What if we—especially those of us who identify with the LGBTQ community—thought of our orientations and expressions as a gift?
Michael Adee discussed this question and others during his presentation at our recent consultants’ meeting. The director of More Light Presbyterians (an organization that seeks to make the Presbyterian Church more inclusive), Michael affirmed that our orientations and expressions are gifts and should be shared with others—that love in any form should only bring us together, not drive us apart. Unfortunately, in many cases, the direct opposite is the case: people who identify with the LGBTQ community often feel judged at best and hated at worst. In such a difficult environment, how do we go about sharing this gift and embracing the gifts of others in return?
Michael suggested that we enlist the help of everyone, not just those who share our orientation. And “everyone” includes more differences around sexuality and gender than we might think. In a society that often wants to separate sexuality into two categories—gay or heterosexual, female or male—we may forget that there are actually many varieties of orientation. In order to share our differences and see them as a positive step toward a more inclusive social structure, we need to both recognize those varieties and see our similarities as well.
The Paradox of Differences provides a framework for doing so.[i] It consists of three levels:
- We are like all people. As human beings we share universal physiological needs: oxygen, food, water, shelter. At the same time, we want to love and be loved, to be safe, etc.
- We are like some people. We share culture and experience. Some of us are women, some have pets, some love to read, some have traveled to Africa.
- We are like no other people. All of us are unique individuals, different in at least some way from every other person on the planet. Each of us, for example, has a unique thumbprint, a unique genetic code, a unique collection of preferences, fears, hopes, and aspirations.
When we hold all three statements simultaneously, it allows us to see one another as people and to explore our differences. We can break down the artificial barriers between “us” and “them.” Rather than stay in one of these realities, such as “we are like no other people,” we bridge the gap between them.
In terms of sexual and gender orientation, a couple of words help us bridge this gap. Once a pejorative term, queer now covers a whole spectrum of orientations—making even more people “like some other people” and thus opening the door to those who do not fit one category precisely. However, the door really opens wide with the inclusion of a “second Q”: questioning. This can mean anything in terms of sexual and gender identification and does not specifically indicate gay, heterosexual, or otherwise. Anyone who has wondered about her or his orientation can relate to this.
Questioning opens the door to others by establishing common ground and linkages among much larger numbers of people. This then provides a foundation for discussing our differences, and our own uniqueness, within and outside of the LGBTQQ community. In this way, more people are better able to relate to each other and the lines of communication can start to grow.
[i] This concept appeared in Frederick A. Miller, “The Paradox of Differences and the Illusion of Sameness,” HREOnline (the online site of Human Resource Executive), 31 October 2011. The article was based on an original concept noted in Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, eds., Personality: In Nature, Society, and Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948).