BTS: So Anthony, a gay writer and an evangelical writer being close friends. Who would believe it? How did this crazy thing happen?
ARC: We can blame it all on Twitter. Neither of us would know the other existed if not for the advent of 140 character at a time social media. But of course, that’s just a tool, and a tool often used for ill rather than good. So I’m going to cut right to the quick of the issue: I think it all comes down to accepting that you’re never going to agree 100% with everyone, and not agreeing is a silly reason to stop talking to people. Reasonably people can have a dialogue and agree to disagree.
BTS: Totally agree. In fact, most of the people I have as friends on Facebook and Twitter disagree with me about one thing or another. As a writer I enjoy that diversity because it keeps me honest and informed when writing characters and stories, even if it’s painful to hear those views sometimes, even if it challenges me. I don’t know how I could be a good writer and write real worlds and real conflict if I didn’t see conflict myself. Also, how can one really be reasonable and confident in one’s opinion without fully examining the other side?
ARC: Thank you! You know, your response actually brings up two points I want to discuss. The first is that you can’t really write believable conflict/disagreements between characters if you haven’t seen both sides of the disagreement yourself. “Honest and informed,” you called it. For instance, in your novel THE WORKER PRINCE, you’ve got a society that is essentially polytheistic — no one suggests you go out and spend a year living as a Polytheist to make those characters believable, but I would assume you did some research into existing and past religions of that nature so that you’d be able to write Xalivar’s side of the conflict between himself and Davi.
BTS: Well, I spent time on several trips in Africa as well as between trips studying African traditional life and religions and many of those tribal cultures are polytheistic. I also taught on those subjects at the Masters level. So yes, I applied that research a bit. Enough to explain their beliefs. Although the people group in my book don’t really hold religion as a lifestyle, unlike their counterparts, which also creates even more cultural barriers between them. Totally different outlook on religion. So yes, I did have some prior knowledge to pull from, and do believe that was important even if I didn’t use it in the story all that much as far as details of that research. After a while, though, research becomes part of your intuitive knowledge base which you need to supplement with reading, quotes, etc. when doing academic writing but not necessarily in fiction.
ARC: I think I agree with that last statement, as far as it goes. I mean, we all know I am the worst researcher in existence, which is why I even make up my own towns to place my short stories in. But writing what’s intuitive brings me back to the other point I wanted to discuss. You asked “how can one really be reasonable and confident in one’s opinion without fully examining the other side?” I’ve tried to reasonably ask that question of lots of folks, and the answer I most often get seems to be “Well, I don’t need to be struck by lightning to know I won’t enjoy it.” No, but you do need to know the physical effects of getting hit by lightning to know that you won’t enjoy it. And yes, there is a metaphor in there somewhere.
BTS: Well, the same could be said related to our differences in sexual preference. I do not need to experience gay sex personally to know I don’t find the idea appealing. You may feel the same about hetero sex but I’ll let you speak for yourself. But at the same time, I think being able to talk to gay friends, and I have several, not just you, helps me to understand people with uncommon experiences to my own—how they come to be who they are, why they make the choices they make, why they sometimes characterize their situations as having no choice, etc. And I think that’s healthy for me as a human being a part of the larger global community around me. It disappoints me that so many who share some of my views refuse to engage in that dialogue or allow for such relationships. I imagine many of them can’t even picture healthy relationships but I can think of several I’ve had with gays or lesbians over the years. It does take honesty. I am very honest with you about who I am. And you are honest in return. And then we talk about things to the degree we’re comfortable and with respect for each other. That makes it easier, don’t you think?
ARC: See, I knew I was using an apt metaphor! But not to make too light of this, yes, you’re right. That mutual respect, the understanding that we come from different places but still have certain things in common, is key to our friendship. I think one of the problems in our society is that people don’t really understand the concept of “dialogue” anymore. What we see on television, fictive and factual, is over-lapping monologues. No one really listens to what the other side is saying, they just hear what they think the other side is saying and are already planning how to rebut. For instance, I have friends who would read your statement “I do not need to experience gay sex personally to know I don’t find the idea appealing” and would immediately respond with “You can’t know that until you try it.” Which brings us back to the lightning metaphor — if you, as a straight man, have a basic idea of how all the plumbing fits together, and you just don’t find anything interesting about it, then you have every right to say “no thanks, not for me” without having to actually experience the act. On the other hand, in the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have tried hetero sex several times, and as nice and loving as those women were (and they are still friends of mine to this day), it just didn’t work for me. So I can say “tried it, thanks, not for me.”
BTS: For various reasons, I figured you had. For one thing, I know I’m not attracted to men. I don’t deny the fact orgasm might occur with a man. Some things come naturally. But the ideas of kissing and other physical closeness are not something I even daydream about. It just doesn’t appeal to me. So from that perspective, blunt as I am, I can honestly say I don’t find the idea appealing, and it would be ridiculous for those friends of yours to question it. Because I think we all make decisions about what we like and don’t like that way every single day, including them. Don’t you make decisions like that? I know I wouldn’t like jumping off a bridge and falling to my death on an asphalt road below, for example. Do I need to try that first to prove it to them?
ARC: Exactly my point, and why I get frustrated with people on either side who only hear what they want to hear. And to sort of drive this back to our original question — “how can a gay writer and an evangelical writer be friends” — I think it’s because we have both listened to each other. I may not agree with everything you say, but I make every best effort to listen to what you’re saying as opposed to what I think you’re going to say. I try to understand your word choice in the way you express yourself. And I think, or at least hope, that you extend the same courtesy to me. Look, I could have blocked you on Twitter as soon as I visited your site and saw that you were Evangelical, that you’d recorded Christian music, etc. You could have blocked me as soon as you saw that I was gay and that many of my stories feature gay characters. I think we even had a moment or two of ‘what’s this guy all about,’ but we’ve found common ground — again, because we made an effort to listen to each other.
For part two of this dialogue please go to http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/09/26/two-writers-in-dialogue-a-conservative-evangelical-and-a-gay-liberal-can-be-friends-part-2//