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My straight little brother.

This past year, as scenes of gay marriage victories came across my TV screen in New York City, I observed myself observing others taking an active role in this awesome moment--standing in line for licenses, suing the government, getting arrested--while I had done nothing. Or so I thought. Four years ago I began mentoring a straight African-American teenager from Queens named Gregory, whom I met through Big Brothers Big Sisters. At the time, I was 30. He was 13, a child of Jay-Z and black urban culture, and full of knee-jerk homophobic reactions, often in the form of slurs like "faggot" followed by a giggle whenever exposed to a gay character in a movie or two men holding hands on the streets of Chelsea, where I live.

After processing my own anger response, I embarked, gingerly and with great sensitivity, on reorienting him. I advised him not to say "faggot," because it is dehumanizing (and it's no different from the n word); I informed him that anyone can be gay; and I told him that I, indeed, am attracted to men.

The first two admonitions were absorbed pretty quickly, which was part and parcel of his open heart and great intelligence and his mother's wonderful parenting. The last, less abstract fact wasn't truly accepted until a year later. At his grandparents' ceremony to renew their vows a cousin copped on to the fact that the man I brought was my date, and Greg, in an attempt to look cool, acted like he'd known all along.

There were a lot of questions in the next couple of years from girl-crazy Gregory: Am I sure it's not a phase? How could I not be attracted to that bodacious mami? Going with me to buy groceries to make dinner for dates and watching me develop a close relationship with a man filled in the blanks. Eventually the questions were followed by mundane yet poignant moments of realization, like the time at a bodega when he held up a magazine with a hot woman on the cover, and I shook my head no. Totally unself-consciously he moseyed over five feet and held up a magazine with a hot guy on the cover for my approval. It was then that I understood that he finally understood.

Another such moment came in 2003 when out of the blue he asked if he could be best man at my wedding, whenever I do get married. This was months before San Francisco brought gay marriage to the forefront, so I interpreted it as an expression of affection, which it was. But many months later, watching the political victories for same-sex marriage, his request made me rethink my contribution. I realized that there is another vital front for gay liberation besides the political one: activism channeled through personal relationships.

The importance of this front can be witnessed in Greg's transformation. As with millions of other straight teenagers around the country with openly gay relatives and friends, the idea of my right to get married isn't political for Greg; it's intuitive, and it's experiential. And Greg's enlightenment on the matter is especially notable because he hails from what is supposed to be one of the most virulently anti-gay marriage demographics: straight black men from religions backgrounds (his grandfather is a minister).

Greg's assumption that I could get married to another man augurs just as profoundly as political gains, because it has in its foundation the fundamental shift in consciousness necessary for a movement to reach critical mass. And it speaks volumes about the awesome power of this often less recognized form of activism (not to mention the trust gay men should have that straight men will, if given a chance, be on our side). This is especially true when it comes to galvanizing those for whom political campaigns can fall far short but who are within human reach.

A New York-based author, Nutter is writing a book about the impact of gay liberation on straight men.
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Title Annotation:my perspective
Author:Nutter, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 17, 2004
Words:666
Previous Article:A little more conversation.
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