After years of being asked “Are you gay?”, Billy Flood thinks he has finally come up with the perfect response.
I recently joined a “More Light” Christian congregation in my current city of Buffalo. In case you don’t know, the more light folk are the arm of the Presbyterian church that affirms LGBTQ Christians. They have decided that instead of making us feel like Tori Spelling all the time (that’s “out of the loop and kicked to the ground” for you non original 90210 fans), they want to have full inclusion of the community into the Church.
I had joined the choir, and as I was preparing to go up to the loft one Sunday I ran into a member whom I had been playing phone tag with about getting a movie group together. We had only corresponded by email and phone, but I had told her I was in the choir. She asked, “are you Billy?” and I answered yes. Then she said, “I looked up there and thought, ‘I know all the faces but that one'”—so I had officially come out as black to this woman. This is a mostly white congregation. She hugged me and then asked the usual perfunctory questions, what brings you here etc. I told her I had been looking for a more light congregation. She asked, ever so bluntly, “Are you gay? I mean I don’t want to assume…” I smiled and said yes.
I am certainly not ashamed of any part of what makes this man. Being a part of the LGBTQ community is just one puzzle-piece of me. As is my blackness, my acting, my singing, my writing, my favorite color being blue, and my YouTube habit of watching every live performance of Music and the Mirror I can (try it, it becomes like a drug). What bothered me was not the question itself, but her tone. Especially in this congregation that prides itself on inclusion and welcoming. It was asked with the same tonal pitch quality as “Are you an alien? Are you a Communist?” With that upwards tonal shift at the end of the question, a sideways serving of disdain and a pinch of incredulity. I almost expected her to say, “But you’re too burly and black to be gay. Aren’t only young white men with swimmers build’s gay? You don’t look like Neil Patrick Harris!” I might be accused of reading too much into tone, but it was there. I am 33. I’ve been around the block enough to know what that tone means. The white and heteronormative state of American society can be exhausting to wade through when you are not either. People on the phone always assume I am white, and people always assume I am straight.
One thing that strikes me as interesting is that being gay is a constant process of coming out, over and over again. Unless you are wildly effeminate, (which a straight man can be as well) it is just assumed you are heterosexual. Then, eventually, whether at that company Christmas party at your new job, or when that classmate sees a photo of your partner on your desk, you get asked the question—“Are you gay?”—it gets old. I want to have a hat made, a hat I can just put on when I’m asked that question, without saying a word. A hat that says, “Oh, are you straight?”
There are so many labels to everything these days. Labels can be a form of security that identify your community and give you a sense of group identity, or they can be damaging and isolating. I acknowledge the cognitive dissonance there and can struggle with it. At times, like when I’m coming down from the choir loft, I just want to be Billy. I wish I could play that moment over again, and when asked that question, respond kindly with, “I am just Billy. How are you?”
Photo by Elvert Barnes / flickr