There Is No Fear In Love

2015-06-27 16.44.50

It’s been so great to be back in Nashville, a city who’s always received me so well. I say “who’s” instead of “that’s” because a place is, after all, it’s people. And this time’s been no exception from the friendly disposition of the people I met at the gas station when I first rolled into town, to waitress at the local diner and then, of course, to all the wonderful folk we ran into today at the Nashville Gay Pride Celebration.

I knew it would be an extra special day on the heels of the historic victory for America yesterday. It was especially touching to see the elderly couples, many who have been together for decades, who now can marry in their own native Tennessee instead of having to travel somewhere else to do it.

When I went to my first Gay Pride Parade in Birmingham in the early 80s (why does that make me feel so old?), it was basically us sodomites and our buzz-cut wearing sisteren. These days if you go to a Gay Pride celebration, usually at least a third of the crowd is made up of our straight allies. To all of them I say first, “You are most welcome; thanks for coming” and secondly, “THANK YOU!” The progress my people have made in this country not only has depended on Queer folk being courageous enough to stand up for our own rights but also on our incredible straight allies who also have shown great courage. Some people very close to me have been conspicuously silent on the matter and I have to admit that it hurts my heart.

We walked around the plaza for hours today. There were thousands there. “We” being my spiritual sister Shana Taylor and me. Shana is a trans woman who grew up a little boy in the same part of Alabama I did. She contacted me about a year and a half ago and asked to meet her from Breakfast at Jack’s in Parrish. We’ve been fast friends ever since. Today, we shook hands and met people and petted dogs and (of course) flirted with all the hot cowboys. I stopped off by the Nashville Gay Rugby Club’s booth to see some friends and make some new ones. John Lee gave me a Bingham Cup 2016 t-shirt. Nashville will host the International Gay (and straight inclusive) Rugby Tournament where 40 some-odd rugby teams from around the world will descend on this hot Southern city. That might definitely be worth a trip back here in May of next year!

When Shana and I felt like we’d seen everything twice (and tried every kind of food they were selling) we decided to head on home for a “disco nap” before heading back out to dance with the children tonight.

On the way to the truck we stumbled on a mainstay of Gay Pride parades everywhere, the little mob of “Christian” haters standing on the corner with their predictable signs and their predictable bullhorns shouting the same predictable hate-slogans I’ve heard for decades now. [I’m becoming an elder now. I’ll turn 50 in October. I’ve born witness to and (hopefully) participated in the fight for equality for quite a few years now and this ain’t my first, second, or even twenty-fifth time at the rodeo.] My general policy is just to ignore these yahoos. There’s certainly no reasoning with them and if you bang your head up against the stupid wall, all you gonna get is a headache. But this little posse of hate was standing right at the end of the crosswalk where we would end up with the walk sign came on! On a lark I decided to take out my iPhone and record a little bit of the circus for posterity. Hopefully one day it will be a thing of the past but until then, I’ve certainly seen how showing hate in action has played to our benefit. Think of all the footage and photographs of angry white Southerners screaming at (and worse) young Black Civil Rights activists. Any such movement needs its Martin Luther Kings and its George Wallaces.

There were only a handful of the haters there today– but it was a respectable number for a city of a million or so people. I zeroed in on the ringleader, not just because he (having a bullhorn) was the loudest, but also because he was smoking hot! Usually these crowds are made up people who look like they haven’t married outside their family in generations but not this guy!

He was about 5’10” and sporting a well-manicured dark brown beard. He wore a Carhartt ball-cap and dark brown dungarees that hugged his firm, round bottom in a way that made them look like two melons in in a tote sack. The shoes were understated, blue-collar-working-meets-frat-boy-scuff. He’d picked out grip-gloves (one wonders why) that matched his long-sleeve gray and yellow “Trust Jesus” t-shirt. He had those kind of piercing dark-brown eyes that you can’t really tell where the iris stops and the pupil starts. My guess is that he had probably grown up playing sports and definitely is not stranger to the weight room now because he filled out his little costume in all the right places. He had solidly built shoulders and traps and lats that looked like two shanks of beef underneath the form-fitting shirt at the upper back. You could tell he’d stood in front of the mirror and practiced his gravelly “preacher voice.”  Very sexy. Altogether, although a departure from what we’re used to, I found him very well cast for the role and if our interaction wasn’t destined to be what it was, I might have tried to get his number. But alas, he wasn’t there to sweep me off my feet and wisp me away to his farm in the foothills, he had a message for me from God Almighty Himself and when he saw me filming him, Honey, he started working that camera better than RuPaul could ever hope to.

So here I am, a 6’5″ 265 lb. shirtless, grey-bearded bear in a cowboy hat walking toward our execrable exorcist with the camera rolling. This is his wettest dream. If I hadn’t been there he would definitely be the one at all of Gay Pride who most loves being the center of attention the most.  I permanently hold that crown. He can be runner-up.

Here’s the odd part:

He was pretty much the corporal manifestation of every hurtful, oppressive, injurious idea that’s ever caused me pain. People like him have (when it has been like that) made my life (and the lives of millions of others like me) a living hell. His type are responsible of all the legal oppression, the denial of rights, the inequity of opportunity, the psychological abuse, the bullying, the battery, the murders– this guy, to me, is pretty much The Devil incarnate! And when I saw him there, so full of hate, pointing at me and screaming– all I could feel was Love; perhaps a little bit of pity, but mostly just Love.

The memory capacity on my phone filled up so the video shut off. (Watch video here.) I found myself standing there a foot or two away from him. I put the phone in my pocket and I could tell that the gathering crowd was waiting to see what would happen next. He, as I said, was a pretty solid little dude but I doubt anyone’s money would have been on him had it come to blows. I could have probably snapped him in two if I’d wanted to. The weird thing is I didn’t want to. Ponderous. You could see the hate in his eyes. God knows what happened to this poor boy to make him hate me so much but no one would doubt that he does. You could see it! Hell, you could damn near smell it! He shook with all the rage eating him up inside.

I don’t know many queer people who don’t, somewhere inside them, have a rage core that could melt a planet. Unless you have experienced it, you simply cannot imagine what going through life the target of such toxic vitriol is like.  In some ways, ripping this little punk’s head off would be the most intuitive thing I’ve ever done. In fact, if my ego had been in charge at all in that moment, that would have been exactly what I would have done. But my ego was not in charge; I was not in charge. God was in charge.

(I’ll pause here to say that I realize that anyone who has followed me for any substantial amount of time has witnessed my grappling with the nature, if not the very existence, of God. Too much about what I’ve heard about the monotheistic deity seems too ridiculous for me to “buy in.” But I’ve also come to grips with all that. I do believe in God and I continue be wary of many of His [sic] followers. I almost feel compelled each time that I use that problematic little three letter moniker (G-o-d) to somehow try to define it or give a treatise on my beliefs. I’m not going to do that. If my use of the word “God” troubles you for some reason, chances are you don’t understand what I mean anyway or understand what God means to me. In short, to me, God is everything and without God I am nothing.)

And it was that God that was in charge when all of a sudden I realized I was standing there face-to-face with a man who, for all intents and purposes, represents everyone who has ever hurt me in my life. With him standing there screaming at me in judgment, hating me with everything inside him, all I could feel was Love. On the heels of so much emotional pain in the past two years of my life, all I could feel was Love. With my parents so recently taken from this realm, all I could feel was Love. As a member of a portion of the population who, for no other reason than who and how we love, spend our lives hated by so many, all I could feel was Love. Brothers and sisters let me tell you, that ain’t me. That is a Power Greater than Myself working in my life.

I was inches from his ear and all of a sudden I heard myself praying for him. His bullhorn was loud but the Love of God was louder. I didn’t ask God to make him quit hating me or to “wake up” or any of that shit. I prayed for God to bless him in his life and all his friends and family. I prayed that his lessons would come gently and all the divine desires of his heart would be fulfilled. I prayed for his happiness; I prayed for his health. No matter what he said to me, I just kept loving him. I just kept praying.

There’s another piece to all this. In some ways this guy also represents all the bullies who caused this skinny little gay kid to live in fear. I may have grown up to be a big strong man but trust me, that little boy is still alive inside me. The Bible (that this misguided soul was currently trying to beat me over the head with) says in I John 4:18, “There is no fear in Love. Perfect Love casts out all fear.” As I stood there so very close to that which I once feared so much, I was not afraid at all. That’s God. As I stood there so able (thanks to your tax dollars) to destroy that which had hurt me for so long, I was not angry at all. That’s God.

This part will make some of you roll your eyes; likely others of you will laugh. I might even lose a couple of readers over this (or I might be confirming for some of you your suspicions of how mentally ill I really am) but as I stood there confronting hate with Love, I could feel my parents helping me. Not only by all the good counsel they gave me and the demonstration of their faith in their lives but actually helping me in that moment with their presence and with their love. I could feel God helping me. I could feel (deep breath) Jesus helping me. I know, I know, I’m about the least likely man in the world to invoke that name but no matter what you think of him, whether or not you believe the historical Jesus existed and whatever else you may or may not believe about the icon of the Christian faith, I’ll just say that the transformative power in the teachings of the “red words” in any Red Letter Addition of the Bible are real– no matter what your or my religious beliefs are or lack of them– that message of Love is, well, transformative.

Okay, before I start to preach, I’m gonna wrap it up. Just, before I go, let me say that none of what I just told you is meant to reflect positively on me. There were a hundred scenarios other than the way it went down that would have been a whole lot worse– and left to my own devices I probably chosen ninety-nine of them.

Oh! I almost forgot. We got to the truck and as we left (no more than five minutes later), we past the place where they’d been standing and harassing the gay revelers and our friends. The haters had all gone! It’s like they had just vanished into thin air. Perfect Love casts out all fear.

If you’re the praying sort, please include my little street corner “preacher” in yours tonight. Pray for his ultimate wellbeing and happiness. Hate solves nothing– no matter which direction it’s traveling.

See y’all tomorrow.

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