I grew up in the kind of household I wish all gay kids could grow up in: one where I always knew, without ever having to ask, that my parents would accept me. Well, not quite – if I’d been a Conservative/Republican, that might not have gone over well. But I never doubted that my sexual orientation was a non-issue. In fact, I don’t even remember learning what gay meant, which probably means there was a conversation so matter-of-fact, and so early on, that I never thought much about it.
I turned out to be straight. That was fine too.
The first person I knew who was for sure gay was a lifeguard at Camp when I was thirteen. What I knew about him was that he was incredibly friendly to everyone, and sang out-of-tune camp songs with contagious enthusiasm. And he liked guys, I guess.
The year I lived in France, one of my best friends was Matt from Idaho. We got to be close over the Toussaint holiday, spending a week tracing a southward line through some towns famous for châteaux and vineyards. He was a great travelling companion.
I remember a conversation, over a restaurant dinner at the beginning of our trip, where he told me about himself – how he’d had difficulties with his parents and had battled depression. He had gotten into some pretty hard drugs for a while.
It wasn’t until almost the end of our trip that he actually told me he was gay – but I’d basically figured it out by then. Looking back, I can see that he had tested me – probably many times – to make sure I’d be okay with it first. (For instance, I remember him commenting on a rainbow bus and waiting for a reaction.) I don’t blame him; how was he to know I was different from those who’d mistreated him in the past?
In teachers’ college, I once participated in a seminar put on by some of my queer classmates, addressing how to deal with homophobic bullying in the classroom. One was a guy who had grown up with a single hippie mom who had always accepted him for exactly who he was. But the one whose story stuck with us the most was a guy from Central America (El Salvador, I think) whose family had moved to Toronto when he was a kid. He told us about the pain he’d gone through when he began to realize he was gay, understanding that those horrible gay-bashing words kids used now meant him. Knowing that his parents would be outraged and heartbroken if they knew – he wasn’t even sure they’d still want him as a son.
He lied about it for as long as he could. He kept secret his attendance at a queer youth support group, until one day his parents found his pamphlets. He told us that it was awful – they didn’t take it well – but that eventually, with lots of time and discussion, they came around. Sadly, I know there are parents who don’t.
I have two Aunties who live together in a big house overlooking the river. It is full of personality, with one scarlet bathroom, many decorative frogs, and “stairs that go up and up and up”, as E puts it. They both went through a lot before finding each other, including heterosexual marriages that produced wonderful progeny but also brought many struggles. They have both been professional storytellers, and their relationship reminds me of their tandem storytelling: they are a beautifully complementary, synchronized team. They work together, sing together, fit together. Seeing them interact, it is clear that they make each other truly happy. They’re adorable. It’s the kind of partnership I think all married couples should aspire to.
You already know I’m uncomfortable with gender stereotypes. You can probably tell that I support gay marriage as well.
I also love rainbows. I am one of those people who compulsively puts the markers back in the box in rainbow order. I always drew rainbows on my colouring pages, and I still like to colour rainbows on things with my son’s crayons – the more subtle the gradations, the better.
My son also loves rainbows, and has excellent colour acuity. We have a really good time together, arranging his cars in rainbow order.
I was already an adult when I found out that the rainbow is a symbol of the LGBT community. I admit that I felt a bit territorial: Wait a sec! Why do gay people get to have the rainbow? *I* love rainbows the most. What if I want a rainbow to represent me even though I’m straight? And now, I have a rainbow baby. I’m even more invested.
I had a bit of the same feeling when I realized that the gay pride celebrations are just called “Pride”. The words “gay” and “queer” are already theirs. So, like, LGBT people now have the market cornered on being proud, or what?
But whatever. It’s not an issue that ever kept me up at night.
Then recently, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had occasion to buy some soup at a deli counter with a poster on the door advertising a concert by our local LGBT (and allies) choir. I smiled when I saw the poster, because I’ve been to many a Rainbow Chorus concert, and while I’ve seen other choirs with more technical skill, you will never find a more feel-good show than theirs. (Except possibly Singing OUT!‘s.) Singing, dancing, costumes, props, and more heart than you could shake a flag at. I’ve laughed and cried and cheered at their concerts.
Anyway, I felt glad to be patronizing this LGBT-friendly place. And then, I had a strong hunch that two of the people (or maybe more) serving that day were queer. It didn’t surprise me when they were super-nice, and sincerely helpful when I needed directions. I always try to use my best courtesy, but that day I found myself making a special effort to be nice enough to somehow convey to them my acceptance: Hey, I’m on your team, even if I don’t bat for it!
After I’d left, I wondered to myself: why did I want to impress those servers? Why did I assume, just because this place was LGBT(-friendly), that the people working there were generally awesome? Was I really thinking that gay people are better than straight people?
I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and my answer is… actually, yeah, kinda.
Here’s what I’ve figured. If you are openly LGBT, you have undoubtedly already come up against the backlash. No matter how supportive your family or city or neighbourhood might be, there is enough ignorance and homophobia and meanness out there to find you.
It’s not that being persecuted makes you a better person. But let’s remember that many minorities don’t have closets. If you’ve made the choice to come out – which, the more I think about it, must be damn scary – you probably have to do it over and over. Every time you change jobs or cities, every time you enter a new circle, you have to re-tell your truth. So, if you’re openly LGBT, you are choosing to live life with courage. You’ve decided that being true to yourself and the LGBT(TIQQ2SA) community is more important than whatever fallout may occur.
I’m not saying that every gay person is a paragon of integrity. We’re all human. But most of us straight folk never have to make a choice between going unharassed… and being ourselves. Living that life would teach a person a thing or two about compassion and acceptance.
The same is true of LGBT celebrities, who have to come out not just to their friends and families, but to millions of people who don’t know them personally but feel entitled to judge them. And is it just me, or are the openly gay artists the ones who most often manage to be insanely talented, hilarious, imaginative, AND seem like lovely people? I mean, I guess it’s possible they’re all SOBs in person, but I know the world is a better place for the awesomeness of people like Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnell, Elton John, Jane Lynch, William Finn, Indigo Girls, David Sedaris, Evalyn Parry, Victor Garber, Melissa Etheridge, David Hyde Pierce, and k.d. lang (among others). And seriously, who but LGBT+allies would come up with Prop 8 – The Musical?
Happily, it seems that if you come out, you’re joining an amazing crowd. If the celebrities and the LGBT choirs are any indication, gay people as a group are just nicer and more fun.
But perhaps we should consider statistics. Mathematically, don’t there have to be the same proportion of jerky gay people as straight people?
I assume so, but my guess is – and I think George Takei would back me up on this – many of the people with same-sex tendencies AND trouble showing compassion are the ones still in the closet. (That would sway the percentages.) And it must be pretty dark and uncomfortable in that closet. I’d probably be bitchy too.
We know that LGBT youth are often subject to cruel torment. We know that homophobes use reprehensible tactics to try to hold off the wave of marriage equality and make gay people feel bad about themselves. It’s not an admirable facet of humanity.
But how does the LGBT community publicly react and fight back to this malevolence? Not with rage or self-pity, even though God knows they must feel some, and they’d be entitled to it. Nope – this is a community that reacts with gaiety. With humour and creativity. With effervescent joy and love. With fashion and passion and Rainbows. And with friggin’ awe-inspiring Pride.
They say, BE YOU. Who you are MATTERS. We should all live like that.
Obviously, this is a community that’s earned the word gay, and the word pride, and the best rainbows we’ve got.
Congratulations – to all of us – on the defeat of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act this past week. Even though there’s still much work to be done, those walls are coming down. Maybe someday there won’t be any closets left, and mentioning your same-sex partner will be like mentioning your Portuguese roots or whatever. Just one more cool part of what makes you who you are.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy those rainbows wherever I see them, and be inspired to live more truly.
Happy Pride, everybody.