Driving home from work last night, I caught the tail end of Terry Gross’s interview with Andrew Rannells. Rannells is one of the stars of the new NBC sitcom “The New Normal,” and played the lead in the original Broadway cast of “The Book of Mormon.” He sounds like a talented and intelligent guy, though thus far I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything.
There was a part of the interview, however, that had me smiling in recognition.
The earliest memory I have of that, honestly, is watching maybe Clash of the Titans or Grease 2 — watching that and really having strange feelings about Harry Hamlin and Maxwell Caulfield. And I was 4 or 5 at the time, and just like having a crush and understanding what that was, and verbalizing that crush, which I’ve never really [spoken] to my family about specifically, but they were aware of the fact that at 4, I had a crush on Maxwell Caulfield — like, that was a thing, and not like I wanted to be him, [but] like I wanted to date him. So when I came out when I was 18, and I graduated from high school and I felt like that was the time to officially say it, I surprised zero people in my family. …
You can swap out Hamlin and Caulfield, neither of whom appeared on my radar screen as a small child. (My only real memory of watching “Clash of the Titans” was hiding my eyes when the scary stop-motion monsters came on screen.) But crushes on guys, even as a young boy? You bet.
Not so long ago, I saw pictures of myself as a boy on a family trip to England. I looked at the way I was standing, and I started laughing this wry, dry laugh. The boy in that picture is gay, my friends. Even if I hadn’t known it was me, I could see it in the way he’s posing for the picture. I’ve always been gay, even if I didn’t know what it meant or couldn’t have put it in those terms at that time in my life. I no more chose to be gay than I chose to have brown curly hair (it was blond then). By whatever process it happened, it was baked into the cake by the time that picture was taken of me at six or seven.
However, by the time I got to junior high, I knew. I knew with absolute certainty by the time I was thirteen. And I knew with exactly the same kind of certainty that I had damn well better keep that shit to myself, because there would be no calamity that could befall me quite so calamitous as letting it slip. Maybe some places in the United States would have been a happy place to be for a gay 13-year-old in the late 1980s but not my hometown.
And, of course, not my church. At approximately the same time in my life that I was coming to understand precisely how I was different from all the other boys, I was also being told in Sunday school that gays were out to deliberately spread AIDS. A few years later, at a youth group event with a different church (though one with essentially the same social views) I heard the speaker talk about shipping all gay people off to a desert island, and heard the approving laughter and applause of my peers.
With all of this in mind, perhaps you will forgive me for the massive contempt I feel for the likes of Bryan Fischer, Gary Bauer and the other denizens of the so-called “Values Voter Summit.” Perhaps the sheets of blinding, shimmering rage that fill my vision when I see their faces, or the clamor of rank loathing that rings in my ears when I hear them speak… perhaps you can understand it? I can remember the kind, goodhearted and generous people who attended the churches of my youth, and try to think well of the people who would listen to these men and nod in agreement with them, but I am frail and human and too angry to do it with much gusto. Because I want to take that poor, miserable 13-year-old boy out of their poisonous classrooms and tell him that they’re wrong, and that there are other grown-ups out there who would tell him so. And of course it is far too late for that.
My colleague and friend Tod is attending the Values Voter Summit to meet these people and find out what they are like as individuals, as real people rather than political caricatures. It is a commendable goal, to want to understand people whose views are so different from your own. He is going with more open-heartedness and equanimity than I could possibly summon. I wish him well, and am eager to see what a smart and decent man like him has to say about seeing the intelligence and decency in people on the other side of the cultural divide.
But me? What would I ask them, if I could unclench my teeth in their presence and keep my voice from rising or breaking? I would tell them what I heard in their churches, and ask them if they still believed it. I would ask them if they were sorry at all, or if those words were the same ones they’re still speaking now. I would ask them what good it did to render despondent a 13-year-old boy who had been gay forever, and would remain that way forever no matter what they said. I would ask if they thought they had sinned against him in any way, and if they felt they needed his forgiveness and God’s for their hatred and their pride.
That’s what I would ask them, were I there. But I am not, because there is no place in this country I would rather be less than in their company. I admire my friend his generosity of spirit, and wish I shared it. But I don’t.