When someone comes out as other-than-heterosexual to a religious fundamentalist (or someone who for whatever reason has an anti-gay ideology as part of their identity), the conversation often goes this way:
- Sue: I know you’re really religious and… I think you should know… I’m gay.
- Fred: No big deal. I don’t care what you do in bed. Hey, it’s not like I tell you what I get up to with my wife, right?
In this scenario, Fred probably thinks that what he’s saying is liberal, kind, generous, and accepting. It isn’t. This is actually a nasty thing to say, even if you mean well.
If someone comes out to you, they are telling you something important about themself; something that was probably hard to say. They are telling you that they have the capacity to love, and that their capacity for love is stigmatized. If they know that you have an anti-gay ideology, they are telling you it is important for you to know about their capacity for love, even though they expect you to disapprove.
Saying something along the lines of “I don’t need to know what you do in bed” in response to that is unkind. It’s implying that you think they just told you something smutty or inappropriate. They didn’t. They told you something appropriate and important.
The capacity of straight men to love women is socially celebrated. The capacity of straight women to love men is also socially celebrated. It’s not treated as something dirty or smutty that needs to be hidden. Even the assumed sexuality of opposite-sex relationships is socially celebrated.
There’s nothing obscene about knowing someone’s sexual orientation or marital status. It’s an important fact about who someone is and how they are in the world.
If someone knows that a man and a woman are married (or often even if they are dating), they will assume that they have sex together. Parts of marriage ceremonies celebrate sexuality (eg: “you may now kiss the bride”). People talk about marriages being consummated, and assume that newly married couples will have a particular kind of sex on their wedding night.
And despite all of this implicit sexuality: If a straight man told someone he was married, and the response was: “I don’t need to know what you do in bed”, he would probably be very offended. He would expect you to respect his relationship and capacity for love more than that, and not to reduce them to something lewd.
It’s important to offer people who aren’t straight the same respect. Even if you disapprove of their relationships, acknowledge them as relationships. Even if you disapprove of their love, acknowledge it as love. Don’t pretend that you’re tolerating something unseemly and unimportant.