A couple weeks ago, I watched iO Tillett Wright’s “50 Shades of Gay”… Beautiful. And no surprise that upon hearing her story, I would find myself hopelessly envying a childhood free of restrictive labels and definitions. Yet as I sit here floating through my memories, I’m uncertain of what it is that I would change. From what place would I remove myself to another, and, could I actually do such a thing, what meanings would be different for me, sitting here now, in the chatter and bang of this beloved old coffee shop, layered with the paraphernalia of time and change.
Of Louisiana, I could say remove me from a 70s culture of angry, “desegregated” bigotry and confusion. But doing so would remove me from the childhood friendships and associations that lay waste the fears that dominated my parents’ and grandparents’ histories.
I could wish away my father’s terrors of his own father, an abusive Pentecostal radio preacher, and the decades long impact of that ghost on my own relationships and fears. But then my life would lose a dad’s determination to create something new for a life, that although painfully flawed, was nonetheless ripe with the possibility of change that became the battle cry of my own adulthood.
I could ask for myself that I hadn’t lived those years on the religious right, ending in a period of missionary service where I developed a friendship with one of my missionary partners, so clearly closeted and shamed, and in whom I saw the lies of religion: that sexuality was a choice to be controlled by strength of will.
And I suppose I could wish that I hadn’t married and remained there for 17 years, where I laid the days of my life aside the pages of Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood and wondered at the power of culture to dictate the limits of a life.
Not for a second do I believe that any one human being’s suffering is somehow validated by the edification of any of us who follow–that someone’s pain is worth the cost for the new and improved versions. But a deeply personal confrontation with the demons of our day allowed me to peel back the confusions, a layer at a time, to a meaning-making that, just maybe, offers my sons something a little closer to the blank spaces of iO, from which they can craft their own meanings on gender and self and the world. No doubt the spaces from which each of us creates meaning are as varied as humanity itself, but the beauty of each rests in an honest quest that is true to the space and time we occupy.
Check out iO’s TED Talk. It’s pretty amazing.