I trust that I was never a homophobe. My parents had gay friends. Two highly respected members of my family were gay and my mother took great pain to tell me about same-sex love long before I understood sex itself. During my adolescence I sincerely admired André Gide, Marcel Proust and other iconic members of the French gay culture. Still, it took me some time to get used to the fact that my son, born in 1956, turned out to be gay. In addition to being apprehensive about the discrimination and difficulties he might undoubtedly face—this was a decade before Stonewall—I felt guilty about my reluctance to share the fact of his sexual orientation with others.
I am not surprised that I avoided the subject. Most often when I brought it up, the face of my interlocutor clouded over and they murmured, “So sorry,” as if David was suffering from some incurable disease. I nevertheless persevered, and of course had my pleasant surprises, with people telling me that they too had gay relatives, friends or were gay themselves.
Thirty years later, when my granddaughters came out, being gay was perfectly acceptable. However, it still takes some resolve to reveal certain facts about your life to others who might respond with pity or hostility. Today the parents of trans-people often experience the ambivalence I faced during the 1970s-90s. (PFLAG and other activist organizations are a safe place for new parents of LGBT people to join.)
Today I make it a point to tell people that my granddaughters are gay, even though I might just as well have avoided the topic. It surprises me how being up-front makes me feel better and more comfortable with myself.
Being reluctant to use specific labels is rather common. In February 2015, Laura Leigh Abby published an article in Cosmo Magazine entitled “Why Is It So Hard to Say, ‘This Is My Wife‘?” The author and her future wife had lived together openly for ten years before they tied the knot and went on a celebratory honeymoon. Nevertheless Laura was reluctant to admit that her sparkling diamond ring was a gift from her wife—rather than from her husband—or to inform hotels that she and her female companion were on their honeymoon.
In a phone interview I asked Laura how she fared with being straightforward about her relationship. “I believe that some things get easier over time, and that my initial reservations with, when and even how to tell people that I am married to a woman fell away as I grew more accustomed to my marriage and to speaking up. I am fortunate that I have an incredible support system of family and friends and that makes it much easier for me to be vocal about my experiences.”
Laura’s verbalization of her problems confirmed once more that being uncomfortable with my son’s sexual orientation was to a large extent related to the fact that I disliked him being part of a discriminated-against group. It was a good lesson to learn. On our poor polarized planet, many of us are constantly called upon to defend our beliefs about controversial topics, from sexual orientation to police brutality to immigration, plus dozens upon dozens more.