I told my parents I was gay on St. Patrick’s Day in 2005, effectively ruining a pleasant corned beef dinner. I was three months away from graduating college, and I wanted to integrate the worlds I lived in. My college friends knew, but essentially no one from home did. I blame the closure of the bowling alley in my hometown; with no alternatives, the favored pastime there had become discussion of unplanned pregnancies, divorces and the various other ways young people had disgraced their good family names. In any case, I knew I had to tell my parents before someone else did.
More than ten years later, those worlds still aren’t integrated. Here in Los Angeles, I’ve constructed this Neverland of gay nerds with whom I can talk to about Chun Li and Barbara Gordon and Princess Zelda in the same sentence and not get looked at like I’m some kind of space alien. When I go home, I revert. I don’t pack the cutoffs. I leave behind the purple V-neck T-shirt and take the blue one. My life as I live it in Los Angeles does not get discussed unless I force it.
I went home earlier this year, and my mom asked how I was doing. “This guy I used to know in Santa Barbara passed away, and also I got dumped,” I said. Mom: “Oh, I’m sorry your friend passed away.” That bait dangled, untouched. I chose not to force it. Because the divide has remained over the past decade, it is hard for me to make that drive up Highway 5, knowing that I’m going to sit through days and days of questions about what’s growing in my garden, the activities of college friends I haven’t kept in touch with and the name of my apparently singular female friend — “Megan? Stephanie? Which is it? Wait, there are two?” — at the exclusion of anything more personal.
The single best example of this refusal to talk about the gay son’s stubborn gayness occurred while I was helping my mom clean out the liquor cabinet, which had been chiefly stocked over the years by visiting New Zealanders landing at SFO with duty-free offerings and the belief that my family drinks the hard stuff. I stood on a step ladder and handed bottles down one by one, and my mother, who often narrates what she’s doing, read the labels out loud as I passed them to her. “Smirnoff Vodka. Bombay Sapphire Gin. Beefeater Gin.” Then I passed her a bottle of Mount Gay rum. Mom: “Oh, it’s…. it’s rum.” The bottle later vanished.
As I do on most holidays at home, I spent this past Thanksgiving dutifully working — the big turkey dinner, raking leaves, getting ahead of freelance assignments — with the closest connection I have to any other world being Scruff, usually sitting unattended on the dresser in my childhood bedroom. Having come off from being the only gay at a wedding the previous weekend, I desperately felt like I needed something, even if that something wasn’t much of anything. At home, Scruff is mostly glimpses into the sad life I’d have led if I’d stayed in town: torsos that can’t host. I don’t really engage. It’s just a window on a world that reminds me that I’ve made good choices for myself. Well, that and an occasional invite to go up to San Francisco, unsolicited and politely declined. (Me: “I live in L.A. and I’m really only interested in dating,” and every time I say that I feel like I might as well be saying “I live in Chicago and I hate wind” or “I live in Maui and I’m allergic to sunsets.”)
With all that said, you can appreciate my surprise at what my mother said when she and I got into an argument about politics — why I can’t vote for a candidate running on a conservative social platform and why liberal politicians are apparently ruining the country with wasteful economic policy. I countered with all the examples of the good that liberal politicians have done in the face of conservative opposition, and the conversation eventually turned to the point that it was liberals, not conservatives, would made it possible for me to get married one day.
Mom: “Well, as the parent of a gay person, I understand that.”
It was followed by a “but” about taxes, of course. I was stunned that it happened at all. In the ten years since I told my parents I was gay, I’d never heard either of them ever refer to me as a gay person. (My grandmother referred to gays as “people who are that way,” and that euphemism has endured in the family long since.) I got hung up on that one sentence to the point that I think I lost the argument, just because my brain wouldn’t process anything aside from the fact that my mother acknowledged something that’s fairly important to how I live my life but which had gone unspoken, at least when I’m in the room.
I hugged my mom and told her it was good talking to her. It was the least acrimonious ending to a political argument in the history of my family.
It may not seem like much, especially to those weirdos with enthusiastically supportive families, but it was the single marker of progress I’ve had in a struggle that’s been going on for ten years. There’s still a lot to do yet — I recently mentioned that I was hoping to adopt a dog soon and was quickly cautioned against getting one that is too small — but it’s my single greatest takeaway from this Thanksgiving trip home.
(Yes, picture is unrelated. I needed a picture. It was this or a display shelf of Mount Gay rum.)