What Freedom Means to Me

Challenging our idea of freedom

7/16/20237 min read

What Freedom Means to Me.

When I was young, I loved baseball and played on the Little League team in my hometown for four years. I aspired to be a pro player, but I was not good enough, so after my teammates moved up to Babe Ruth League, I did not. I knew my limitations.

As a teen, I dreamed of many things. I wanted to be a writer, who also acted in the movie based on my bestselling novel alongside Valerie Bertinelli as my love interest, sang the soundtrack to the film, and then won an Oscar, Grammy, and Pulitzer for my work. As I got older, I realized that life has a way of changing the things we wish for based on the things that happen.

I still sing occasionally, though I used to sing more in the church when I regularly attended. I can play guitar poorly but never become a superstar singer. I acted in church plays and musicals but never pursued that after I left high school. I have written three novels, which are still available here, and continue to write.

The thing here is that I chose to do (or not do) all the things I mentioned above. The talent may have lain dormant in me, but I deliberately chose to do or not do those things, just like being a Christian. I was raised by parents who believed in God but never outwardly went to church or made professions overtly. I went to church because my Grandmother took us with her. I became a Christian by choice in my early teens. Others became Muslim, Jewish, or a different flavor of Christianity by choice. Their upbringing or their location may have precipitated that choice. Had I been born in the Middle East, I might have been Muslim or Jewish. My Grandmother was a member of the Church of Christ. My Father was a Catholic. My wife grew up Southern Baptist. Many circumstances are either because we were raised a certain way or we chose a certain path.

People are not born thieves, murderers, or racists. Either they were raised that way or became that way by choice. People may steal because they are poor and need to feed their families. Or they may steal because of jealousy. One is because of circumstance, and one is because of choice. Racists are taught to be racists by the way they are raised. Children do not see color as an issue unless someone is taught to do so. We have come a long way in recognizing racism as wrong, but we have far to go.

The recent Supreme Court decision that reversed Affirmative Action has brought racism to the forefront again. Those who still see race as a defining factor of a person are against Affirmative Action because they see it as reverse racism. They believe giving people of a class that has been discriminated against an even playing field gives them an unfair advantage. They may claim people of color are now equal and don’t need a helping hand. They fail to realize that because of the history of America as a slave-holding country, there has been an unfair advantage of white people over people of color even after the Emancipation of enslaved people. Changing the laws did not automatically change the minds of people raised to believe enslaved people were a lower class. It has been 160 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and even today; some believe that people different than themselves are somehow lesser beings.

It is not just people of color that experience this. People of other religions or ethnicities suffer from the same discrimination. This is a product of White Nationalism. People are separating others who are not White, American-born Christians as Others who are not worthy of being in the same class as those who are. The growing concern with White Nationalism is troubling. Not only are they Othering people of different colors, nationalities, or religions, but they are also attacking White people who are not Cis-gender, straight, and, often, Republican.

It is human nature not to trust those things you don’t understand. It is a choice not to try and understand those things. I grew up an evangelical Christian, and as an adult, I was Catholic for many years. I was taught that the Bible says being homosexual is a sin. I was also taught, mainly by observation of my family and friends, that black people were not as smart as white people, that they were lazy and thugs. Growing up in this environment, I adopted those same beliefs, even if I didn’t profess them out loud. For years, I felt I was a good Christian despite othering people who were different or whom I didn’t understand. I saw nothing wrong in my beliefs so long as I didn’t profess them.

I, ashamedly, remember telling Gay people I knew they were going to Hell if they didn’t change their lifestyles—out of love, of course. I, ashamedly, didn’t think anything wrong with the book I ordered from Scholastic Books that was filled with Polish jokes. I, ashamedly, didn’t speak up when others made fun of someone different, and sometimes even participated in the ribbing. It was how I was raised. No one told me outright to do these things. I merely observed those I knew and loved do them, so I thought it was ok. It was normal. Even my Grandmother, devoutly religious and whom I greatly adored, used the “N-word.”

I didn’t try to understand those who were different. I believed I had all the right answers. I took offense if someone called me out on something I said or did. After all, I was a good Christian. I went to church three times a week. I was a Lector and Cantor in the Church. I even taught CCD classes. I was definitely on the high moral ground.

It was not until I was in my 50s that I began to question if I was right. It took finding out a dear friend of mine was HIV+ to cause me to question all I had been taught. My friend is the life of the party and a sweet soul who spreads love and light to all who know him. Finding out he was gay was shocking because I would never have suspected it. He had so many girlfriends in high school I just assumed he was straight.

My inclination before this bombshell would have been to try and convert him to go straight. However, this time, my immediate thought was to pray for his health and to feel something I had never felt before when learning someone was gay. I had always believed that being gay was a choice because that’s what I was taught by people in authority about such things. This time, I realized deep down that it was not a choice. No one would choose to be ostracized and ridiculed. No one would choose to have family and friends shun them because of a lifestyle choice. For the first time, I thought that people are born this way.

My friend being HIV+ opened my eyes to the fact that I might not have all the answers. It made me realize I had much to learn and make amends for. I wish I could say that I immediately became an ally. That is not the case, though. I did, however, begin to question a lot of things. If people are born gay, how could it be a sin?

For years, preachers taught that it was a lifestyle choice. Then, even though they admitted people were born gay, they insisted it was still a sin, and God challenged them to remain celibate as a testament to their love for God. This didn’t sit well with me. How could a loving God make someone gay and expect them not to act on their sexuality? After much research, I realized that every clobber verse mentioned concerning homosexuality was not about consensual sex between two adults but about rape. Also, the words mentioned were either in the old testament about Jewish Law or spoken by Paul, not Jesus. The word Homosexual was not used until 1946 in the Revised Standard version. Until then, the German and Swedish versions used a term for boy molesters. The link gives the history behind such wording.

In the years since then, I have become an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community. I know that man changed the translation from one concerning pederasty to one meaning consensual sex between consenting adults. Do I understand why people are attracted to the same sex? No, But the cool thing is, I don’t have to—any more than I need to understand why people of the opposite sex are attracted to each other. I only have to accept it. It is not my concern who loves whom. That is freedom.

True freedom is knowing I don’t have to know all the answers. I don’t have to police others because they disagree with me or I don’t understand them. I don’t have to understand Gender Dysphoria to know it is real. I don’t have to make everyone else follow Christian doctrines and dogmas. True freedom means that I accept people for who they are. I don’t have to take their beliefs for myself, but I have to respect them.

The truth is, there are people in the world who would take advantage of young children. Child trafficking is a real thing. However, most people caught doing these despicable things are heterosexual, not homosexual, transgender, or Drag Queens. Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know or are in power—a relative, a coach, a pastor, or a teacher than someone in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Yet, there are people out there accusing this community and their allies of being groomers. These people are electing people who create laws to limit or severely endanger a group of people who want to live their lives as their true selves without being subjected to discrimination or harassment.

Throughout the years, we have picked different people to demonize for one reason or another. First, it was the indigenous peoples of America; then it was the black people that were enslaved; then the hippies in the 60s; then it was people who were flooding to America to find freedom and safety from oppression; then the Muslim community after 9-11; now we are doing it to the LGBTQIA+ citizens.

None of these oppressed people were guilty of anything other than being different. It’s time to recognize our past mistakes and stop the madness. If someone feels they were born in the wrong body and wants to change their birth gender, how does that affect me negatively? If two adults of the same sex are attracted to each other and want to marry, how does that make my life any worse? If someone believes that Allah is the one true God, how does that make me less of a person? No one forces me to change my gender, marry another man, or become Muslim.

This is America, and we are supposed to be free to live freely, so long as our way of life does not infringe on another’s rights and freedoms. A person being transgender does not affect my rights as a CIS-gender man. So why would I force them to follow my thinking on the matter? Them living their life is not pushing their lifestyle down my throat. It is them being who they are. My opinion about them does not matter. And that is my idea of freedom. People living in harmony and being their true selves.