I’ve found that the most useful lessons I’ve learned in college are more about living and people rather than anything scholastic. One of them that has really struck home today for me is never assume anything about anyone. That was something I learned my very first month in college, and I’ve tried to stick to it ever since.
A lot of people assume I’m homosexual. Doesn’t matter if they’ve had a direct interaction with me or not, and if they have how many times they’d actually talked to me. In fact, most of the people that ask me (or my friends) if I’m gay are people that have just met me or heard me talking in front of a group.
What on earth do you say to that? I could do the knee jerk reaction thing and just yell out something like “No, I’m not gay! Are you kidding?” But that wouldn’t be a very loving thing to do. Most of the time I just sit in silence, or at best give them a halfhearted attempt at “Nope.” If I’m lucky, I can get out a sentence or two saying something to the effect of “No, that’s interesting you think that, but I’m heterosexual.” By no means am I homophobic. Many of the people I’ve loved the most in my life have identified as homosexual. Does that mean I agree with it? No, it doesn’t. But just because I don’t agree with their lifestyle choice doesn’t mean I should dismiss the person.
But what does making that assumption mean? How many of my friendships have been affected by the apparent vibe I give off? Do guys not feel comfortable talking to me about “guy things?” Do girls only talk to me because they want a “gay best friend?” You might be laughing or shaking your head right now, but I can tell you from experience, people have approached me about things like that. I don’t even really know what I do to make people think that I am gay. Maybe because I dress well? I started dressing well to impress a girl I liked in high school. Maybe because my voice is a little in the tenor range? I can’t really control that. My mannerisms? I talk with my hands; most people in my family do. Maybe it’s a combination of all 3? Maybe it’s something completely else? And if I knew what made people think I’m gay, would I change whatever that is? Who am I, after all these years?
The first time someone asked me if I was gay I was 9 years old. I didn’t even know what that was because my parents didn’t think I was old enough to really be exposed to such big issues. Frankly, I agree with them. I’m glad they waited until I was 11 to really sit down and talk with me about some of the harder things. When I got to high school I started getting asked if I was gay even more. At one point in senior year someone who had never met me asked my girlfriend at the time if I was gay. I can only wonder how that must have felt for her to explain that.
College came and I pretty thoroughly immersed myself in a couple Christian organizations on campus. I figured if there was one place I wouldn’t have to worry about those questions so much, it’d be there. Wrong. Unbelievably wrong. In fact, they asked me more about it, and in even more rude ways. See, Christians LOVE LOVE LOVE to see themselves as beacons of light to others, which, if we are doing what God intends us to do, we are. But when Christians make assumptions about people, we aren’t shining a light to them, we’re shutting them off. When we see guys in fraternities and girls in sororities we assume they’re trashy, they “buy” their friends, huge jerks, superficial, etc. Sure, you’ll have some bad apples in every bunch, but some of my best friends are in fraternities and sororities and they are some of the best, most genuine, Christian people I know. Sometimes those members of fraternities or sororities will go out of their way to make sure I’m doing all right, while the people I know in Christian organizations won’t look at me twice. We see football players; we assume they’re all idiots, are getting paid under the table, etc. Yes, that happens in some places, but once again, those assumptions are dangerous. My sophomore year I had the privilege of sitting next to an offensive lineman on the UNC football team named Jonathan Cooper. Coop ALWAYS did his work, ALWAYS showed up to class, I saw him in the library almost every day, he participated in discussions more than anyone else. You think he’s an idiot? Absolutely not. He was the smartest guy in the class. We see homosexual people and assume a number of things about them, like they watch Ellen Degeneres, they vote Democrat, etc. False. As stated earlier, I’ve had the opportunity to become friends with a number of homosexual people and I really cannot begin to tell you how wrong those stereotypes turn out to be.
This is why Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to not judge each other. When we judge each other and make assumptions, we define how we are going to interact with that person and possibly miss out on chances to connect with them. If you’re a guy and thought I was gay and didn’t want to talk to me much because of it thinking we’d have little in common, you may have missed a chance to get to know a guy who watches football from 10 am to 11 pm every Saturday. If you’re a girl and thought I was gay and didn’t think twice about it, you may have missed a chance to get to know or even date a guy who would treat you with respect. If you see a member of a fraternity or sorority and think “douche bag” or “slut” you may have just missed a chance to have a new best friend. If you see a football player like Jonathan Cooper, you may have missed your chance to have an incredibly reliable study partner. Maybe you see a homosexual person and miss your chance to get to know someone who will genuinely care for you.
What else are you missing by making your assumptions?
And to those of you who have assumed things about me that aren’t true; to those who have judged me without knowing me: I forgive you. And to those who I’ve wrongly judged: I’m sorry.