Sometimes I lie.
I was walking across campus–I leave for Alaska in 36 hours, and with advising, doctor’s appointments, and laundry to do, I know precisely where all my time must go–when I was approached by a woman handing out flyers for an event tonight.
“Have you heard about the Sexperiment?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “Could you tell me more about it?”
Except I had heard about it.
When I lie, I lie by omission. I do not change the facts or alter the story; I simply present an incomplete picture. In this case, I happened to hear about the Sexperiment last week since there’s a flier for it posted above the water fountain where I tutor. It’s a series of three workshops hosted by one of the Christian ministries on campus, each one focusing on relationships, marriage, and sex. I was intrigued to find out how inclusive these discussion meetings would be, but two had passed and I couldn’t make their time anyways, so I just went on with my day.
Except here I had a chance to learn more–so telling her I wasn’t interested would end a potentially meaningful conversation.
So I lied.
“Do you have a moment to do a quick survey?” she asked after explaining the event, and still trying to get at the crux of the Sexperiment’s mission, I nodded and listened.
The questions were rather basic, but I tried to keep my answers profound–and as neutral as possible.
“How much sex do you think students in college have?” If they’re as busy as me, I said, probably not as much as they like people to think.
“What do you think is most important to have good sex?” A strong connection with my partner, I answered. As I said: as neutral as possible (but still entirely honest).
“Do you think marriage is ‘more than just a piece of paper’?”
Aha! Here we have it. Marriage.
Except I didn’t want to turn this into a Christians vs. the Gays debate. I wanted an honest conversation, an opportunity for two people–with possibly different or maybe very similar beliefs–to listen to each other, to share something, and perhaps create a meaningful, if momentary, connection.
I think marriage is much more than a piece a paper, I said. There are over 1,100 federal rights and privileges granted to married couples, with even more at the state level. Of course, I think marriage can also mean much more than that for a couple; it’s a way for them to affirm their relationship publicly.
She had a small glimmer in her eyes–that look of broken ignorance, of awareness starting to bubble up and break free. She told me she had no idea there were so many rights and thanked me for sharing that with her. So I smiled, genuinely happy, and said that’s why marriage equality matters to so many people.
And she thanked me again.
“What’s the most important quality in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend?”
Excuse me, what? A “boyfriend or girlfriend”? I wonder if she saw the astonishment in my eyes when she asked me–a male, generally read as straight in brief encounters such as this, suggesting the possibility of having a potential boyfriend?
Granted, it still implies the existence of only binary genders, but it’s a step in the right direction, so that can be forgiven.
(And if you’re wondering, the most important factor is of course having a strong personal connection–especially being able to be together and just talk for hours.)
And finally, “What’s your biggest turn off?”
Hands down, arrogance or some other personality incompatibility.
So, to wrap things up, I told her I was definitely interested (because now I wanted to see what the actual event would be like), but unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it tonight. Except I couldn’t leave it there.
“Thank you,” I said, “for being so inclusive with your questions.”
As I walked away, I wondered if she knew what I meant–if she realized that not assuming I’m attracted romantically or sexually to women was the greatest courtesy someone’s given me today. I wondered if my comment about marriage equality tipped her off, or if I’m no longer as frequently read as straight as I used to be, or if our brief encounter had been as significant to her as it had been to me.
But none of that matters–what matters is that I didn’t call her out on the prejudices I perceived she might have; instead I celebrated her inclusiveness.
“This,” I told myself, “is call-in culture.”
I learned the idea of call-in culture from Rocco Katastrophe, a well-known transgender performance I had the pleasure of meeting last month. “We live in a call-out culture,” he said (paraphrasing, of course). “We call out people on their mistakes, but we don’t call them in to build relationships and shared understanding.”
To truly move forward as a movement, as a nation, we must learn to call people in rather than calling them out. I could have written her off because I knew the Sexperiment was a Christian event; instead I lied a little to learn a little more, and whether she was knowingly inclusive or not, now she knows that being inclusive affects people in a positive way–and now she also knows that marriage grants couples more than 1,100 legal rights and privileges.
Maybe I didn’t change the world, but I certainly made a difference.