Owning and embracing our difference


You know that old myth about couples who live together getting so they look alike? I say myth, because anybody who knows us knows that even after 30 years my husband and I couldn’t look any more different than we do — we are a classic Mutt and Jeff combination. Of course, that difference was an essential part of what attracted us to each other in the first place. “Opposites attract” has its roots in simple physics, after all. Differences are important.

I was somewhere between startled and saddened to read about the controversy surrounding Portland, Ore., mayor Sam Adams. Portland is the largest city in the U.S. to have an openly gay mayor. Apparently his past includes a brief intimate relationship with a teenaged legislative intern. No law seems to have been broken. The entire “scandal” seems to be that, when asked about it during the campaign, Adams lied. Of course he did. Do you talk openly about every sexual relationship you’ve had? Of course you don’t. And, when you get into a position of high public visibility, do you adjust your story telling to avoid potential conflicts? Of course — we all do.

A few weeks ago, I was at a large event at my denomination’s local cathedral. There were easily several hundred people present. It was one of those things that overwhelms an introvert like me, so my usual tactic is to stand in one place and let it swirl around me. At one point, a colleague dropped by to introduce me to another priest. I remember being a little surprised when I heard myself introduced as “sort of on staff” at our parish. And half a second later it was over and they were gone. But I was berating myself for letting it go — after all, I am the “missioner for the gay and lesbian community” at our church. But who wants to raise eyebrows with the “G” word? In fact, this is quite uncharacteristic of me — I usually enjoy smiling as I explain to the unwitting that the dignified priest to whom they are speaking has devoted his ministry to gay inclusiveness!

Obviously these two stories are nowhere comparable. I have to admit I know nothing about the politics of Portland, or really, of the facts about that case. But it still makes me want to shake my head in exasperation. I think it really is important to understand how easily and effortlessly all of us have learned to avoid bringing up even the fact of being gay, let alone the details of our lives. And yet, society needs to know about the ways in which we are different. And in order to lead spiritually fulfilled lives, we need to stop hiding in our own closets. We need to own our differences, to embrace them and to take pride in them.

It seems that no matter how far we advance toward equality, our essential differences still mock us. And the reason is because we, as LGBT folks — we as different folks — refuse to embrace and celebrate that which makes us different. Nobody wants to walk into a produce market and find only iceberg lettuce and cardboard tomatoes. Society needs to reach the point where it embraces the differences among people too. And we need to help society get there.

Just as it is important to be spiritually centered about who we are as LGBT folks, it also is critical that we act with pride and without apologetics about the differentness we bring that enriches society. Our job is to lift the spirits of the whole society, even as we affirm our own.

The Rev. Richard P. Smiraglia is missioner among the gay and lesbian community at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, 1904 Walnut St. He can be reached at [email protected].