Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Honey, This City Isn't For You."

Last weekend, with great solemnity and ceremony, I relocated my aloe plant from the landing on our stairs to our deck outside. To get some sun, because I'm pretty sure it's dying. (I always kill the ones that are supposed to be low-maintenance. And the needy ones are thriving. This is probably a metaphor about me? Is it?) Anyway, this afternoon I was patting myself on the back for my steely resolve in the face of cruel nature and science, etc.; sacrificing the feng shui of my staircase landing all in the name of abundant aloe life, and then it starting pouring rain. It went from zero to Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm in .5 seconds and I was powerless at my kitchen window. That rain is gonna kill my aloe now. Aloe drowns in the rain.

We live about a mile from downtown Columbus. I can see the skyscrapers from our third-story window, which sits just opposite the Naptime Treadmill 2017 (as we affectionately call it around here, because it is almost exclusively used during naptime). On pretty regular occasions, especially during rush hour when the highways are clogged, I find myself driving through the middle of the city. (Columbus has a really strange number of pizza places. And hot dog places. And grilled cheese places? We have a grease problem.) Anyway, right now on every major city lamppost downtown, there are giant signs heralding the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade and Festival in a couple weeks. The signs have been up for over a month now. They're city signs, on city lampposts. With a great font.

I see them every time I pass through town, and a couple errands ago I realized I hadn't quite put my finger on how they made me feel. Because I was definitely feeling something, but I didn't know what. The easy answer would be anger. Taking a quick inventory of my college years would lead right to that conclusion. I was an angry little freedom fighter back then - everyone was out to get me and everyone but me was WRONG. But the signs weren't making me angry.

Was it sadness? Melancholy? Tenderness? Fear? Confusion? No. None of these really fit.

It was loneliness.

They make me feel lonely, is the thing. Like my own city doesn't want me. Because I'm not proud of our cultural obsession with sexuality, or the way we reduce people with same-sex attraction to a single identity, or the way we bully people - via Twitter, via legislation, via lawsuits, via church pulpits, via podcasts, via blogs, via books, via boring ol' peer pressure - into accepting, celebrating, and promoting the idea that we're powerless in the face of our sexual desires, that we can be happy as long as we get to do whatever we feel like doing in any given moment, and that marriage isn't a True Immovable Thing but can be whatever we want it to be, and that marriage only exists to make us happy. In fact, I don't like that we do that. I don't think homosexuality is an identity. I don't think it allows people to flourish. I don't think it's good for hearts. I don't think it's the way God sees us. And for that, my city doesn't want me.

(A few weeks ago I met a woman for coffee who does some local freelance writing. I was hoping to pick her brain on the ins and outs of  the freelance landscape around here. But when she asked me what Aaron does for a living, and I told her about his nonprofit, this happened:

Her: "Honey, you don't want to write for any Columbus publications."
Me: "What? Yes, I do."
Her: "...it's a very progressive city."
Me: "...ok?"
Her: .....
Me: .....

Me: ... "Do any of the publications cover the news? Because that's what I write, and that's what I read in them. I don't see a lot of opinion pieces... and I'm not qualified to write opinion pieces anyway."
Her: "I just don't think you'd want to write for them.")

Loneliness. (With a dash of injustice, bc: WTF?)


I feel strongly that I will really screw this whole thing up if I start to focus on whether, or how, I'm being wronged. That would be fruitless and self-serving and, frankly, boring as hell.  What I'm hoping to do is maybe use this to try to understand better the other people who have felt like this. Maybe for a long time.

I'm thinking of African-Americans who were (and in many cases still are) treated as unwelcome in their own cities. At water fountains and schools and restaurants and on certain streets and in certain neighborhoods or jobs or clergy positions or city councils. Or men and women without washboard abs and straight white teeth who don't see anyone who looks remotely like them on any billboard or advertisement anywhere. I guess I've spent most of my life, thanks be to God, feeling pretty represented. Pretty included. And now I'm starting not to feel that way. It's sad, and it makes me feel lonely, but maybe it will make me wiser. And help me remember that suffering - even on this little level - isn't The Thing To Always Be Avoided. And that it arguably doesn't do me too much good to feel perfectly at home in a world where sin is still pouring like Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm.

Because aloe drowns in the rain.