I recently lost a friend because she couldn’t find it in her to respect me as a gay man…an old friend, someone I met while in school. For a number of months she repeatedly attempted to challenge me with some rather extreme but, sadly, prosaic homophobic notions—gay people recruit young kids, being gay is a choice, homosexuality is caused by molestation, homosexuality is caused by domineering mothers and abusive or neglectful fathers, gay people are only interested in sex, there’s something wrong with being gay, gay people are not as decent as straight people, if only gay people would stop making such an issue of their sexuality, they wouldn’t be bullied or mistreated… She admitted that she had suspected I was gay for a very long time, but once it was out in the open, it became her habit to throw these accusations at me. It was like she was going up and down a laundry list she had gotten from The Family Research Council or Focus On The Family. And she seemed to think that her beliefs, fears, misconceptions were legitimate until I disproved them. Then she got angry because I didn’t give her any cover, didn’t excuse her bigotry. And I grew tired of her offensive questions and comments, especially when she started repeating herself and pretending that I hadn’t already told her the truth.
Before things turned ugly, I showed her something I had written, something about what it was like for me growing up gay. I wrote about how lonely and isolated I felt and how fearful I was of being found out. After reading this, she claimed that if I had told her when we were still in school she might have been a little confused at first but she would have understood eventually. And you know, I believe her. I believe she would have been much more open and less judgmental and supercilious back then. She’s not the same person I used to know. She’s changed.
I noticed that she was starting to become bitter and resentful a number of years ago. She is not happily married, she was unable to find a career that suited her, and she felt burdened by her obligations. I think that happens pretty often.
Young people can be moody, and they are sometimes rude to the adults in their lives. But on the other hand, young people are idealistic and they tend to be enthusiastic about learning new things. They are generally much more willing to consider new ideas and perspectives.
So what happens to us? Why do so many of us become bitter, self-serving and stubborn? I suppose most of us have more time on our hands when we’re young. Then most of us get married, get jobs and have kids. That doesn’t leave much time for learning and thinking, especially just for the joy of it. After a few years of getting up before you’ve had enough sleep, getting the kids off to school, going to work, coming home and fixing dinner and cleaning the house, you fall into a rut. Beliefs become more riged.
Maybe young people are more open because they instinctively know that they don’t know everything. Yes, I know they can be sophomoric, pretentious and arrogant. But isn’t that usually because young people are often desperate to be taken seriously? I think the arrogance of middle age can run twice as deep, and it can be many times more harmful. That’s because when we’re middle aged, we usually are taken seriously and we have power and influence.
Wisdom can come with age, but it’s not a guarantee. Many of us actually become more foolish as we age. And some of us take the hits that come with the passing years and conclude that there’s always more to learn and that we never really stop growing up.
I’m sorry that my friend got stuck along the way. I miss the hopeful, curious and compassionate person she used to be.