Bursting Through: What if I told Brian?

By Steve Petersen

Bursting Through is the storytelling movement for Queer/Straight relationships. Stories are the most powerful change agent in the world—they have the power to change hearts, minds, attitudes and ultimately lives.

Storytelling comes in multiple forms. Stories can be written, told, read or viewed, told to another person or to ourselves. Bursting Through feels the stories we tell ourselves and reflecting on the younger versions of ourselves has a lot of wisdom.

This belief led me to create the Bursting Through series, What If I Told . . . , where I reflect on a time that was and the time that is and see what can be learned.

What If I Told Brian is the third article in this series.

Brian is a friend I had in Kansas City where I lived right out of college. We met when Brian got a summer job at the store where I was part of the management team.

Brian was tall, smart, handsome and heterosexual. He had a sharp wit, quick smile and classic preppy style. Brian and I became friends quickly as we were close to the same age and had similar interests. We drank a lot of beer, saw a lot of live music, played a lot of tennis and had many deep-for-our age conversations about life and the world around us.

I viewed Brian as a bit conservative. I don’t know if he identified that way or not, but I knew he grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, was studying business at KU and he wore a lot of khakis, polo shirts and loafers, which according to the wisdom I got from many John Hughes movies, made him a bit conservative.

Here’s something I heard conservatives say a lot at that time: “I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” To me that meant, “I love Reagan and voted for Bush, but believe in reproductive rights.” At that point, Queer rights were not even a discussion, neither political party supported them in any meaningful way.

To be fully transparent, this is something that is top of mind with me often. I’ve spoken about it on podcasts and written about it as well. To me this teeter totter approach to late 80’s early 90’s values and beliefs has a direct lineage to some of the political turmoil that exists today.

This belief allowed people to have it both ways without consequence or guilt. In all fairness it was a common phrase and belief then because there was not any meaningful conversation about the social issues that are now heavily debated or legislated: Queer Rights, Women’s Reproductive Rights, Gender Inequality, Racism, Discrimination.

I have no doubt I agreed with and even thought it was a smart statement at the time. But it’s 2022 and the United States is in the midst of a social war. Now that statement is a thinly veiled cop out—at best.

The social war I mentioned has led to some unbelievable truths like:

  • 2021 saw more anti-LGBTQ legislation than any other year in the history of this country.
  • In 2022 basic freedoms are missing in 29 states for millions of Queer Americans.
  • Texas has all but outlawed abortion and many Southern states are following suit.
  • Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill.
  • Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby giving millions of dollars every year to support anti-LGBTQ Legislation.
  • Christian cake makers who legally refuse to make cakes for same sex couples.

It is these things (and all those not listed) that has led me to revisit “I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

Who better to do this with than the conservative heterosexual male friend of my yesteryear? Our conversation was fascinating and it has to be shared. I imagined us circa 1991 in Kansas City at a Westport Bar called Kelly’s. Brian and I are having cheap beers in plastic cups and greasy pizza while solving the week’s problems.

It would not be uncommon for Brian and I to talk politics. It’s the early 90’s so we can do that face-to-face, there is less difference between the parties but political issues can still be a spicy topic. I open with, “I predict in the future that when you say, ‘I’m a fiscal conservative and social liberal’ it will translate to, ‘I can’t decide if I love money or my queer friends more’”.

How would Brian react?

A little about Brian today: He is still handsome, smart and heterosexual. He is successful, has a beautiful wife and children, even some grandkids. From my perspective, the perfect suburban Kansas City heterosexual conservative life.

I decided to bring this past/present query to Brian and present my prediction. I was slightly hesitant because after all these years I wasn’t sure what the answer might be. Even as a 53 year old gay man who has weathered plenty of hate and rejection, I wasn’t sure I was prepared for a “money over me” answer but I had to know.

I reached out to see if I could ask him a question. He was quick to say yes. On the phone I explained this series of articles and set up the scene at Kelly’s to get him into his past self.

I dropped the statement, “I predict that in the future when you say, ‘I’m a fiscal conservative and social liberal’ it will translate to, ‘I can’t decide if I love money or my queer friends more.’”

What came next, the stream-of-consciousness response from what truly sounded like 90’s Brian was more than I expected and showed the heart of an awesome human being and friend.

From the other end of the phone I heard, “Conversations need to be prioritized. Getting big government involved in anything is a bad idea but we have to stand for human issues over adjusted tax rates.”

He continued, “You can’t have people not recognized and not be able to live their lives. These are our neighbors and friends and human beings. Causing people grief for no good reason is just stupid.”

His wisdom continued, “Look we all have a limited time on this planet, maybe 70-80 years to leave our mark. I think everyone should get a deathbed vote that is heavily weighted. Maybe it’s like 1000 times their normal vote. So people get to lay on their deathbed and reverse some of the stupidity from their lives. Like a person who was homophobic but learned that was wrong late in life can vote for queer rights with their last breath and it means something big.”

I don’t know if deathbed big votes will catch on but I do know that Brian did not disappoint! He might be onto something.

Until that day, you can make a difference and let your voice be heard by joining Brian as a member or Bursting Through. Your voice has power, like Brian’s.

Steve Petersen is the founder of Bursting Through, a speaker, host, storyteller and CAN-certified LGBTQ+ Volunteer Victims Advocate.

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Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine - Issue 38

This article was originally published in the 2022 Spring Issue of Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, and can be read in its original format here.