I’m unnerved. I complied a list of all the things I remember my parents saying about queer people or about being gay, and it isn’t pretty.
To give them the benefit of the doubt, I think a lot of ignorance has to do with the fact that they’ve never personally confronted the reality of what it means to be queer. They’ve never had to consider questions like, How would I feel if I was gay? Or, How would I feel if a girl broke my daughter’s heart? Or, What are the difficulties gay people face in their everyday lives? They’re so busy being scared and creeped out (true homophobes!) that they forget that queer people are people. I think that once they confront that reality, it might be possible for them to at least equate gay with human.
Here’s what we’re dealing with:
1. The initial “ick” factor:
“I hate it when your father shaves his beard off. It’s like kissing a girl. I mean, eww!” (Mom, with a visible shudder)
I’d like to point out that while I always preferred clean-shaven (and interestingly, effeminate) men when I was into men, I thought much the same reaction to the thought of kissing girls. It’s gross…until it’s not. LMAO.
2. “Jenny, you have to get here fast. We’re driving around the restaurant and there’s no parking. And this is a really sketchy neighborhood. There are, like, gay people walking around. I’d better watch your brother like a hawk.” (Mom, on the phone with me, in Lakeview)
And every time I ever mentioned that restaurant after this incident: “Yeah, what neighborhood were we in? Was that Boystown? There were so many gays!” or “It was really scary!”
I discussed the most recent time it was brought up again in this post from 10 days ago. But I think she’s mentioned it probably about 5 times since then, and the memory of meeting for dinner in the city never escapes mention of “the gays.” Never. For her it must have been like going to a zoo and seeing all the gay people in an exhibit. And of course there’s also the assumption that gay couples are going to be a) interested in my 14-year-old brother, b) perverted enough to come onto him in front of my parents, and c) will kidnap him if my mom looks away for one second. And also, Mom: they weren’t bothering you or talking to you or having sex in the street, so why exactly were these fashionable young men “scary”?
3. On the same night: after dinner my parents stopped in at my apartment for dessert, and my apartment was located in an area of a neighborhood that actually could be sketchy. I warned them of this.
“What do you mean, sketchy neighborhood? Like, transgender people walking around?” (Dad, quite loudly on the street)
“No, Dad, like drug sales.”
Was he high? Was he on stupid pills? I’ll never know. WTF.
4. And while we’re on the subject of attitudes toward trans people – when I was growing up, it was an understood rule that the worst possible thing you could find out about your significant other, maybe just shy of, “I’m a serial killer and I’m wanted in 46 states,” was that they were transsexual, and you had been fucking them all along not detecting it. Because that would make you gay. There were a few conversations that went something like this:
“So Mom, [my boyfreind] Kyle said he had to tell me something today…”
“Really? What was it?”
“He wants to wait a year to go to law school.”
(lets out a sigh of relief) “Oh, whew. I thought you were going to say that he used to be a girl!”
5. “Emma is clearly just doing it for attention. To rebel. It’s a cry for help.” (Mom, on my friend Emma coming out as bisexual, which opinion was reiterated every time Emma started dating a new girl). Read: It’s not real. Bisexual doesn’t exist.
6. My mom has a friend at work, Allison, whom she holds very dear except that they disagree on some volatile issues. “Allison wants the Catholic Church to change its teachings on homosexuality. It’s ridiculous. The Church will never change. But, you know, it’s probably because Allison’s sister is a lesbian. I think she should just leave the Church if she doesn’t agree.”
While I personally left the Catholic Church for this reason among others (among them being a fundamental lack of faith in the existence of God as Christianity defines the concept), I say, props to Allison for sticking around and advocating and making the Church a better place for gay people who do choose to include faith in their lives.
7. “We used to have these friends, Susan and Sam. They weren’t Christians. Sam died in a motorcycle accident and it was so sad because Susan was all alone and Sam didn’t go to heaven.” (I’d love to know who promoted my mother to the position of gatekeeper…did St. Peter give his 2 weeks’ notice or something? Or maybe he faxed her a report of the court proceedings after Sam’s death? I would think that would be against company policy…LMAO.)
Anyway, for years I thought that Sam was a man, until somewhat recently my mom told the story again and was like, “What? No, Sam was a girl. Susan and Sam were a gay couple.” Ohhhhhh now I get it. Sam was double-doomed because she didn’t go to church AND she was gay. That about seals it. (But really? My parents had gay friends? How progressive of them.)
8. Here’s the kicker. My mom has a friend from college, Breanne, and they used to write each other Christmas letters every year. At one point, Breanne fell out of touch and moved out west and Mom didn’t have her contact info. A few years later, Mom got a letter from Breanne that said she was sorry for not staying in touch and that she had gone through a lot of major life changes. Mom pretty much read the letter out loud at the dinner table.
“She went gay,” Mom said indignantly. “She up and decided she was gay. See? Here’s a picture of Breanne and her new…um, partner, I guess.” She was shuddering the whole time as if Breanne’s name had appeared in this morning’s newspaper under “sex offenders.” I wanted to say, “Jeez, Mom, and you wonder why Breanne took so long to come out to you?”
Mom still mentions her occasionally. Whenever she does, she tells me the woman’s entire life story and emphasizes Breanne’s sexual orientation with great disgust. Breanne doesn’t have a name anymore: she’s “my friend who went gay.”
Shall we unpack this? I see all the classic components of a Christian homophobic reaction here.
First off, because Breanne used to date men, Mom is unable to fathom that Breanne could legitimately have feelings for women. (Actually I’m pretty sure she’s not aware of the fact that same-sex coupes have feelings for each other at all, because “homosexuality” according to Republicans is stripped of any emotional component and is nothing more than rabid and unapologetic monkey sex.)
Her “gay branding” of anyone she knows who happens to be gay (it’s not “my coworker,” it’s “my gay coworker”) tells me that to her, being gay is so spectacularly weird, perverted, crazy, noteworthy, that it deserves mention each and every time. It’s like a defense mechanism. Her reaction to Breanne’s coming out reminds me of a small barky chihuahua running around sinking its teeth into everyone out of total fear and lack of control of the situation. Fear-based aggression, you know?
I have also heard my mom wonder out loud if Breanne was abused by her father, her boyfriends, anyone – because being gay is a psychological reaction to some traumatic experience. My guess based on the story I have heard is that Breanne always knew she was gay, but dated men to fit in with her friends. And when your friends are anything like my mother, no wonder! But my mom seems to think Breanne woke up one morning and decided to go out and date women, as if it was never part of her life before then.
She was also personally offended, as if Breanne’s coming out had anything to do with her, as if it was some big scheme to fuck over the universe. When I come out, I want to make it clear that my orientation has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. It’s who I am, take me or leave me. I’m ready for this fight. I’m so jaded I almost don’t even care anymore.
So let’s review. According to my mom, being gay:
- Is creepy
- Means you’re a pedophile
- Makes you a danger to society
- Is a mental illness/reaction to trauma and abuse
- Is a choice
- Has something to do with the person you’re coming out to
- Is about rebelling and royally fucking over your parents/God/the universe
- Is equivalent to a sex act: it does not entail an emotional/romantic relationship
- Is not something you can discover about yourself later in life (no concept of sexual fluidity)
- Defines a person
- Doesn’t exist. It’s just a ploy to get attention.
However, more recently, my mom in particular has been watching what comes out of her mouth, at least around me. I don’t know if this means she is consciously trying to be more sensitive, or if she’s picked up on something different about me, or if she’s simply avoiding a fight/emotional meltdown, but whatever the reason, I’ll take it. I’m hoping that when my family is forced to confront a Real Life Gay Person, the experience will assist them in understanding that people do not choose to be gay and that we are all human and deserving of love.