My junior year in college, I applied to work at the brand-new Kohl’s that had opened about twenty-five minutes away from my house. On my application, I told them that my availability didn’t start until the end of the school year, in May, but there was somehow a mix-up and I had to start in early February. Kohl’s was about and hour and a half away from school– so, three or four times a week, I drove from school to work, worked until around midnight, drove home, did my homework, and then got up five hours later to make the drive back to school.
It was crazy and I about burned myself out, but working there taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned:
I was homophobic.
Growing up, when I’d heard a conservative evangelical being accused of homophobia, the response was typically dismissal. “I’m not homophobic,” they’d say. “I just don’t agree with their lifestyle. I’m not afraid of them. I can love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
Heavens could I spend three days talking about how utterly preposterous that statement is. How very wrong and misguided it is. That statement just is a justification for hate, and that’s all it can be. I know so many people who regularly use that, and these are, in general, kind and loving people. But not when it comes to the LGBT community (which, in general, evangelicals refuse to recognize, because it’s complicated. Instead, they tend to lump everyone under the heading “gay” because being “gay” is a philosophical and ideological otherness to heterosexuality). You put an IFB person next to someone who identifies as gay, or trans, or bi, and they may be able to muster up a cheerful facade of niceness, but I guarantee you they are cringing inside.
But, back to Kohl’s.
Working at Kohl’s is how I met David*. I’ve never said any of these things to David, and I wish I had.
David was kind, and fierce, and bold. He was vivacious, energetic, loving, rambunctious, fun-loving. I never heard him be frustrated with the people he worked with, and he was proud to be all who he was. Being gay was a small part of that, for him. It was just one piece of the incredibly complex puzzle that was the personhood, the identity, of David. I loved working the same shift as him, and getting to know him, because never, not once, did he make me feel inferior. He knew I was a Christian, he probably knew what that meant– that I was secretly judging him.
And I did.
Until, one day, I was talking about my wedding plans with another girl in the breakroom, and David was there. There we were, talking about dresses and flowers and cake and music, when I looked over, and what I saw on his face stopped me dead in my tracks.
The expression on his face was almost grieving. I asked him if he was ok, and his response changed my world forever:
“Y’know, I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years, and we’re probably never going to be able to get married.”
The other girl suggested that they could just have the wedding shin-dig, what does a piece of paper matter anyway?
But, instinctively and intuitively, I realized that it’s “only a piece of paper” to people who can get one. I met David’s eyes, and I knew he was thinking the same thing. That realization changed me, because, for the first time, I could put myself in the footsteps of a stranger– or an existence so far removed from my own that I’d never bothered to understand it.
I thought about what it would be like if I was constantly being told by my entire society and culture that I couldn’t get married, legally. That 31 states had decided that my existence was too strange, too uncomfortable, for them to allow in the open freely.
It was horrifying.
A few weeks later, at about six o’clock in the morning, everyone is on hand to unload the truck for the spring change. I’m working in the young men’s section when I pull out the brightest purple skinny jeans I had ever seen in my life. They were neon purple, and sparkly. Looking at them made me flinch they were so fluorescent. I double-checked the box– these looked like they belonged in the junior’s section, not the young men’s. But, no, the code on the box said they were for young men. I just shrugged and started putting them on their rack.
Two women commented on the jeans, tossing out exclamations like “who in the world do they think is going to wear these?”
Another young lady, who had gone to the local Christian high school and had made sure everyone knew about it, said:
“I bet freaking David would.” The way she said his name made it sound like a curse word.
As she said that, and as everyone laughed, I met David’s eyes over her shoulder, who had just gotten back from break. There was a flash of embarrassment, and shame, and then I saw him steel himself.
“‘Freaking’ David would do what, exactly?” He asked, in one of the best examples of courage I’ve ever seen.
That was a beginning, for me. A few years later, when one of my close friends told me he was bi, I was still struggling with my ingrained perceptions. I still do, to be honest. It’s not easy. But, I was so glad that he felt safe enough with me to show me another part of who he was– a part of himself I could have attacked.
But, it really came home to me just a few months ago, when I started identifying as a feminist, and a few things started happening to me. In IFB and conservative evangelical culture, being a feminist and being LGBT are, while not equivalent, similar— because, for many conservative evangelicals, being a feminist means rebelling against and attacking what it means to be a “woman.” Feminists are going against nature, against God’s ordained order. We’re refusing to recognize the way things are “supposed” to be. Similarly, although on a different scale, the LGBT community are also “going against nature.”
But, I also started realizing that I had experienced marginalization my entire life, even though I don’t belong to a minority. I had been told, because of who I am, because of my gender, what I simply could and couldn’t do. What I couldn’t wear, where I couldn’t go, who I couldn’t speak to, how I should speak, how I should walk, talk, dress, eat, and sleep. That I couldn’t be employed. Where my natural “area of dominion” was, and that was only at home, and only over my future children– but an area of authority that was only granted by my husband and could be superseded at any moment. That I was the property of a man, that I lacked ability, talent, and skill– because of who I am.
It’s maddening. It is the most infuriating thing I have ever encountered, and it pales in comparison to what the LGBT community goes through every single day of their lives.