DOYLE 500I laughed at gay people. I did. I snickered at their crewcuts and sashay and flagrancy. I snickered at the way they bristled about their rights. I did. I accused them of inventing disco. I laughed at their thing for feathers and glitter and fragrance and form-fitting uniforms. I grinned at the epic extravagance of gay pride parades. I laughed at the idea of gay guys battling cops hand-to-hand at Stonewall, noting that that must have been a brief battle. Then I began to stop being such a meathead. Perhaps it was the sight of people weeping over the withering of those they loved with all their hearts and souls that snapped me awake. I stopped laughing. I started weeping too. The first time I saw the quilt I wept. The quilt is the biggest quilt you ever saw. It is more than a million square feet big. It is haunting and beautiful and terrible and lovely and bright and awful. Every panel is someone who died young. Every panel has tears in it. There are more tears in the quilt than there are threads. I started paying attention. I started listening. I stopped sneering and snickering. I began to hear the pummel of blows rained down on people for merely being who they were. How different is that from skin color and religion and ethnicity and nationality and the language that you speak? It is no different. I started listening. I heard stridency and silly demands and self-absorption and prickly neurosis but I also heard honesty and love and sense and logic and reason. If all men are created equal why do we not act that way? If all women are created equal why do we not act that way? If someone loves someone else what do I care what gender or orientation or identity they choose? If they want to be married to each other and enter the deeper confusing thorny wilderness of marriage, what do I care? The marriage of gay people is a slippery slope to what, exactly? More committed love? Is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing that couples wish to care for children when more children than ever before are without two parents? How exactly is that a bad thing? Aren’t two moms better than one? Who cares what gender the parents are? Isn’t love bigger than gender? Also some people, a lot more than you would think, feel like they are born with the wrong body, and they switch bodies, and as far as I can tell they generally then are thrilled and comfortable and satisfied with their new bodies, and what do I care? This happened to a friend of mine, who spent thirty years as man, and then switched teams, and she has been a woman for fifty years, and you never met a more brilliant, generous, witty, gentle, wise, courteous, erudite, positive soul in your life. What is it exactly that is objectionable about her decision about her life? What do I care? What do we care? Where is there anything political in her decision? What sort of cold cruel arrogant religion would pronounce her decision sinful? Do not religions advocate love and mercy as the essential virtues? I have stopped sneering and snickering and laughing and teasing and making snide jokes about crewcuts and tight clothes and earrings. I was a fool. I was myself a joke, and not a good one. I said the words mercy and love and attentiveness and humility and tolerance and they were empty withered things in my mouth. No more. I am not gay. I am not bisexual. I am not lesbian. I am not transgender. I am not questioning. I am generally delighted and thrilled and comfortable and deeply satisfied with my body and my gender and my identity, except for some disconcerting spinal issues. But I no longer think that my body type and gender and identity give me license to sneer at other types. I never thought being a pale brown color gave me license to sneer at people who were russet or bronze or copper or taupe or ebony in color; I never thought that being male gave me license to sneer at people who were female; I have stopped thinking that not being gay gives me license to sneer at people who are gay. It took me too long to stop thinking that, for which I apologize here, in the last line of this essay. I have done many foolish things in this life, so far, and that was one of the most foolish, and cruel, and sinful. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Never again.


Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of many books of essays, ‘proems,’ and fiction, most recently the novel Martin Marten and the headlong essay collection Children & Other Wild Animals.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore