Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Growing Up Gay

As you may have noticed, many of my blogs deal with various aspects of my being gay, and the reason is simple: I talk so much about being gay because for the first nearly 2/3 of my life I was, out of very real concern for the possible subsequences, unable to do so.

And now, looking at the title of this blog, it has the same vague redundancy as if it had been titled "Growing Up Brown-Eyed" or "Growing Up Right-handed." Of course I grew up gay: it's simply an integral part of who I am and who I have always been. The realization...make that the acceptance of the fact...that one is gay varies from person to person. I was blessed to realize and accept who I was before I ever heard the term "gay."

I don't remember when I first heard the actual word "gay" used to define those like me. Up until my early teens the only words I heard to describe what I was were "Queer," "Sissy," "Pansy," "Nance," and other equally charming epithets. Interestingly, I don't recall hearing "Faggot" (the most commonly derogatory term today) until I was well beyond my teens. I was, in fact, not directly aware that there were more than a few others like me until, when I was 17, I was picked up in a movie theater by a guy visiting from Chicago who showed me there was a whole world of us out there.

I never experienced any bullying for being gay, though in high school there were a few minor embarrassing incidents of name calling and whispers and, once, a car full of my male schoolmates--none of whom I knew very well--driving by and yelling "Queer!"

Knowing what I know now about the growing-up experiences of others of my generation and beyond, I realize not only how lucky I was, but that I was in fact utterly blessed. My mother and father loved me unconditionally, and had they ever asked, I would have told them. But neither of us did. They knew, and I knew they knew. They didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell.  But they didn't. They didn't have to. I never lied, or pretended to be anything but what I was, but we played a mutual game of avoidance.  My father was far more aware of my sexual orientation than my mother, and at a far earlier age. It wasn't until I was 33 and had broken up with Norm after six years that we addressed the subject openly. My dad said, "Are you sure? Have you tried being with a woman?" (No, I most definitely had not.) and my mom,  said, "Well, I wish you weren't, but that doesn't change how much we love you." And it didn't.

I had relatively (no pun intended) little contact with my father's side of the grandmother, aunt (Dad's half-sister), her husband, Pete, and their two kids. I heard only many years later that one time while I was a teenager, Pete apparently made some comment about my being "queer" to my folks  and my dad nearly got into a fight with him over it.

I always identified strongly with my mom's side of the family, the Fearns, and down deep considered myself more a Fearn than a Margason. Every one of them--my grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousins, and second cousins--never once so much as suggested that I was "different," though they all knew, and I love them all the more for it. One of my fondest memories is when I brought my then-partner, Ray, back to Rockford for a visit. The entire family got together for dinner, and treated Ray as they had treated one of the family.

My dad, being more aware, was deeply concerned for me, and sometimes this led to conflicts between us. Once, between my freshman and sophomore years of college, two of my best gay friends, Stu and Zane, and I planned a trip to New York. Dad did not want me to go, and we had several heated arguments until finally he said, "Okay, go to New York with your queer boyfriends!" This shocked me because he knew Stu and Zane and had always treated them warmly, and had never before said a word against them. I realize now his reaction was based on his true concern over the possible dangers inherent in my being a gay teenaged tourist in New York.

When I moved to Chicago after college and partnered with Norm, my folks and the entire family accepted him without question. Even though my folks and I had not yet even mentioned the "g" word, and would not for several more years, they adored Norm and treated him as a second son.

When I took my parents to Hawaii as a Christmas present one year, Norm stayed in Chicago. One night, when my folks were getting ready to go to bed, I decided I wanted to go back out (to check out the local gay scene, though of course I didn't tell them that). My mom said, "Well, when you get married you won't need all this running around," and my dad said, "Hell, he's already married."

I miss my folks...and at this moment, (no offense, Mom), I particularly miss my dad.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.


Kage Alan said...

Loved this one, D. I love the fact that even if your parents didn't understand it, especially at that time, they still loved you and treated your friends/partners with respect. That's a rarity for back then. My parents would have been the same way had I told them earlier than I did or had a boyfriend earlier than I did.

Puzz TM said...

Father's wisdom: "Hell, he's already married!"
I wonder if you still chose to go out after hearing this acknowledgment/calling from you father...

Dorien Grey said...

Well, of course I went out afterwards, Puzz! My dad was a pretty sharp cookie!