Pride, ‘cuz Kyle is so accepting. I feel entitled to take some of the credit here. I mean, come on. Kyle has known since he was 16 that I am gay, and quite frankly, I am a pretty darn cool uncle. (The fact that I refer to myself as ‘cool’ surely means I’m not, but let me have this!) This must have somehow helped him to be open-minded. Right?
I was a bit confused, however, as to why Joe would be struggling. It’s 2009! He’s from a suburb of Chicago (that is, he’s not a ‘red neck’) and his family is relatively liberal – what’s the big deal? It’s not like when I came out in 1989 at the age of 24. That was pre Will & Grace, and before celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Lance Bass came out. Now it’s almost hip to be gay! (‘Hip’ … there I go being all cool and stuff.) Look at Lindsay Lohan. Is she gay? Is she bisexual? Experimenting? Crazy? Who cares?! The list goes on …
I found myself being a bit envious that Joe is ‘coming out’ (my words, not his) at a time when being gay is generally thought of as a genetic trait, akin to eye color, rather than a perversion or a mental disorder.
I grew up with such shame about being sexually attracted to members of my own gender. It’s so clique to say, but I have felt different most of my life. I felt defective. I was certain that if I didn’t ‘straighten up’ I would surely live a life of solitude and become an old recluse one day. How could Joe even begin to understand what gays my age have gone through?
Oh, I thought, if only I were able to grow up in the much more enlightened world we live in today. I could go back and have an authentic childhood. I could play with my sister’s Barbie dolls without shame (seriously!), I could share my first kiss with a boy … I’d drift off to sleep with my David Cassidy poster hanging in my bedroom … I could attend prom with my boyfriend, even though I would wish it were with the hot guy (Charles Frank) who played Jeff Martin on All My Children … and most importantly, I could have just been myself – perhaps I would have had friends who knew me. Who really knew me, and who loved me for who I was … and am.
I missed out on so many things by not being true to who I am due to fear. Fear of rejection, fear of alienation (which, ironically, I felt anyway). Fear of ridicule and physical harm. Fear of not being loved. I carry some of this old baggage around me to this day.
But Joe lives in 2009. Gays can live openly. We can even get married in some states and have kids! We’ve come so far …
And yet we have so far to go.
While attitudes are changing, there still exists so much ignorance and misunderstanding. Many believe that living the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ is a choice – one that will earn you a free pass to hell. Some believe still that gay people are sick, child molesters, and that we try to ‘convert’ others. Others ‘tolerate’ us, (BARF!) but don’t think we should tarnish the sanctity of marriage nor should we be anywhere near kids, let alone have the right to raise any ourselves.
(I will surely cover these topics in a future blog or two – stay tuned!)
The fact is, I haven’t walked in Joe’s shoes. I don’t know what he’s going through, although we have casually discussed things on a few occasions – mainly chatting online. Nor do I know what it was like for a gay person who grew up before me, although I can imagine.
Sadly, prejudice will always exist, and we’re all guilty of it to some degree. Whether it be someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation, weight, social status – take your pick.
And it doesn’t help to whine about whose ‘battle wounds’ are worse. Nobody said life was easy.