Thirty Days

For the first time ever, I watched the show “Thirty Days” tonight. My friend Beth told me about it, and I wanted to check it out. I particularly wanted to watch tonight’s episode, as it was about a young (mid-twenties) conservative Christian from Detroit who went to live with a gay roommate in the middle of San Francisco’s Castro District for thirty days. I was pleasantly surprised by the show, and I wanted to take a few moments to review and critique it.

To be honest, when I originally heard about the details, I wasn’t entirely thrilled. I took issue with sending the guy to San Francisco. San Francisco is the “gay mecca” of the United States, and as such, I don’t feel it’s a very accurate representation of the lives of most gay people. Those of us wholive outside of San Francisco (and possibly NYC) tend to live more isolated lives and have to deal more directly with straight people much more often. As such, I wasn’t sure that sending someone to San Francisco was the best way to give them a clear view of what it’s like to live life as a gay man.

Having watched the show, I have to admit that I find it necessary to reevaluate my opinion. An essential byproduct of sending Ryan to live in the Castro District was that it caused Ryan to be the one who was isolated. He was a straight, conservative Christian surrounded by a bunch of gay guys. If Ryan really thinks about that experience (and I get the impression he did and will), it probably gave him a much more clear idea of what many of us experience every day than we realize. This understanding would come to him by being in an analogous situation himself.

He got a first taste of this kind of experience his first night in town. Ed, Ryan’s thirty-something roommate for the month, took him to dinner with eleven other gay guys. Having watched the footage, I have to admit that I hope the dinner conversation was highly edited. Every conversation focused on homosexuality and issues relating to it. And in a number of instances, the twelve gay guys put Ryan a bit on the defensive. (I have to admit that Ryan handled himself relatively well under the circumstances, too.) At one point, one of the gay guys even asked Ryan about how many times he’s had people on the street throw beer cans at him. Ryan said never, and the person who asked the question indicated that it had happened to him more than once.

While there, Ryan also attended MCC services on at least two Sundays and had a number of meeting with the minister. To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed with this part of the program. If what I saw was an accurate representation of the MCC, I don’t think I’d be impressed at all. They aired brief segments from two of the services that Ryan attended, and both services went on about homosexuality. If this is a regular practice at every church service, I would have a serious problem with that, as there should be more to religion and spirituality than just sexuality. (And this is coming from someone who serves a goddess who values sexuality extremely highly!) Similarly, Ryan’s meetings with the minister appeared to focus entirely on the topic of homosexuality, and there was a lot of head-butting there. It just seemed to me that there should have been an equal amount of searching for common ground as there was in arguing over this one topic. (Though I do give them credit for apparently keeping it more or less civil.)

They took Ryan to a gay bar. Let me just say “Wow!” Ryan did not find that the greatest of experiences, and I can’t say as I completely blame him. There were a large number of barely dressed men (some looked to me as if they were running around in only briefs), and it definitely had the “meat market atmosphere” — even moreso than the two clubs I have been to. One of the patrons picked a (verbal) fight with Ryan, which I felt was rather stupid. Though on the flip side, having had conservative people pick similar kinds of fights with me, I do have to admit that I felt it wasn’t an entirely bad thing for Ryan to have to experience.

After that, Ed felt that Ryan was getting too frustrated and upset. So Ed took Ryan to join a gay softball team. I found it interesting that the team actually played in a league where all the other teams were (mostly?) straight. It was nice to see that the team wasn’t totally isolationist in nature, and played teams that were not all-gay.

During his time playing softball, Ryan got to spend time with his team’s coach, Charles. Ryan gained a lot of respect for Charles, realizing that he broke all of the gay stereotypes. And later, Ryan got to hear Charles’s coming out story. Charles was one of those (hopefully) rare people who actually got thrown out of his house by his parents (he was 12 at the time) when he came out. Charles also indicated that at the time, he was highly religious and “went to bed every night, praying to wake up and be ‘normal’ the next morning.” Ryan was very silent about this, and I think this story really confronted some of his own preconceived notions.

Ryan did make a few enemies at the local “gay chapter” of the VFW. Being a Reservice, Ryan has strong opinions on gays in the military. This did not go over well with the veterans he was speaking with. Both sides got quite upset. However, it did lead to an interesting discussion with Ed later that same day. When he got back to the apartment, Ryan and Ed talked about it. Ryan asked Ed to try to understand why a bunch of straight soldiers might have a problem with having a gay guy in the barracks. (Personally, I think straight guys have a problem with it because they’re afraid gay guys will treat them as poorly as they themselves treat women, but that’s besides the point.) Ed then turned around and asked Ryan about a hypothetical question. He asked Ryan to suppose that things went really bad in teh Middle East and that the United States found themselves at war with the whole region. This would probably mean that they’d have to reinstate the draft. So Ed asked Ryan to suppose that he (Ed) was drafted and ended up in Ryan’s unit to serve during war. He asked Ryan whether he’d rather put up with Ed as a gay man serving with him or possibly not having enough manpower beside him to keep him and the rest of his unit safe.

Ryan actually admitted that he had to contradict himself. He admitted that having gotten to know Ed as a person over the past several days, he’d have no problem serving with him specifically. In fact, Ryan admitted that he felt that Ed had a lot to offer the military. As such, Ryan found himself having to reevaluate his blanket statement about gays in the military, and I respect him for having the integrity to admit that.

Ed also took Ryan to meet his family, which was an eye opening experience. While there, all of the men (Ryan, Ed, Ed’s father, and Ed’s brother) shot firearms. In a brief interview afterwards, Ryan admitted that it gave him a chance to see Ed as not just a gay guy but a brother, a son, and an uncle. And he was amazed at how his family treated him.

Ryan also attended a PFLAG meeting, where he got to talk to a father whose daughter came out to him her sophomore year in college. He got to listen to this father talk about his fears and worries, and his desire to see his daughter treated with the same respect and dignity a her two straight brothers. Ryan said this also touched his heart.

There was a lot more that happened, but I’m not going to go into everything. These are the experiences that really struck me, and I wanted to share them, as well as my brief thoughts in them. In closing, I’d like to talk about the brief segment in the show where Ryan eventually went home. He spent his first night home showing photos to his family and talking about his experiences. They only showed about thirty seconds to a minute of the discussion, but it was amazing to watch. His family asked all kinds of questions, and it seemed to me that Ryan was a bit troubled and shocked by the questions. Ryan himself admitted that when he got home and talked with his family that night, he really saw how much he had grown. He saw his own earlier attitudes and how much he had bought into the stereotypes reflected in his family now. He said that realizing how much he had bought into the stereotypes was the most powerful result of the experience. He found himself having to reevaluate his opinions.

I get the impression that his religious beliefs about homosexuality didn’t change as a result. To be honest, that’s okay (well, sorta). It would be unreasonable to expect such a change to happen just because of a thirty day experience. However, I did feel that he came away with a rather different perspective and that he did find his preconceived notions challenged in many ways. And I think that he should be commended to being open to that.

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