Last week, I received a lovely introductory email message on an internet dating site from a heterosexual cis-gendered man. Since my profile clearly states that I am genderqueer and queer, I was intrigued. This man had obviously read through my voluminous profile, and found it interesting. When I responded and questioned his sexual orientation, he replied that he was “flexible and exploring.” Great, I thought. He was cute, and we set up a date. Before meeting him, I decided to read his answers to the questions the site poses. This was a good thing.
There I found two deal-breakers. “Do you believe humans share common ancestry with apes?” was answered in the negative. Uh-oh, I thought. He doesn’t believe in evolution. But the one that got me to break the date was, “Should gay couples be allowed to have children?”
In honor of National Coming Out Day Friday, October 11, I am coming out as the child of a gay parent. I have a gay dad.
1979 was a monumental year for me. I was in 4th grade, and I found out that my dad was homosexual. My parents had divorced when I was a baby and, I have no memories of ever living as a nuclear family. I visited my dad every Saturday, in his house about half an hour away from mine.
He lived there with a man named Lawrence. (He still lives with Lawrence, almost 40 years later.) When they moved in together, my dad introduced him as his “roommate,” and pointedly showed me Lawrence’s bedroom.
The day I figured out my dad was gay, I remember only this feeling of horrendous shock, followed by numbness. Ironically, I was actually IN my father’s ACTUAL closet when the realization struck me. Astute like many kids, I had pieced together clues. I had a marginal understanding of what this meant, and my fourth-grade self knew it was neither good nor normal.
My dad lived for most of his life as a closeted gay man. Only a select few knew his secret. With the knowledge of his gayness came the implicit responsibility of secrecy, and the legacy of shame. I told no one. That secret became locked up in a tiny room I never visited. The relationship with my father felt tainted. I adopted the common playground vernacular of “That’s gay!” or “You’re a fag!” without a true understanding of the deep degradation I felt mouthing these slurs.
Entering into adolescence, and my own burgeoning sexuality, the secret of my father became more problematic. I was certain I was not normal because of it. Thankfully, in seventh grade, I met Memma, my life-long dear friend. With her, I was finally able to share this secret without facing judgment. The recognition and dignity I received from her allowed me to start walking my own road of acceptance.
Valentine’s Day that year, I read the classified section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, along with every other 7th grader in Cleveland. Placing a classified ad with the name of one’s true love was the most romantic gesture we knew. Scanning for my own name, what I found was this: “Larry, I love you, Chuck.” Our dirty, shameful secret written in ink in plain view for all of my friends to see. No teenager wants their parent’s sexuality broadcast to the world. Add to that the layers of mortification and terror I felt that someone would find out and I would be ostracized, this felt like life or death.
As an adult, I once wandered into a bookstore in London. The title of a children’s book called “Heather has Two Mommies” passed into my landscape. The ground rocked and tilted: my heart exploded. I sat down on the floor of the bookstore and cried. And cried and cried and grieved me as a teen who wanted to die from the shame. I so wished I had had that book when I was growing up. I wish I had had PFLAG, or youtube videos telling me it is going to get better. While I have gratitude for evolving attitudes and visibility in terms of queerness, there is a hurt that those things weren’t there when I needed them.
Recently I was reading a book on healing sexual trauma, and the author Staci Haines stated how we need to give ourselves credit not only for having survived, but for having gotten through something so tough all on our own. So in honor of National Coming Out Day, I want to own the power that comes from surviving not only sexual traumatic situations, but from shameful, homophobic situations. I don’t believe there is any queer anywhere untouched by homophobia.
Let us celebrate the fierceness and necessity of our queer love. Let us queers recognize the strength it took to survive all of the stupid slurs, the callous cruelties we have endured. Let us claim the power of being the Other. Why don’t dating sites ask if heterosexual couples should be allowed to have children? Claiming our right to exist, fuck and love who we want without justification is not nothing, my dear queers.
Queering my own identity has been in ways more difficult and less difficult because of my dad. In college, I fell in deeply love with Keli, a talented, gorgeous and brilliant woman. Our relationship was fraught with tumult; perhaps the result of the arrogance and superficiality of being young and in love, or perhaps the result of deeply internalized homophobia. Maybe both.
The process of extricating all of my homophobia is ongoing. I was recently in Florida with a queer sweetheart, and I had a flash of it as I wondered how safe it would be to walk in the streets of Miami together, hand in hand. As I firmly wound my arm around my sweetie’s waist and went out into the hot night, I pondered if I will ever be clean of it, no matter how queer I am.
Keli got married this past weekend, to a beautiful fat woman, and I cried and celebrated and felt so many big queer feelings. The love of my early years was finally able to marry! And it wasn’t me she was marrying! Snuggling in bed at night under our “Get Used to It” poster of two women kissing, we had dreamed of being able to marry, but it felt like such a far off reality. I truly am grateful for the changing world, for reals.
Coming to accept that my queerness means I am never sure who I will be attracted to. Being queer means to me that I can never predict in what configuration of bits, genders, sexual orientations or other identies I will find myself with lovers. It is such a relief to just let my attractions be whatever they are, without having to redefine my own queer identity each time I hook up or partner. It is a relief that I can just be queerly hanging out, and feeling my feelings, and that that is just fine. A relief that it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but me. I could never explain my identity to you… it is ever shifting and changing. That feels just right.
So back to “Mr. Gays shouldn’t have children.” I regretfully inform you that I have to cancel our date. Because if gays shouldn’t have children, that means I wouldn’t be here. My history is too long, too fraught and I have worked too hard to embrace my innate queerness to have to go back to the place of justifying my existence. That was 7th grade. I’m just not interested in educating you, or convincing you. I am actually not interested in making you be other that you are. We. Are. Just. Different.