There were no gay people in Richmond, Virginia when I grew up. That is, until my brother came out to me over Christmas break during his junior year at Georgetown. That was December, 1990.
Apparently there was a whole world I didn’t know anything about, and my ignorance was about to be on display.
I had never met a gay person, had never heard of a gay person, and had never thought of a gay person. We were raised in the South, lived on 11 acres of forested land, and went to an elite private school. Sporadic church attendance didn’t mean we lacked good traditional Southern values, and everyone knew that men were supposed to be men and girls were meant to be asked on dates properly. I was shocked by Porter’s revelation. I couldn’t get my head around my brother liking guys.
From that conversation I mostly remember the two questions he asked me. Shamefully, I don’t remember his determination or my insecurity. Just the two questions. And my poor replies.
First, he asked, “So what do you think?”
Since I’d gotten involved in Christian ministry a few years before, I immediately knew he was asking the moral question – what other question could there be after all? I missed that opportunity to tell him how courageous he was to share that with me, how proud I was of him as his brother, and how much I loved him. He laid his heart out on the line to me, and all I could think to do was pronounce a moral verdict on his confession. Sigh. By God’s grace, my misdirected response wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I said, “Well, I’ve always thought homosexuality was wrong, but I’ll need to go back and think about it and see what the bible says.”
Next he asked, “Do you think Mom and Dad know?”
Again, I missed hearing the real question. I just thought he was dumb. Are you kidding me? They are going to be crushed! I didn’t say that; I just said, “No, I don’t think so.”
What I didn’t say, because I didn’t hear the question, was this: I hear you longing to be known and feeling a stranger in your own family. That must be so hard. What’s that like for you? I’m sorry for not noticing that part of you, for not really seeing you all these years growing up together. I grieve that, most likely, our parents missed that, too. I think they missed some things about me, too, and I still don’t know how to process that very well but I know enough to say that it really hurts. I’m here with you on your journey.
Porter asked me to be a part of the conversation the next day with Mom and Dad. It didn’t go well. But I felt honored to be there, and his courage and resolve began to dawn on me. It also dawned on me that I didn’t know anything at all about these things.
The next day I left for the Urbana Missions Convention, where I proceeded to go to every seminar related to homosexuality and to buy every Christian book I could on the subject. What I didn’t do, however, was actually talk to any gay people.