I recently received an email from a very kind gentleman named Tom. I thought it was so well written and completely from the heart that I wanted to share it with all those that visit this blog. Here is the email that Tom wrote me:
I understand your difficulty in connecting with other gay people. I myself prefer not to use the label, because there is so much baggage attached to it, and much of it I don’t identify with myself. For instance, I loathe the effeminate qualities associated with the gay stereotype; it’s just not my thing. So instead, I try to look beyond it … it’s just an aspect of me, I don’t let it define me, and I don’t let it get me down. I don’t really mention my attraction to other people (as they don’t really have a need to know, and many people don’t know how to take it … it can be an unnecessary complication, and just draws attention to yourself), and I don’t think people really notice. Instead, I try to channel this attraction to forming friendships with other people. I guess it might even give me a certain talent to empathize with other guys, notice when things might be bothering them, and even express an affable affection physically, though respectfully, with them (a bear hug, slap on the back, firm handshake, a wide grin). But again, not for any lustful motives – for a genuine and respectful love that I have for them. So people see me as a genuinely friendly guy – yes perhaps someone who’s not afraid to show his affection (someone said I have an almost Latin way of expressing my affection for my friends), but I think it’s something people need to experience, and they generally appreciate it.
I’m celibate, though I had made my decision before really becoming aware what my feelings might have implied (I had my little crisis after this realization, and I’ve been able to confirm myself in my original decision). And I think that this is a very compatible and fulfilling way of living one’s Catholic faith and genuinely expressing oneself. I’ve found I can make friends very easily, and true friendship is very joyous and rewarding. It takes practice and faith, but I think (especially with grace) anyone is capable to achieving the gift of friend-making to some degree.
If you’d like a few suggestions, here are my thoughts; use them however you like:
I’d say don’t let your sexual orientation “define you”. Most people don’t really … because being straight is so natural for them they just don’t think about it. Yes, there’s something different in our case, but that’s really more of a distraction – it’s not essential. You are a child of God, worth all the Body and Blood of Christ. He has given you many gifts and talents, and wants you to develop and use them. Furthermore, any faults and imperfections we may have are also in some mystical way gifts, because we can use them to get closer to God than we would have been without them. They are often ways for us to grow in humility and dependence on God, rather than on our own strengths. So rather than listening to what most people say that you have to “embrace” being “gay,” which I’ve found generally means nothing more than wallow in your own self pity, complain if no one else shares in your self pity, and indulge in your feelings because they are “natural”, I say embrace your Divine Son-ship, rise above those lower urges and channel them into higher forms of Love, give yourself unto your friends and forget about the fact that you are “gay.” Yes, the attractions will still be there, but they shouldn’t get you down. Remind yourself, “I don’t have to fit the mold,” and I can love people intensely without resorting to sexual manifestations. Christ also remained celibate. Many of the apostles and saints have as well. It is not a burden, an impossibility, a sad, reluctant sacrifice, but a joyful affirmation – an affirmation that Love itself is enough for me! I don’t need an earthly love – I can directly love Love Himself.
Again, you need to grow in confidence. Some people will say you need confidence in yourself. I’ve never liked that, or been good at that. I know what I’m made of … it’s hard for me to be confident in that. St. Josemaria Escriva said something to the effect that the source of our confidence should stem from our Divine Son-ship. I can do anything because God is my Father, and he loves me infinitely – not because of something I have or haven’t done or will do, but simply because I am His. To grow in this confidence, you need a life of personal prayer with Jesus Christ (at least half an hour a day), and frequent reception of the sacraments.
Talk to Jesus in the prayer. Tell him what you’re scared of. Tell him the sort of people you want to meet. The sort of person you want to be. The sort of relationships you want to have. Tell him what makes you sad, what makes you angry, and what makes you happy. Ask him what to say to people. Tell him about the times when you were too afraid to start a friendship, and the times where you succeeded in that, but failed to actually connect with the guy. And when the times when you truly do succeed in making a new friend, thank him and tell him how happy you are, and what to say next, or what to do next, etc. Tell him anything and everything.
When it comes time to looking for new friends, you don’t need to do anything special. I’d say avoid making the mistake of exclusively looking for “gay” friends. That’s not going to help do anything but confuse you. Just look for friends … unqualified. Look for friends as regards _who_ they are … not _what_ they are. Look at those persons nearest you. At work, in the gym, your neighbors, old classmates, members of clubs/organizations you’re interested in, your parish community, etc. You can make friends anywhere.
If you want some easy practice, get to know and befriend anyone who is performing “menial” labor – like anyone in a janitorial profession, cleaning staff, or staff in general. Why? Sadly, these people often go unappreciated. And despite the fact there are often many people around, not many people take the time to get to know them, or even their names. They may be a little startled at first that you are talking to them, but they won’t be able to help themselves – they will want to talk to you, and they will look forward to seeing you whenever you stop by. I’ve made some great friends that way.
When you have someone you want to make friends with, ask them for their name (if you’ve met them before, but can’t remember their name, suck it up, humble yourself, and apologetically ask for it. Likewise if you haven’t seen the guy in a while, you might want to casually throw out your name again in case he’s forgotten it – I’ve done this many times, and the other guy is always appreciative). If you need to break the ice first, try to look for some similarity or commonality between you. It could be something as simple as “I see you every morning waiting for the subway, what’s you’re name”, or “So you’re a Yankees fan, eh? What did you think of that game last night?”, or “Thank you for your hard work”, or simply assisting someone with a small task, like holding a door, picking up trash off the floor, offering the opportunity to share your umbrella in the rain, etc.
Then smile and listen. If they aren’t good at starting conversation, try to get them to tell you about things they’re interested in. This takes practice, especially as you have to get them to tell you what they are interested in. I’ve found the more you can get them to talk, the more they will like you – everyone loves an audience, especially when one is sharing what one loves with someone else. You will have time to also talk about your loves and dislikes … but try to steer conversation (respectfully and tactfully) so that they can say what they want to say without unnecessary interruptions, and with good follow-up questions. Avoid questions that are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ as much as you can. And don’t be afraid of awkward silences – push past them. Even well established friendships aren’t full of constant chatter – it is enough to enjoy the silent presence of one another. Don’t be afraid of saying something stupid. If you do you’ll sense it by their reaction – apologize if necessary, smile, and move on. What ever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously!
What sort of topics to bring up? Anything under the sun. You can start with commonplace things like sports or the weather (EVERYONE has an opinion on the weather – it’s amazing!), or maybe go deeper with politics (I prefer to come across as “independent” or “undecided” – it’s easier to connect with people because they cannot “peg” you, and if they want to, they need to figure out more about you, which makes you interesting … plus it’s easier not to use you as a channel to vent all their political hangups), or tastes in literature, or thoughts on philosophy, or religious beliefs. Don’t immediately disagree with them (if you disagree), mention how you find it interesting, or get them to explain what they mean. It can be very difficult at times, especially if you are like me and get passionate about stuff. But they will respect you if you can let them express what they want to say. If you have something you want to correct them on (say if they said something inappropriate, or something you felt wrong, or insulting), consider bringing it up after the fact like “I was thinking about our conversation the other day, and what you said bothered me a little …”, etc.
When beginning, don’t go too deep too quickly … get used to holding conversation in general. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try going deeper more quickly (you will never feel 100% ready), but with prayer and practice, you’ll see that you succeed more than not. Real lasting friendships are most often deep friendships. There is no reason why we cannot have many deep friendships. They do take time to foster, but still, that doesn’t mean we can only have 1 or 2.
Get to know your new friend. Ask yourself – do I know where he’s from? How many people are in his family? How did his parents meet? Is he married? How many kids does he have? What are they into? How did he meet his wife? Where did he go to school? What is his profession? What places in the world has he lived in or visited? What is his faith? What are his tastes in food, music, film, and literature? What are his political views? What sports does he like to play? What hobbies does he have? These are just a few …
Yes, and time is very much involved. You need to invest in your friends – which is why you want to look out for good friends. Choose them, don’t let anyone be your friend. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to decide if they’re “worth it” before you start. You’ll never know what you find past the cover. There’s a saying though, “Don’t let grass grow on the road to friendship.” It’s true … a friendship may wither if we don’t cultivate it. So go out to eat with them. Go to a movie, or a sporting event, or just shoot some hoops together. Have a barbecue, throw a party, invite him to Mass or Confession even. Anything. It’s all up for grabs.
I guess most importantly … get to love your friends. Make their concerns your own. Let them occupy your thoughts. Bring them to your prayer everyday. Make sacrifices for them – go out of your way to serve them. You’ll see how your problems melt away in this new-found sunshine. As you forget yourself, you will become happier, more confident, and more balanced.