Thursday, March 14, 2013
LGBT Reform Comes in Its Own Time
It's easy for activists to take on a defeatist, but wholly blameless perspective. Feeling ignored, we raise the volume of our voices out of fear that not being loud enough means we will not be heard. We emphasize and over-emphasize the issues we've chosen to embrace, for whatever reason. The most problematic part of this tried-and-true dance is that we fail to recognize that change and reform are not impossible goals. Though it may take years, we can receive exactly what we want.
Do pardon me as I share my own story. Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was 18, I came out to my parents. I didn't have much choice in the matter. The cat was already out of the bag. Curious to explore my sexuality, I met a boy my age over the internet, then sneaked him into my bedroom late one night. He wasn't the first. I'd previously been very lucky, but my luck eventually ran out.
When I came out to my folks, I had no way of predicting the disapproving, even violent anger the news produced. My parents were not accepting in the least and were openly hostile. To this day, it’s sometimes difficult to hear, say, or write the word “queer” because it was used towards me by my father in a pejorative sense. Now that the sting has subsided, I use it with a moderate amount of uneasiness; unwieldy acronyms cannot be expressed any other way than awkwardly.
I was shocked by the ferocity and disgust of my folks. My mother told me that I only slept with men when I couldn’t get women. I didn’t much appreciate the implication. Men were never a secondary option when opposite-sex partners were unavailable. As a matter of fact, by then I'd had a few girlfriends and female sexual partners. I chose to be with men when I felt a strong attraction to a man, much as I did the same thing when I felt strongly attracted to a woman. The two were not mutually exclusive.
Now, ten years and an eternity later, I’ve learned that both of my parents have been regularly and quietly reading my blog. On it, I regularly talk about gender and sexual orientation. Though my sexual orientation will clearly never be a topic of conversation for either of them, I sense they have come to terms with me in their own way. In an ideal setting, I wish that I could talk to them about who I am openly and without mutual discomfort. Maybe this is the only way they can absorb and process who I am.
This method of eventual acceptance is very passive and set entirely on their own terms, but I am thankful to have it at all. It’s a blessing that my parents have put aside the active hurt of past days. When I dated men, always on the sly, I knew I always had to refer to boyfriends only as “friends”. They were never welcome in my father’s house, as he put it many times. I covered my tracks because I had to do so.
Eventually, a very crude don’t ask, don’t tell policy was put in place between us. Until recently, I assumed this arrangement was still very much in force. I sense that they’ve revised their views somewhat, but I’m not sure where they stand, exactly. I’m a little afraid to press the issue. My desire to stir up another heated argument is entirely nonexistent.
For a while, I was hurt and angry. Now I’m in my thirties and they’re beginning to show their age. Before long, I'm sure I'll be taking a very active part in their care. For this and many reasons, I really want everyone to get along now, because it takes a tremendous amount of energy to hold a grudge. Though my mother and father may never raise the topic of my sexuality directly, at least they aren’t actively fighting with me anymore. I am satisfied with how far we have come as a family.
If we saw the forces pitted against marriage equality in their own private stage of slow, but undeniable transformation, would we have more confidence in ourselves? After all, I never thought my parents would come as far as they have. Though I am in my early thirties now, I'm amazed at how epithets and hatred have given way to understanding and acceptance.
The quality of my writing gives my father a way to be proud of me. I'm told that he often tells my mother how impressed he is with my work. There was a time in my life where I would have begged to have his approval, in any form. While it may not show up in the form we'd most like it, acceptance is still present, if we reach out to embrace it. As a Quaker, I am to see that of God in everyone. That's the most difficult, but also the most noble challenge placed before me.