Monday, July 05, 2004

20 years ago today

It was cool and stormy in Iowa. I had just completed my first year of high school (which, in Iowa, was my sophomore year). My best friend at the time was a just-graduated senior named Lucy. She and I had been in tons of choirs and shows together that year and had become very close. So close, in fact, that I had come out to her earlier that spring as we huddled under a blanket together on a choir-tour bus with a broken heater. Which made her -- if you don't count the creepy old men at the dirty bookstore at the edge of town -- the first person I'd ever come out to.

So back to July 5. Lucy and I had braved the storms to drive clear across town to the movie theaters at Westdale Mall to get our second fix of that dreamy Kevin Bacon in "Footloose." I don't remember being terribly restless or upset about anything by the time she dropped me off at home that night, but I guess I became that way when I walked in the door and found my parents in some stupid little disagreement over some stupid little something. I don't remember the topic. I don't remember whether or not it involved me. I don't remember whether or not I was even a part of the conversation. But at some point I blurted out this inelegant verbal provocation: "Well, at least you can talk about your problems."

On the surface, it was an innocuous little pointless-fight-starter not unlike any other slightly charged statement that could come out of any other moody 16-year-old's mouth. But it was definitely fueled by my frustration over being gay in a world that hated gay people -- especially my lonely little world, which consisted of a Reagan Republican household in a smallish Midwestern town.

I don't remember where the conversation went from there, but I vaguely remember storming up the stairs and throwing myself angrily (wearily? fearfully?) into bed. And soon after, my mom came up and sat down next to me to see what my problem was.

Again, the details are fuzzy, but I do remember there was some hemming and hawing. And that the topic came first from her mouth -- as undramatically and inelegantly as I'd started it: "Are you not interested in girls?"

I fearfully (defiantly? timidly?) nodded my head. And I was officially out to my family. The family that, on the rare occasion it even talked about homosexuality, did so disparagingly. Sometimes in the same sentence as the word "disown." And I still had two more years of high school ahead of me.

Mom's first reaction was to advise me not to tell a soul -- specifically my father. Which I had no intention of doing anyway, thank you very much. Unbeknownst to me, though, Mom promptly told Dad and a bunch of their friends.

So things around the house got pretty ugly. But not in the beat-and/or-disown-your-kid way I'd feared. Everything was just ... tense.

And when my grandma on my mom's side died the next month, Mom -- who was an only child and now an adult orphan -- even uttered the phrase "I've lost my mother and I've lost my son" in one of the (finally) more dramatic moments of the whole coming-out-to-my-parents process.

After learning that Dad knew my little secret, the three of us started the Therapy Tour, which included stops at the family counselor's, the psychotherapist's and the offices of a range of religious leaders. Mercifully, they all gave my parents the same feedback: There's nothing wrong with homosexuality, your son is remarkably well-adjusted about it and the problem lies with you.

It took my folks a couple years of Not Talking About It to unlearn the lifetime of stupid prejudices that had been imprinted on their DNA by societal ignorance and the Christian hate industry, but they (relatively quickly) became the coolest, most well-adjusted parents a little gay boy could ask for.

And, 20 years and one long-term boyfriend (who still wasn't out to his folks by the time he was 30) later, I'm especially glad I got the coming-out-to-the-family drama over and done with at such an early age.

So happy coming-out anniversary, Mom and Dad. (Not that you'll ever see this.) I love you.

2 comments:

Joe said...

Great story, beautifully written! And how suprisingly lucky of you to get that feedback from the counselors and religious leaders....in 1980s IOWA, of all places. I've never BEEN to Iowa, technically, so I guess my two or three plane changes don't qualify me to comment much further. Enjoyed the story tremendously. JOE

Flip X said...

Aww... *warm n fuzzies*