There was one question I used to obsess over. It was THE question I had about myself for years. It first grabbed me in college and followed me all the way into my 30s.
I'm big on self-awareness. I think it's the key to almost everything. I've mentioned before that I believe a worrisome, fear-laden, obsessive focus on self is toxic. I also believe that a thoughtful, consistent reflection on the self is quite healthy. But for me, this question was the former and not the latter. I regret now how much time I spent wondering, pondering, crying over this question:
How did I become gay?
I mean, I guess it's a natural question.
As humans, we will either find or manufacture the meaning of everything.
We stare at the stars and clouds and see animals.
We see a friend's new tattoo and ask, "What does it mean?".
We scrutinize the pyramids or Stonehenge, assuming there is some bigger existential meaning beyond it being just neatly stacked rocks. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't.
Rarely can we just be okay with, "It is what it is." We assume there has to be more. So we pursue stories to help us make sense of it all.
Not only do we want to know why something is the way it is, we want to know where it came from.
I'm talking about provenance, which is defined as "the place of origin or earliest known history of something." We want to know the provenance of everything . . .
Where did these vegetables come from?
Where did this antique come from?
Where did this idea come from?
"Where are YOU from?"
Humans really like to know where things came from, where they got started.
So I guess it's natural that our greatest question of provenance is,
"Where did I come from?"
Ancestry.com did $680 million in revenue in 2015 helping people with that question.
And the latest fad is "personal genetics services" which, for a fee, will sequence your DNA if you send them some spit. Then they'll furnish you with a report telling you you're 23.4% northern European, 12.6% Native American, 33.9% sub-saharan African, 1.7% Scandinavian, and 28.4% east Asian. I have no idea how this affects your life, but people love it. It must be soothing in some way to say, "Oh, thaaaaat's where I came from."
To be gay is to notice a weird little wrinkle in your provenance. I noticed my wrinkle early in life, and that set loose months and years of a thousand maybe's . . .
Maybe I was just born this way . . .
Maybe it's a DNA thing . . . or a brain thing . . .
Maybe an ancestor made a deal with a devil. A witch perhaps . . .
Maybe I made God mad as a kid . . .
Maybe God just didn't like me . . .
Maybe I was an experiment for God . . .
Maybe I didn't pray enough . . . or read my Bible enough . . . or go to church enough . . .
Maybe it was because I was in the choir . . .
Maybe I bonded too much with girls . . .
Or maybe I didn't bond enough with the boys . . .
Maybe it was when that teacher made me cry in 6th grade . . .
Maybe it's because I'm the youngest kid in the family (a thing, apparently) . . .
Maybe my mom ate something funny when she was pregnant with me . . .
Maybe it was the hormones in the chicken nuggets at school . . . or the square pizza . . .
Maybe it was because I watched Pee-Wee Herman as a kid . . .
Maybe during puberty, I should have seen pictures of naked ladies . . .
Maybe it was riding around in the back of my friend's dad's Corvette as he blared Madonna, and I memorized all the words to "Vogue" by the time I was 10 . . .
Maybe it was because I had a cat growing up . . .
Maybe it was because that cat slept in my bed every night. I mean . . . my brothers aren't gay, and they DEFINITELY DIDN'T have a cat sleeping with them every night.
Maybe it's because our family had small dogs. Maybe we should have had bigger, manlier dogs. idk.
Maybe it was because dad never took me hunting when I was a kid . . . shooting wild animals might have made me straight.
Maybe it's because I'm creative. A lot of creative people seem to be gay . . .
Maybe it's because I made scrapbooks as a child. Or because I saved my braces in a scrapbook once.
Maybe it's because I like showtunes . . .
Or succulents . . .
Or antiquing . . .
Or boy bands . . .
Or sangria . . .
Or Taylor Swift . . .
Or the Ellen Show . . .
Or Anderson Cooper's silver hair and golden face.
😖 x infinity.
It's true. I spent years obsessing over how I got this way, and it was a terrible waste of time.
Being gay has historically been very taboo. And taboos are loaded with myths, rumors, misconceptions, stereotypes, and assumptions. And when you are young and without the internet (as I was growing up), all of those myths swirl in your head, creating a lot of confusion. I was using that myth-soup to make sense of these very unwelcome feelings. It wasn't helpful.
And a lot of people have stirred that soup . . .
Some people still think that being gay is a result of being abused or bad parenting. This never fit into my story because I wasn't abused and both my parents were fantastic. I got lots of hugs and nurturing and emotional support growing up. And even if I didn't, the vast majority of people still end up straight. I have lots of gay friends who came from wonderfully supportive families and some who came from high-drama families.
I think the belief that it comes from bad parenting is the worst. That myth is a terrible burden on parents of gay kids, and I wish we could kill it off once and for all.
Truth be told, I don't know how or why I am gay.
I like asking my gay friends when they knew they were gay. For some it was high school, and for others it was much, much younger. I have friends who were fully aware by the time they were 6 or 7. They honestly believe that they were born that way, and I believe them. I have other friends who believe environmental factors played a part. Sexuality is very mysterious, I've learned.
I read an article recently where the author was talking about some new research on LGBT stuff.
He was really happy that the guys who did the research failed to find proof for a "gay gene." That was his smoking gun, and you could tell he was very excited about it. I'm still not sure what point he was trying to make with that. Maybe he thinks we LGBT folk secretly chose it, a rebellious way to stick it to our parents or God or the culture. Maybe he thinks we're all crazy. Maybe he thinks we're making this up—it's all in our heads—and we're all just lying to get attention.
I wish I could gently put my hands on that man's shoulders, look him in the eye and say, "Mister. I'm not lying. It's real. And I get plenty of attention, thank you very much.*"
I mean...does it really matter?
Does it even matter how or why people are gay? Maybe one day science will crack the case, and it'll all be very clear. Until then, why can't we believe people when they tell us about a reality in their lives? Why can't we be okay with listening before having to understand it all? Why can't we just lean in and whisper, "Thank you. I believe you. I love you. Tell me more."
Of course, wondering how I became gay was a central question, but it wasn't the only question.
In fact, it wasn't even the most interesting question. Or the most important one. In college, my investigation of the most important question was just getting started . . . 👊
* I would also add #byefelicia
B.B.P.S. - Remember, there's a search bar at the bottom of the site, so now you can easily go back and find your favorite episodes. I know this makes you wanna 💃.
B.B.P.P.S. - Why is there a picture of a cartoon butt in this episode? Because cartoon butts are funny. It's a joke. Everyone take a deep breath and relax . . . 😌
B.B.P.P.P.S. - Speaking of cartoon butts! I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout to the amazing artist, Joshua Ray Stephens, who painted it and all the other images in this episode (photos by Sterling Graves). You can find the full mural at the Lang Carson Recreation Center in Atlanta's Reynoldstown neighborhood.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.