When my nephew (and godson) came out to me several years ago at age 18, he thanked me for the sacrifices I made as the first out gay person in our family, and for making it so he had an example that a gay man would be accepted and loved in our clan. Those words stirred a sleeping wound — there had been sacrifices. I had been alone and I had been extraordinarily fearful that I would not be loved, accepted or perhaps even tolerated at all along the way with my own family. And I’d largely shoved all of it in a vault. My nephew Luke brought me back to a profound examination of my emotional development as a closeted and then out gay man. I am grateful to him for the gifts he brings to my life every day. What he needs to know is what I owe him an amends for, while standing in the same room, for almost a decade.
In subtle but conscious ways, many of us out gay men are abandoning our adolescent gay emerging fellows. To be clear, this is not about self-condemnation, but about doing well and better to give LGBT children what any child should have – mirroring and validation from someone like them. My friends and I have noticed how, blessed with “one of us” emerging in our kin, we’ve stepped back, holding a clear and inauthentically cold distance, fearing that a relative or friend will charge us with the Gay blood libel – we turned the child gay, and did so by crossing a sexual boundary with them. We take care of the BS discomfort and perverted, off-base notions of homophobia, avoid even the appearance of special closeness, and we significantly cheat our young emerging LGBT gay boys and girls of the nurturing, connected, boundaried fairy godparents they richly deserve.
When Luke was quite young, I had pretty strong intuition he was gay. His warmth, insightfulness and love of kinship was similarly to mine at that age in a manner I know is deeply connected to an essence of my gay spirit. Concerned for Luke experiencing the fear and isolation I’d experienced as an adolescent, and wanting Luke to know he was always all right and all loved, I took him to see the stage version of The Lion King, knowing I wanted him, like Simba, to “remember who you are”, without having to spend those years deserted in plain sight of his kin in the miscognition that gay somehow meant dirty or shameful, or a need to disguise that essential quality of ours. I was using a profound folk metaphor. And yet I did not make my message transparent. I left it encoded in the fairly tale, for Luke – no doubt a keen, laser sharp intellect – to read like tea leaves, perhaps never aware of what I desperately needed to communicate.
What I know now, having gotten his gratitude for sacrifices I made to create a safer, ever more assured space for him, is that I really fell short. I cottoned to my fear that any relative or friend might allege that in championing his sexuality, I had coached him, groomed him or – my worst fear – accused me of sexually abusing him into turning gay. It’s a blood libel of the phobic heteronormative patriarchy that gay people recruit and seduce each other into same sex attraction. We must never cotton to the charge. When we do, we abandon our youth when they need us most, learning to relate to the world with an emerging sense of [social ability, sexuality] in which they need an adult, boundaried, loving peer to have their backs and lend an ear with compassion, validation and experience. Straight parents raising gay boys cannot sufficiently do the job. And we offer – and owe – the additional gift of a parenting we almost never got, richly deserved, and greatly suffered without. We “wing it” entering adult friendships, love relationships, dating, heartbreak, employment — and the list goes on.
I am deeply remorseful Luke, that I stepped away in those years until you’d figured it out on your own, and declared yourself gay in a way I could protectively prove had nothing to do with me. I apologize for the fact that in an important way, in an essential spiritual degree, I had nothing to do with you while near your side, for several years. And, having recognized the selfish, fear-based crime against your development, I vow never to leave behind another emerging member of our clan. I know Luke, that you’ve already taken your oath to stay close in the same way. And I thank you for bringing me this gift on top of all the others you deliver to my big, open, gay life.
Last modified: March 8, 2018