“Oh, that is SO gay,” my daughter said the other night at the dinner table.
My husband and I looked at each other, a question there for both of us. Do we go there? My 22 year old son, home now post college graduation and furiously interviewing at any number of amazing companies, looked down at his plate. He was surely wondering, “Let’s see how they handle this one.”
This was obviously my job, my responsibility here. After all, it is my father who is homosexual. It is my dad whose marriage was broken up after my mother found out about his affair with another man. And it was my own anger and frustration at the way I discovered it that made me vow that with my own children, it would be different. No one came to me, sat me down one day and told me my father was gay, and that was the reason my parents weren’t married anymore.
It was another time, back in 1977. No one talked about homosexuality. This is a world my children don’t understand: no Will and Grace, no Arizona and Callie, no “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” I’d never even thought of it as a possibility that my father was gay; by the 1980s, there certainly was a stereotype out there of what gay men must be like. My father didn’t fit a single one of them, so when he moved in with another man, I accepted that they must be roommates. These were just things that didn’t get talked about much in my family (to be fair, they didn’t talk about straight sex to me either, leaving me to find out about all of the details through conversations with my best girlfriend).
And my father really still doesn’t talk much about being gay. I’ve never really asked him about how he met his partner, Keith (although my mother probably mentioned it to me one night late after she’d been drinking; I’ve never thought to verify it). He still lives with that same man he moved in with in 1978, and they are just…there. Keith never came to any family weddings, because he always felt it would be too much of a distraction. He doesn’t travel with my father when he comes to visit us kids. Keith isn’t my stepfather, or even my father’s husband. To be honest, I’ve never thought to ask my dad if they want to get married (not that they can, they live in Florida). And while I love Keith and have never had a problem with him in any way, I really don’t need all of the details of how their relationship works.
Which means there isn’t really much of a guidebook for introducing your children to the fact that their grandfather is gay. We finally told Z, somewhere in his early teens that his grandfather was gay. He seemed a little surprised, which honestly surprised me…my father and Keith don’t even bother with the pretense of separate bedrooms anymore, and Z has been to their place many times. But I suppose for him, like me, that one simple fact answered a lot of lingering questions in his head. It hasn’t seemed to alter their relationship in any way.
“Missy,” I started slowly, “Does that mean you think that being gay is bad? Because it sounds like a put down, what you just said, using gay in that way.”
She looked at me, surprised at being questioned on the phrase. I’m sure she was thinking that everyone says that.
“Missy,” I repeated. “Do you know what being gay is?”
She made a face somewhere between disgust and anger. “Really? Of course I do.”
I forced myself to sound steady. “Why did you make that face?”
“Because being gay is gross.”
And there it was. Even at 11 years old, she already had heard the talk on the schoolbus, on the playground, from her friends. Because of course she would have never heard that at home. And it was clear to me she didn’t realize at all that her grandfather was gay.
“Missy,” I said a third time. “Being gay is not gross. It’s just another way to be. Some people love the opposite sex, some people love the same sex. But it’s all love. And love is a good thing, not a gross thing.”
She looked up at me, her big brown eyes caught up in confusion. “Okay…” she said, trying to give me what I wanted, but clearly not there yet.
“There are a lot of people who are gay,” I started. But I paused. I had to get this lesson into her before I could go to the next one. I just couldn’t give her the whole thing yet. I had to work past our church, the kids at school, the culture of hatred that was so prevalent everywhere and get her to acceptance. I couldn’t go all the way, not here at the dinner table. Not yet. “Lots of people. So many, because it isn’t something you choose. I’m sure a lot of people would choose to not be gay, because it is awfully hard to be that way when so many people are so awful towards them. But I need you to understand that being gay is not gross, it’s not wrong, it’s just the same as my blond hair and your brown hair. It’s the way you were made, and that’s all.”
She nodded slowly. I looked around at R and Z, nodding at my words, waiting to see if I was going there. I shook my head the tiniest bit at them, and they both started talking to her, taking up the torch, following my lead.
I’m a coward, I know. I’ll get there, I will. But for now, I am hoping that my little girl is just a little less judgmental than so many in this world.