This interview was done via email and was slightly edited for clarity. Chris Audet, 35, is gay and Presbyterian, and lives and works in Minneapolis, MN.
Questions from Amara Hartman.
“…It’s good to talk about; because we all have our preconceived notions and underlying prejudices, which we aren’t aware of until they’re put under our noses.”
What did you think about girls when you were young?
I was raised to respect and care for women. Perhaps in a patriarchal manner, but still…It always bothered me as a teenager when I heard guy friends “rating” chicks; I felt defensive on behalf of the girls. I had a lot more interests in common with the girls, and found it easier to talk to them than to guys. Though I do remember (about 5th grade or so) a couple of the girls at school were talking about something private-ish, like shaving underarms or something; one noted that I was in earshot but the other said “oh it’s just Chris.” I wasn’t quite sure how to take that…I guess I wasn’t a threat, but also seemed less of a guy in their eyes. I even had an adoring crush on a couple of the girls, but feared rejection so I never said anything.
Was there a mom in your life or a woman who was in some position of authority? Do you have a sister?
I have a sister (3 years older), whom I was particularly close to growing up. We spent a lot of time together, and though I’m sure I could be the annoying little brother sometimes we also had fun, and several similar interests. My mom was the “mercy” person of my family–I could talk to her about (almost) anything. It was a rare day for her to be angry. She also did the bookkeeping for the family, paid most of the bills, and was the most tech-savvy. I remember my mom printing off emails so my dad could read them! He couldn’t figure out the computer very well, much less the internet…My dad was a bit more authoritarian, though we understood each other better as I got older.
What did you think about that person and what is your relationship like now?
I loved (and love) my mom very much. When I was younger, on the rare occasions that my parents argued I always was (emotionally) on my mom’s side. Though in my family we were raised not to “rock the boat” so I wouldn’t have entered into the conflict myself. I used to chat with my mom for hours. I still do occasionally, but I’m a bit more consciously guarded now. We’ve recently realized we disagree on some big issues, which is challenging; I was raised thinking we all should agree on everything, and sweep argument under the rug. But to my mom’s credit, she is still a mercy person, and tries to communicate about the things we can agree on and both be excited about.
As I’ve gotten older, I also have started to see some of my mom’s frailties and foibles; there are the stories that she’s repeated a thousand times, and her need to tie everything to one of those stories, even if it’s not really related. Sometimes it feels like she isn’t truly engaged in the social dynamic of the conversation, and doesn’t know when people start to close down. I also see her starting to slow down physically, and my siblings and I are trying to navigate the transition from “children” to “caretakers.” It’s hard to know when we should leave things for her to do, and when we should step in to make sure they get done.
What do you think when you hear words like sexism or misogyny?
At times I feel powerless, because “I can’t fix it” on a broad cultural level, and “I’m trying not to do that” myself. But it’s good to talk about; because we all have our preconceived notions and underlying prejudices, which we aren’t aware of until they’re put under our noses. For example, I don’t feel like I’m sexist, because I love and respect women (perhaps easier because I’m not seeing them as objects of desire?); I’ve had several female bosses and gotten along with them great, and have been taught by great women pastors and teachers. And I’ve always found it easier to chat with women than men. However, I’m sure that some ideas from my traditional, conservative upbringing could be slanted as misogynistic. Some of that comes from “literal Biblical interpretation”, and the fact that the Bible was written in over thousands of years in a predominately patriarchal society. So some things have changed…We’ve even had intense discussions at my church about changing the lyrics to classic hymns to avoid gender-specific pronouns (which I support in abstract, but sometimes it ruins a beautiful, historical song in practice).
“At our church, we believe in women in leadership (at any and all levels), and have actively worked to overcome patriarchal overtones in our traditions.”
What do you think about the current culture around feminism? What is your perception as a gay man?
When I was little, I had very little exposure to these terms. When I did, “feminism” appeared negative, almost synonymous with “man-hater” and “anti-family.” Just the culture I was raised with…Since then, I’ve come to understand that feminism isn’t a threat, and isn’t hateful of me as a man by default. I’ve met several “feminists” who are at the same time devoted mothers and spouses. And I’ve met several men who define themselves as “feminists.” Which still seems weird to me, but I’m getting used to it.
“I’m working on it, damn it!!”
I think most feminists just want an even playing field. Which I think is great…we should all be treated fairly. Of course, my personal caveat is that women shouldn’t demand special treatment either. So if a woman is a jerk and physically assaults me, I have no problem punching her to get her to stop! No one should abuse women, but no one should abuse men either…The idea “I won’t hit a woman”–now that is misogynistic! LOL
That last bit probably shows that I’m still a touch uncomfortable/threatened by some tenets of feminism…I’m working on it, damn it!! As an gay man, I’m an ”outsider” myself; I totally understand “not fitting in” and “not wanting to be defined by people’s preset expectations.” I think there’s a lot more awareness of issues now in our society, and most people don’t want to consciously offend; so I think progress is being made.
Do you have any women in your life who you value? Why?
Of course! I love my sister and my mom, and speak with them fairly regularly. There are several women at work that I enjoy interacting and working with, and most of my freelance clients are women–I seem to to “get” them and their creative requests more than I do for the guys. There are a handful women at church that I’ve socialized with, and have been on several project teams with. It’s been fun to have the creative give-and-take in those situations.
That said, for just one-on-one social interactions, I’ve focused more on spending time with guys. I didn’t have that growing up, and now that I’ve finally found some guy friends I can do that with, it restores my soul (and masculinity) a bit. As much as we are all equal, I think it’s fine to acknowledge and appreciate our differences.
“Because I’m non-traditional, I’ve learned I need to listen to others who may be in the same boat. Seek first to understand, THEN to be understood.”
Do you follow any kind of religion? What does your religion teach you about women?
I was raised Christian. While I’m not as conservative as I was raised, I still hold to the basic tenets of the faith, and have actually felt my faith get tested and grow deeper as I’ve grown up and come out as gay. I currently attend a Presbyterian church with my fiancee. At our church, we believe in women in leadership (at any and all levels), and have actively worked to overcome patriarchal overtones in our traditions (see my notes above). Some of the conservative elements of Christianity cling to certain verses in the Bible that say “women should be silent” in church and not be in leadership; however, the same writer (the apostle Paul) also worked with several women in the church. Also, that particular letter was addressed to a group living in a city famous for its cult of the goddess Diana. which disrupted the normal course of civilization. So there were circumstances particular to that group, which shouldn’t be taken as advice for all time. And finally, the writers of the Bible, for all their inspiration, were a product of their time. That’s why careful exegesis and hermeneutics are necessary to understand the scriptures.
When I still was deciding whether to come out, I selected a therapist who was a licensed counselor, but also trained in theology. He gave me a great perspective on deciphering truth. As Christians, we should use a 4-fold test: Scripture (what does the Bible say?), experience (what does my own or others’ real life tell me?), tradition (how have others interpreted this idea?), and reason (what does logic and science tell me?). In light of these, I’ve accepted my being gay as part of who I am, as a child of God. I also know that many other Christians will disagree with me. Because I’m non-traditional, I’ve learned I need to listen to others who may be in the same boat. Seek first to understand, THEN to be understood.