Earlier today at the dog park I frequent daily in Washington State, I happened across a man in his 50s or 60s. I'd run into him once before and made it a point to avoid him. He seemed like the awkwardly chatty type that introverts like me tend to loathe so I kept my distance. It's a 40 acre park, there are plenty of other places to go. Little did I know I'd underestimated him.
I didn't recognize him today which is why I found him chatting me up at one of the run-around areas as our dogs played. One of his initial questions immediately threw up a red flag, "what do you do when you're not at the dog park?" If you're not familiar with this type of question, it's a thinly veiled probe as to why someone like me, a 25 year old, is outside at 10 AM like a lazy drain on society instead of crammed into a cubicle on a windowless office floor.
I probably should have walked away right there, but I'm congenial and he interspersed odd bits of personal information with tips on hiking and camping, something in which I have a great interest. He eventually ended up asking what brought me from New York to Washington, to which I referenced my partner's job.
"Guy or girl?" he asked. Oh fantastic, this should be good.
"Guy," I replied, steeling myself for any number of responses.
"Are you a homosexual?" This was not any of the ones I was expecting.
"Yes," I answered, not wanting to delve into the topics of pansexuality, bisexuality, and polyamory with someone who clearly wasn't going to receive them well.
"Ah that's too bad," he responded congenially. "I believe it's a choice and all that." 'Good for fucking you,' my internal monologue sounded. 'I hope you like being wrong.' But I kept silent, both because I was curious as to what else he would say and because I go to the dog park to relax with my dog, not debate human sexuality.
"You're really not attracted to women at all?" he pressed. He seemed genuinely taken aback by the revelation that I was attracted to men and I'm pretty sure I know why. One of things that spurred our conversation was him watching me toss a toy for one of the dogs. This one to be exact:
It's not the most aerodynamic, but I was getting it a good 150 feet out into the field. I think I turned his world upside down a little bit. I think he had a certain picture of slender, effeminate, lispy gay men in his head. My athletic prowess, my love of sports, and my very masculine voice cuts down a lot of stereotypes.
"Well, I find women attractive, an equal opportunity lover I guess. I've dated both men and women," I explained, trying to give him a bare-bones description that he could at least understand.
He went on to talk about some church in Washington that does Reparative Therapy for "people looking to get out of that sort of life. I can give you some info if you want. They're the only one in the Northwest." Because Reparative Therapy is utter horseshit, and is condemned by every reputable psychiatric association in North America. I did not say this either.
"Probably not," I replied.
He seemed to take this in stride, and I have to give him credit for not being the least bit combative. He seemed geniunely concerned about how he was coming off. "Well I believe sin is sin, including my sleeping around with women I'm not married to," he confided. "It's all equal to me, and I try and treat people like that. I don't think I've treated you badly, have I?"
I had to admit that he hadn't, and he continued to give me some pretty good advice for hiking and camping, and being aware of the local wildlife, mainly bears and mountain lions, without seeming affronted by or afraid of my "homosexuality." I could have pointed out that the only thing he'd come across as is a moron who was either woefully underinformed, or simply reinforcing his own biases with bad science, but I didn't.
And looking back, I don't wish I had either, I think the conversation went pretty well. It was obvious that in talking to me, the guy was rethinking some of his preconceptions. To assault him with a different opinion would not have been productive, and probably counter-productive in pushing him further into bigotry. It's better for him to think about how I likely wasn't what he expected and come to his own conclusions than for me to force anything on him.
Washington voters passed the state's Civil Unions bill in 2009 and stand a good chance of passing the state's Marriage Equality referendum this November, so the guy can either continue to rethink some of his misconceptions, or he can wither away and die like the thoughts of most of his generation.