Creating a Better World Through Mistakes
When I was a few years old, my grandmother would babysit me. She'd take me to the market, and fill a bag with lentils, and then it was just a quick trip home to begin the process of cooking her famous lentil soup. But before you can cook lentil soup, there's work to do, and my job was to sit at the kitchen table and sort the lentils, to pick out any pebbles I might find. And sometimes I'd make a mistake, and throw out a lentil, and I'd feel bad. My grandmother would say softly, “It’s okay that you made a mistake, sweetie; it's okay to be wrong."
When I graduated high school and came out of the closet to my best friend, we agreed that neither she nor I were going to start waving rainbow flags and leading any kind of charge for the LGBT community. Nineteen months later, I stood on the steps of the courthouse in Newark and announced that I was filing suit against Seton Hall University, asking the court to compel my college to recognize the gay-straight alliance I had founded and led. Well, I guess I got it wrong. But we'll come back to Seton Hall a bit later.
Seven years ago, I was in the green room of the GLAAD Awards in New York City, being angry at Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard. She had gone onstage and stated that the world would change when gay people came out of the closet. She insisted, "When you know you're gay, you must come out. It's the only way people will know how many people there are like Matthew." I didn't agree. I thought that forcing men and women, boys and girls, to talk openly about their sexuality for the sake of joining some kind of roster, to become a number for a number's sake, was the wrong message. I thought that concept might push people into a world for which they weren’t ready, or into a world that might not be ready for them.
Well, I'd like to take the time to say to all of you generally, and to Judy Shepard specifically, and to my future child who will one day read these words: I got it wrong. I got it very wrong.
I've witnessed firsthand the enormous and historic swell of public support that has steadily exploded out of the public consciousness in the last decade. And it is directly attributable to the courage of the men and women who have come out of the closet, celebrities among them, certainly, but also normal people like me and my husband, a respected teacher. It's folks like us, boys who have become men, that can help frame and shape the awareness of gays and lesbians in the world, our world. And we can earn the future we deserve, not just for ourselves, but for the child on the way to become part of our forever family.
We have to be wrong. Because being wrong helps us get it right. And it teaches our children, our peers, our families, our neighbors, and yes, our opposition, that we are just like everyone else; we are entirely fallible, and the perfection of our imperfections allows us to find a likeness, some commonality, whether we are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or anywhere on that incredible spectrum where we are undoubtedly supposed to be.
Now, let's return to Seton Hall. It was newsworthy when the university fired Rev. Warren Hall, for posting a message of solidarity towards LGBT students on his Facebook page. He shared a message of love, a message that you’d think would be shared by millions of people and at least one very notable, historic and bearded carpenter. That message was simple. No H8. And for sharing that sentiment and ministering to a subset of students, Rev. Hall was removed from the University community at Seton Hall. Safe to say, Seton Hall got it wrong.
There will never be a world where we are all saying the same things. My child will never be exactly who we are, I'll never be the same as my husband, and neither one of us will ever be the kind of men our mothers might have imagined. But we are authentic representations of our best efforts, we are the men who aim to be better men, and we are as good as we work to become.
In the dismissal of a priest who supports his students as whole humans, Seton Hall has gotten it wrong. The only difference is, they’ll never admit it. In the past I have spoken about the intersection of the gay community and the faith community. There are universities across the country, Catholic universities, that have found a world where faith communities minister to all, and not some. I know everything I need to know about faith and love from my Catholic grandmother, who has been married for 73 years and counting, whose love for her husband helps me understand the love I have for mine, and whose marriage serves as an example for the very best among us.
And that’s the kind of world in which I want to raise my child. It's a world where it's okay to be wrong, because knowing when you're wrong makes you a better person. It's a world where we can drop our egos and more quickly get to the admission that we aren't always right, because that gets us even more quickly to the knowledge we sought from the get-go.
That world is a world where my husband and I aren't superheroes, just men doing our best to do good as frequently and sincerely as we can. The world in which our child will grow, learn, thrive, and excel will be a world of our own creation, one that we have helped create through our own mistakes and faults and flaws. A perfectly imperfect world, a soup made richer and more flavorful by all of its ingredients, not just some. That's the world for us, and for the baby who will be ours, where we’ve all got our place at Grandma’s kitchen table.