Being ‘gay’ is not a choice
Miles Christian Daniels
I’m not unlike most college seniors. With almost four years of higher education behind me, I’ve often wondered how what I’ve learned would prepare me for the real world. Around this same time last semester, I began to find out.
A documentary film class – not exactly something I was interested in – was offered as part of my creative writing degree, so I took it. Hey, three hours of watching films? Could be worse. All I wanted was an A, not a life-changing experience.
I was sailing through the semester when one of the series, "Eyes on the Prize," was screened. Suddenly – and unwillingly – I was transported from a comfortable UNC-Wilmington classroom to the teeming streets of Selma. I sat transfixed as white police officers brutally beat silent, black protesters because they had the audacity to want to vote. The violence was ugly enough, but when a white police officer spit in the face of a young black man, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Spit in his face. Embarrassed, I put my hand to my own face. I didn’t want the class to see my reaction.
The scene had been shot some thirty years before, but I still felt helpless, like there was something I should be doing to help alleviate the boy’s pain.
Little did I know that soon after watching this horrifying, humiliating moment on film that documentary film would become documentary reality.
I had just finished a night of dancing at a local gay-friendly bar here in Wilmington. I felt good, like I had finally found my niche through people who accepted me for what I am. After twenty-three years of lies and deceit, I had recently learned to accept myself.
See I’m from Wanchese – a small fishing village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. There, most men have never attended college and pride themselves in both hard, manual labor and establishing traditional families. The son of a seafood business owner, with three brothers who work in the seafood industry, gay wasn’t what I was supposed to be – but I was.
I walked out to get a cab on Front Street. A man – standing on the curb – asked if he could share the fare. On the ride to his house, he asked if I was gay. I wondered why he was asking, but I had just come out and had nothing to hide. "Yes," I said. Proud I could be honest.
The driver pulled over to let him out. The man opened his door, then wheeled around and punched me in the face. I covered my face. Frustrated he couldn’t hit me again, he spit on me. "You faggot. You flaming queer. Go to hell," he screamed.
He slammed the door and – for good measure – spit once more through the open window. I wanted to scream back, "I can’t help being gay. It’s not my choice." But instead what strangely came to mind was that black boy in Selma. As I couldn’t help being gay, he couldn’t help being black. He was hated, not for something he did, but who he was. I knew I wasn’t the only one.
As I look back over the semester, I realize the pain and injustice this boy suffered in a way prepared me for that night. I wish people could see beyond skin color, ethnic background, mental acuity, social status and religious or sexual preference. These are not things any of us do. Plus, it’s not all of who we are.
I’m a writer, a blues pianist, a surfer, a son, a brother, a Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan, a person who does not define myself completely through sexual orientation. Being part of a certain minority is not my choice. It’s just who I am.
Miles Christian Daniels is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Write him at P.O. Box 28006, Wilmington, NC 28407, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.