We’re Coming OUT As a Big Queer Family
It’s national coming out day, the day when, every year, I have to admit that I still haven’t written the definitive post about why LGBT families are just as legit as every other family. I can’t come out as gay myself, seeing as I am as cisgender, heterosexual, monogamous as they come. But I do have a very queer family, and I do remember what it was like, at every step of the queerification of my family. The first step was terrifying. The most recent steps have been like fast salsa-dancing at the party of the century.
My parents were divorced when I was about 6. Like many kids, I went back and forth from house to house and the parent I didn’t live with (my father, in my case) was a somewhat mysterious figure who I totally idolized. He was (and is) fun and artistic and smart and playful. He was, (and is) the kind of dad I wish everyone had. As a kid, my sister and I would run through the halls of the esteemed university at which he was a professor, we would sit in on his classes, we would go shopping, play in parks, make great meals. It was pretty awesome. I occasionally wondered why he didn’t re-marry – my mother had a propensity for frequent marriage, so I just sort of assumed that’s what people did.
Sometime in the early 80’s we started spending a lot of time with a friend of his, who I’ll call Buster, though that’s not his real name. Buster was a fucking blast. We’d go to amusement parks and ride roller coasters for hours. I will never forget one time when we were at Marriott’s Great America and the song Stop In The Name Of Love came on, and Buster did stop and do a little song and dance. As a pre-teen, that was the kind of joy, free from angst, that I totally needed. And we all stopped and sang. Buster became a good friend to us all, kinda like family, though I never though much more of it.
Over the course of the next couple years or so, there was more Buster (though they lived in different cities, so they weren’t “roommates” or anything.) And I started finding things like “Gay Times” newspapers for our city, or directories of gay businesses for our city or random gay things around my dad’s house.
I knew what “gay” meant in the most general sense: men who have sex with men. (At the time, women having sex with women hadn’t occurred to me.) I also knew what it meant in the fear-laden propoganda way of societal norms: bad, sick, wrong, dangerous and in danger. This is roughly the same time that AIDS was making its way into the public eye. When gay people were being beaten and shunned.
I lived in fear. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want anyone to know, in case it meant that I was also bad, sick wrong, dangerous and in danger. I never talked to my dad about it because it was just so mean to call someone gay. I couldn’t do that to this man I love. I also desperately wanted it not to be true.
I was already a pretty sullen and unhappy kid, not for any reason having to do with my dad, who remained a beacon in my life, though now a beacon that was laden with guilt and fear. I felt even worse for loving him so much more than my mom (at the time) and her husband (at the time.) I withdrew even more from friends, for fear that everyone would talk about their parents, and what would I say, “I have a dad, but he’s bad, sick, wrong, dangerous and in danger. Which means I am too.”
Because as kids and adolescents, we believe what the world around us tells us far more than what our families tell us. I knew my dad was (and is) really about the kindest, smartest, gentlest, most generous, creative and awesome human I know. But it didn’t matter.
I can only imagine how hard it is to realize that you, yourself, are gay in this world and have to face it. Because figuring out my dad might be led me into a world of withdrawal, fear and shame.
This went on for a couple years, when finally I couldn’t take it any more. My journal entries at the time are filled with horrible fears about how he would die from being gay. Literally. He would get AIDS, or be beaten, or lose his job or….. It was horrible. Until finally I couldn’t take it any more, I had to talk to him. I was a sophomore in high school, and I walked out of one of my classes in tears, went to the office of the Assistant Head of School, and told her that I needed to call my dad because I thought he was gay and in danger. She dialed the long-distance number (which, in those days, meant something) and I called him. I asked him “dad, are you gay?” He said “yes” and I went back to class.
I waited for the earth to crumble around me. It didn’t. Because I realized that nothing changed. I still loved his house, the things we did together, the fun we had. He still loved me and would do anything for me. He was still kind, brilliant, creative, generous and fun. But there was more. That Buster guy, HE was what it meant to be gay. That fun we had, that steady support and friendship, that through-line of love and adventure. All that it meant was we got Buster. By the time I came to terms with the idea that my dad was gay, the very idea of a gay family as stable, loving and supportive was already in place.
From that day on, it was less of a big deal. It slowly evolved into a point of pride. 30 years later, Buster is still at all of our family holidays, gatherings, celebrations and most of our vacations. He has visited us in the hospital when babies were born and even made emergency trips when babies were very sick, and I got to yell at the hospital staff, when I thought my daughter was dying and they wouldn’t let him in, “that man is my daughter’s grandmother and you better fucking let him in, he is my mom and I need him!”
It has becoming a vetting tool for me, really. How you feel about my gay family will inform whether or not I want you in my life. Seriously!
Which became extra-interesting when I was dating. I met this guy who I thought there might be potential with. So I floated out my “I have a gay dad” line, which had become something of a bragging point. The dude came back with “I have a gay mom.” WHAT? I was matched. This was a good start. I wouldn’t have to explain my rabid devotion to human rights for all people, including LGBT – WHO ARE PEOPLE TOO!
Then, the dude one-upped me. He had two daughters, conceived with a turkey baster and a lot of love with a lesbian couple. On purpose. Where I fell into my gay family and eventually came to love it, he went out and made one, intentionally. So. One. Upped.
His daughters are amazing, as are their mothers. Their mothers really blow my mind, not because they’re lesbians, which I find about as remarkable as finding out that people have elbows. But because they are amazing mothers. The kind of mothers I meant to be. The kind that craft all day with their kids, design fun outings, lay in bed reading books, get on their hands and knees to play make-believe in the mud. They have dinner together as a family every night, have a crazy time trying to get out of the house in the morning. You know, all those things that families do. School assemblies, PTA, play groups…… Spectacularly ordinary and extraordinary.
And the daughters. Mine was a teenager already when I met him, and I was already sad to let childhood slip away, even though I loved the young adult my daughter had become. My daughter marched over Prop 8, unable to understand how gay-marriage could be a problem. Telling her that gay-marriage was wrong was like telling her that her family was wrong. She knew my dad was gay from the get-go, but she didn’t realize that it was bad, sick, wrong, and dangerous until the outside world told her so. Fortunately, she didn’t believe it, because she knew that our gay family was stable, loving, secure and strong.
Now there are two more daughters being raised in this big queer family. This family that is bigger and queerer than ever. I cried at Christmas this year when we were ALL together. Gay dads & grandpas, gay moms & grandmas, the gay mommies, my boyfriend and I, and the three amazing daughters who are being raised to know they can be whatever they want and still be loved. Because this big queer family is stable, loving, secure and strong. And fun.
And next summer, when my boyfriend and I get married, it will all legally be my big queer family. And I will cry with joy and pride. And hope like hell that my vote – and love and support – will make it possible for EVERYONE to have the same legal benefits as me. But if not, that at least they will know they are every bit as valid and real as my family. Which is as real and queer as it gets.