The popularity of the column was due in part to Ann’s open admission that she was constantly learning from her audience. In the 1970s, she claimed homosexuals suffered from “a severe personality disorder,” and were deserving not of derision but compassion, presumably until a cure could be found. This position was fairly expected from someone born in 1918.
But in 1992, she asked her gay readers: “Are you glad you’re gay, or would you rather be straight?” She received more than 75,000 responses.
By a ratio of 30-to-1, the readers were just plain delighted with being gay, and wouldn’t have it any other way. After all this, Ann concluded, “It is my firm conviction that homosexuality is not learned behavior, it is genetic. It can be suppressed but not altered.”
I was 12 years old when I read that, and the statement stayed with me. She ended her column by informing her readers that she had experienced a shift in her beliefs regarding the causality of homosexuality. People are born with it, no one’s going to change it, and anybody who claims otherwise is faking it. Looking at it now, I am struck by the stark simplicity of the writing.
My grandmother didn’t clip that particular column (and why would she? She’d never met a homosexual. They didn’t exist in Mississippi.), and I’m guessing anyone who did no longer has it on their fridge. That’s a shame, because I believe Ann’s no-frills message speaks to a populace that our community struggles to reach.
So I’m going to attempt, in the grand tradition of my pre-internet forebears, to share something fridge-worthy. Something my grandmother might have circled. I will try to be confident, but humble.
Dear reader: You may have read or heard statements about homosexuals which leave you feeling frustrated or angry, because the ideas presented conflict with your personal beliefs. Someone may have said that you have to like gay people. You don’t have to like gay people.
There are lots of gay people I don’t like, and plenty of gay people who don’t like me. But we dislike each other for the reasons anybody dislikes anybody: wearing too much cologne, dressing their cats in costumes, taste in music. The world is filled with people you won’t get along with, and that is perfectly fine.
Accepting the basic fact of homosexuality, that it is embedded in who a person is, does not mean that you ever have to embrace it. If your moral or religious beliefs do not allow for homosexuality, divorce, eating pork, whatever it may be, it is your right to believe that.
But allowing those beliefs to inspire anger, mistrust, or hatred is not how your life was meant to be lived. In the long run, it will make you a lonely, sad person.
The only reason the debate persists over whether homosexuality is a choice is because as long as some people claim it is, they can justify the mistreatment of others. No one has ever been cured of it. No one ever will be. One cannot bully, legislate, or pray it away.
Perpetuating those fallacies is harming innocent people, and if you’re contributing to that, you should stop. Because if you think there are no gay people in your life right now, you are wrong. It just means they don’t trust you enough to be honest about themselves. And you should really explore what that says about you.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.