There was something very curious about the feedback to my thoughts on “Ellen” last month. It was 100% positive . . . at first. Then, after a couple of days, the positive ones stopped and there were a few pretty nasty ones. (Well only one really nasty one, with much talk about hamsters. The others prayed for my soul — and what’s nasty about that?)

I have no explanation for this. Do those less comfortable with this issue think slower? Have slower modems? I doubt it.

Four messages I particularly appreciated:

From Dr. Tom Novinger: “Although I consider myself politically conservative and am happily married with four children and am a pediatrician who subspecializes in the evaluation of children who are the suspected victims of abuse or neglect, I believe that your comments today were right on the mark. One of the great ironies of the homophobic people that you quoted in your column is that they know and work with (and probably like) gays right now but don’t know it. The joke’s on them. I believe that gay rights will become the priority in the next 10 to 15 years that black civil rights was in the 60’s. Already I see a much greater tolerance for and acceptance of gays among my own adolescent children as well as among the adolescents I speak with in my practice.”

From David Plumb: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for today’s great column. As one who is, as my lapel pin says, ‘straight, but not narrow,’ I really appreciated your calm and rational essay on “Ellen” and something of the reality of homosexuality. As a member of an “Open and Affirming” congregation of the United Church of Christ, I have come to a much clearer understanding both of the challenges gay people face, and the need for ALL of us to learn from and understand people who are not like ourselves. I’m not even sure that ‘Ellen’ is all that great a show, but I think no one who saw her interview with Diane Sawyer could believe that Ellen Degeneres has ‘chosen a lifestyle’ of homosexuality. My wife and I both just wanted to hug her!”

From a guy on Prodigy: “This straight ex-Marine, ex-high school English teacher now at 67 years of hanging out and watching offers KUDOS for your column today. More power to you.”

From “Jeff, a heterosexual”: “I’m sure you will receive plenty of hate mail and I just wanted to send a word of support. PS – Even if being gay were ‘(a) a choice’ — so what? So what if someone chooses it? This is part of the homophobe’s argument I don’t quite understand.”

There were a lot more like Jeff’s, worried about the hate mail, but as I say, I got only one nasty message — not to say I’m naive enough to think everyone else is cool with this.

(“Wow,” I wrote back. “Finally a negative response. I had almost begun to forget the deep residue of hatred out there. I don’t mean to offend you, but I remember that when I was a teenager, and trying desperately to hide how I felt, I was equally homophobic. I’m not suggesting you are fighting any of these feelings. But as you know, some of the worst gay-bashers are, in fact, simply trying to prove to themselves or others that they are not gay. Anyway, I hope you’ll try to keep an open mind. I can assure you whatever you may have heard about hamsters sounds every bit as unsavory to me as it does to you. Good luck . . .”)

There were a couple of cold but civilized notes (“I don’t care to know . . .”). And, finally, a couple of well-meaning religious messages like this one:

From Lewis Toms: “Consenting to illicit sex (everything other than a man loving his wife) brings destruction and misery to all parties; it is not love and care. You are attempting to deceive yourself and others by writing that no harm is done in a homosexual relationship. It kills your soul and body; as a result, all of society is harmed.

“I pray that God would give you a new heart and new understanding so that you will awaken to the truth that to escape eternity in hell, you must cease your sin and come before God and beg for His mercy provided through the shed blood of Christ who died and suffered in hell for all whose names are written in the book of life. Jesus is the standard for real love and care. Hoping the best for you . . . ”

I think Mr. Toms really does wish the best for me, and I wrote him a long letter back. But to my mind, of course, there’s quite a contradiction here. He wishes the best for me, but would like to see me abandon my happy, monogamous, long-term relationship for a life without intimacy. I think my soul and body are not being killed but rather nurtured by this happy relationship. And I don’t see what harm it causes society. I know it’s made my friends and relatives happy to know I’m happy.

But enough. In fairness to you (and Ceres), I don’t plan to make this a repeat topic, any more than I expect “Ellen” to be on the cover of TIME again. Still, like it or not, for the fifty or a hundred million Americans who have gay children or parents or siblings, bosses or employees, or who are gay themselves, this is an issue for the Nineties. And, from my perspective, most people, after some understandable initial dismay, are coming down squarely on the side of reason and goodwill. Hats off to every one of them.



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