While talking with a few women at work yesterday, the subject of LGBTQ individuals in the ministry. I’m sure she only meant to compliment me, but she mentioned that I, as a gay man in this field, am better at relating to others and being sensitive to emotions. Like I said, I know it was meant as a compliment, and I felt honored that she thought so highly of me. However I was troubled by the the fact that she apparently thought my heterosexual male friends and classmates who are in ministry, being educated to go into the field, or waiting for a call, were less capable at dealing with emotions and making emotional connections with others.
Despite her good intentions, she was upholding a stereotype that gay men are more emotional and empathetic than heterosexual males. And while I’ve often heard of this as a negative aspect of homosexuals (ex: gay men are too effeminate or flamboyant) using it as a positive is still stereotyping, and thus flawed. I know plenty of gay men who would absolutely suck at dealing with other people’s emotions, and I know tons of heterosexual men who are waaaaay better than I am at dealing with other people’s emotions.
If you were to ask my CPE supervisor, he’d tell you how screwed up I was emotionally when I first began CPE. Well, okay he wouldn’t because he’s a professional and respects confidentiality, but I’m sure he’d say that I grew in several aspects of my ministry, just like everyone else in the group. It doesn’t matter that I’m gay and my classmate is straight. That doesn’t determine how effective we are at dealing with emotions. To be quite honest, emotional outbursts still tend to make me freeze in place, terrified that I’ll do something wrong and damaging. Same goes for some of my straight and gay friends.
It reminds me of when my friends, again, intending it as a compliment, would say that I was “such a good gay friend” for opening a door, going shopping with them, helping them choose which dress, whatever. I finally had enough one day and said “No. That doesn’t make me a good gay friend, it just makes me a good friend. Period. Being gay has nothing to do with it.”
Uplifting stereotypes to try to compliment a person based on their group is still wrong. And why? Because it’s over-simplifying things and just isn’t true. It also permits us to put others down or ignore their needs because of these supposedly “positive” stereotypes. Imagine an Asian student, struggling with math, or a woman who asks for help with baking, or an African American who isn’t good with sports. What does that say to them? It says “You suck. And in fact, you double-suck because this is something that is supposed to come natural to you.”
I understand that you might be trying to give me a compliment, but please, don’t say that I’m such a good gay friend, or such a good gay intern. Just say “hey, you did good. Thanks.” No stereotypes necessary.