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I have learned over the years how permanent the preferences are among members of the gay community. And I have learned within the week what I have in common with Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s choice of a presidential running mate:

Ryan and I both believe our gay friends were born that way.

Ryan, who knows a lot of gay people, has given an accurate description of gay friends. ABC News reports that he supported the Non-Discrimination Act (in hiring) of 2007, explaining that, “They didn’t roll out of bed one morning and choose to be gay. That’s who they are.”

Similarly, I didn’t roll out of bed one morning and decide to be bald. I didn’t choose a life of baldness just to be shocking or to drive women wild with my naked head. I was born to be that way. That’s who I am.

When I hear some well-intentioned heterosexual say that being gay is an arbitrary changeable choice, the speaker is usually somebody who hasn’t had much or any association with gay people. By contrast, Ryan and I have been around gay people for years. And like practically anybody whose life brings him into contact with gay associates, Ryan and I doubt the old theory that gayness is a matter of choice, like buying a green shirt rather than a blue one.

Paul Ryan has opposed most pro-gay legislation including gay marriage. But he is part of a new generation of young adults who live in frequent contact with a gay community that has escaped the closet and become highly visible during the past 25 years.

When I was Ryan’s age of 42, it seemed few people were gay. But people Ryan’s age have lived in a world of openly gay people since high school.

Ryan serves in the House of Representatives where gay staff members are almost as common as they are in Hollywood, that other arm of show business.

Being gay is far more like being bald than it is like wearing large, flashy tattoos, for instance. Some of us, while determined to live and let live, are a bit boggled by a lifetime choice of something as nearly permanent as a tattoo. That’s like choosing one style of shirt for the rest of your life and never being able to change it.

 (I always liked bell-bottom trousers but people laugh at me when I wear them with a senior pot belly, so I have opted instead for the senior baggy bottom look of ordinary jeans. But unlike going bald or being gay, my trouser style varies from year to year.)

People who enjoy becoming human tattoo galleries weren’t born that way, unless you believe that they possess an inborn urge to be flamboyant.

Some of us are born eager for a look-at-me life, a life of tattoos, motorcycle leathers, orange hair, newspaper columns, membership in Congress or yodeling in church. That’s how we roll and that’s who we are.

While I was born to be bald, I was not born to be bad or boring or gay. That doesn’t mean a person isn’t curious about the variations from the majority among friends and relatives.

I confess, both as a writer and as a nosy person (pretty much the same thing), that I interview gay friends and relatives, seeking knowledge of what’s going on there, what makes them tick. One question I ask is when they first knew they were gay.

Some say five or six or seven years old. But most of the gay men I’ve questioned say they can’t remember a time when they didn’t feel that way, just as I and most of the rest of you probably don’t remember a time when we didn’t find members of the opposite sex totally fascinating. We wore born that way.

A few lesbian friends and relatives have been a bit different. Some of them seem more inclined to swing both ways at first.  Several have told me they can be attracted to people of either sex. They say they fall in love with the person, not with the gender.

However, virtually all of the gay men I have talked with and most of the women are one way all the way and always have been.

From all that, I recognize what Paul Ryan means when he says of gay people: “That’s who they are.”

 (Meanwhile, I wonder if I could get some hair tattooed on my bald head.)

Hall may be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston,, 83501.