We have a saying in the gay community:
It is better to be hated for who you are,
than loved for who you are not.
This is the dilemma of the closet. If we pretend we are straight, we can get the approval of those around us. If we are honest about who we are, we risk rejection and worse. This difference between lying to make others comfortable, and living honestly, was powerfully demonstrated in the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which turned this societal value of preferring lies into law. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before Congress, he has served with gay and lesbian service members since 1968:
No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.
I was excommunicated from my church for being gay. That’s the morality of people who prefer conformity over truth. When I went off to graduate school and told my parents I was living an out gay life, Mormon leaders told them to cut me off for my defiance. I was willing to risk it all. No amount of quoting God’s wrath or “eternal damnation” or disinheritance was worth the lies to me. I prefer the values described in the Bhagavad Gita:
It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly
than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.
While there are at least as many squirrelly and dishonest gay people as there are straight people, my overall community represents a deep and profound commitment to life’s deepest truths. Many of us suffer and die for our unwillingness to be who we are not. As the song from La Cage aux Folles puts it:
I am what I am,
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty!
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a different angle?
Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!