By Equality Rider Ryan Barnette
I remember the game well. A kid would pick up a ball on our elementary school playing field. We would then yell, “He’s the queer—get him!” We chased him through the football field, around the swing sets, and onto the baseball diamond, where we finally knocked him over and jumped one after the other onto him. We smeared the queer.
In high school, we called Jeffrey Dooly a “faggot.” We shouted it down the hallways at him and, if he entered a restroom we were using, we left quickly with that word on our breath. There was no way we would let him tag us with his gayness.
College was one massive game of hide and seek. My eyes, full of longing, followed a cute peer as he walked by. If he happened to glance back, I shifted my gaze and hid in some deeper recess of my soul. I feared that if I dropped my straight public persona and revealed all of my hidden desires, no one would find me worth seeking.
We can handle only so many games, so many rounds of our hearts playing tug of war against our minds, before we split in two. Leading two lives, one relegated to the dark, leaves us isolated and afraid of the light. I wonder what choice in the matter I had as a youth. My parents said that I was not to associate with gay people. My pastor said that gay people were sick. My classmates said that “gay” meant “stupid.” It seemed crucial to disassociate from the part of me that my parents, pastor, and classmates feared.
My saving grace was a community of faith called Fusion. And that is exactly what the small gathering of LGBTQ and affirming folks did for me: they fused my two selves. The scared, hidden Ryan finally embraced the Ryan desperately struggling to be accepted. Brennan Manning wrote, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” At Fusion, I heard life stories fully told, even the messy bits. This group of unashamed, joyous people shone the light on the path to wholeness.
Coming out and claiming all of me, I learned how to stop fearing and how to start genuinely loving myself and others. This wasn’t a pain-free process. Coming out to my parents meant hearing some of the most piercing words ever used against me. Consumed in shock and fear, my mom and dad threw words like “disgusting,” “completely disgraceful,” and “unlovable” at my exposed heart as if it were a dartboard.
It took time and many difficult conversations, but my parents put away their darts and received my forgiveness in full. I’ve seen a horrible mess rebuilt and repurposed for good. Having seen the positive transformation in my family is how I know that everyone possesses such deep potential for change. Having seen the resulting growth in our relationship is how I know change is worth pursuing.
Because of my journey so far, I’m joining the 2012 Equality Ride. We will travel across the country, announcing that cruel games are over. It is not OK to play with the lives of others. Make it safe to leave dark, suffocating closets. Put down your darts and dodge balls, the damaging words easily thrown yet irretrievable. Create safe, smear-free environments for everyone. There is a creative spirit calling all of us to play. But the name of the game is love.
About the Blogger:
Ryan Barnette’s perfect day includes hot tea, a game of Catan, Japanese fiction, and increased justice for the disenfranchised.