plots and chapters. Our shared fabric includes the threads of love, compassion, peace, sadness and even fear. Getting bogged down in the details of another’s journey distracts us from achieving peace in our personal and collective universe. Kindness gets lost when we allow differences to erode our interest in another person. The ultimate act of kindness is the ability to say “I do not understand” to someone without reacting harshly or passing judgement.
Dismissing those whose experiences deviate from our own is dangerous. It is human nature to gravitate towards those with experiences, interests or a journey similar to our own. Our inability to accept and understand what we have not personally experienced creates unnecessary obstacles in all relationships. If we are not careful, our world will eventually shrink to the point of isolation.
A lack of understanding is not an open invitation to criticize nor is it a license to judge. Dismissing those who we do not understand is a pervasive form of judgement leading to reactions that erode our ability to relate to each other wholly. Pick a topic. Politics. Religion. Sports. For example, I do not understand why people collect memorabilia from Disney. I know many who fall under this category. Lovely people really. My understanding of why they do what they do or how they came to know they were collectors is not required in order to interact or have a relationship with them.
There is plenty I do not understand. About people, about life, and especially about myself. I choose to look beyond the why, or how, and see everyone as the beautifully flawed and infinitely capable creatures we are. Some days, I am more successful than others in achieving this goal. If you have kids you do this a million times a day, especially those with teen agers. While I may not understand something about someone else, I take comfort in the realization that it is not my job to procure the answers to anyone else’s life other than my own. It is my job to be kind, even if I have not personally experienced the same thing.
One day I hope to have a better answer for those who inquire about my lesbian awareness timeline. Until then, I intend to focus on the benefits of connecting with those who have shared experiences while remembering there is more to learn from those who have experienced things I haven’t or those that think, live, or exist differently than I do. God knows, there is no shortage of opportunities in this crazy election year. My intention each day is to practice what I preach and to embrace every “I wanna stand” moment that comes my way.