by Peter Rollins
posted August 9, 2011
At various times I have discussed the idea of encountering our own monstrosity through an encounter with the other. Recently someone asked me to give a concrete example to help her understand what I meant. I wanted to offer something rather mundane, something that would not expose me too much. But I could not deny that one situation overshadowed all the others. It was something that happened when I was in my early twenties. An event that I am, understandably, very embarrassed about.
One evening I was with a group of dear friends in a dingy bar in Belfast. As usual our conversations jumped around from the sublime to the ridiculous. I can’t remember now what the conversations were, but I do remember one point where someone said “that is so gay” to a comment from one of those in the group. This comment was then repeated a number of times at various points in the evening, probably even by me, although I don’t recall (no doubt because I don’t want to).
A few days later I happened to be out with one of the people who was part of that group. We were just catching up and having small talk when he stopped mid sentence, looked right at me, and said, “Pete, I am gay, can you imagine how I must have felt when everyone started using the term ‘Gay’ to describe what they thought was unmanly and embarrassing the other night.”
At that moment I was undone. I wanted to defend myself by pointing out my disgust with homophobia, by telling him that I would never align myself with anyone who had an issue with same sex relationships and that I think those who would misuse a pseudo philosophy, psychology or theology to justify their inherent prejudices ought to be exposed in their game of rationalisation. Yet I could not in all honesty do it. Instead I was brought to silence. I saw myself through the eyes of my friend, and I could not believe what I saw. I saw a monster.
It was only because I was given grace and understanding in that moment that I was able to face myself. This was a moment of crisis in that it was a moment in which I had to choose whether to defend myself or acknowledge the truth of what had been presented to me, horrible though it was.
So often we avoid confronting our own monstrosity by covering it over and avoiding anyone who might expose it. But it is the other who so often holds the key to our development. Not by presenting us with some new information, but rather by presenting us with something we already are, something we refuse to acknowledge.