Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Family Shame

When I was six years old, my aunt and uncle had a baby boy. I loved that kid to death. He was my baby. I'm fifty now and he's not a baby anymore. I got off the phone with him a few minutes ago, as we've just reconnected after many years. The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm sorry I walked out of your life all those years ago." I was flooded with remorse for all the time we've not been close, because we were a tight bunch of cousins. There were six of us blond and blue-eyed little hellions that spent every holiday and most other family occasions in each other's presence. So, what happened?
The cause of my not being around my family is one of the main reasons I push for equality and acceptance. My cousins were in high school or college when I came out of the closet at 26. It was not pretty. My mother completely lost it and told everyone that would listen about my "abomination." The first three years of being out were worse than being in the closet. I was sure my whole family had disowned me, as my mother had. I was 26 and felt a sense of shame every time someone, who had once loved me fiercely, now looked on me as a pariah, or so I thought. It took me, as an adult, years to understand that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Can you imagine being a kid and carrying that shame with you every day?
After three years of fighting and threats to take my son from me, I packed up and moved to Oklahoma with my wife. (We've been together 24 years.) I turned my back on my family, as I assumed they had turned on me. I cut all of those people out of my life and moved on. I'm sorry, now. I'm sorry that I didn't give my cousins the chance to stay in my life. I'm sorry that I assumed my aunts and uncles felt the same way my mother did. I missed so much of their lives and they missed mine. I didn't get to tell one of my uncles that I loved him, until just before he died. He was sick with cancer for five years, but I made no effort to re-engage with him until the very end. I'm sorry I wasn't there for one of my cousins when he chose to take his life. I'm sorry my aunt got too sick to remember who I was, before I got to tell her how much she meant to me. I did get to tell my other uncle before he passed that I loved him, but he was nearly on his deathbed before I had the courage to face him.
Courage? Yes, courage. No one wants to face the task of approaching someone about being gay, when you're not sure what the consequences will be. I had been a coward for many years. The fear of rejection is a strong one and even as an adult, I had issues with it. It didn't help that my beloved Grandmother called me all sorts of horrible things when she found out, so the fear was grounded in some fact. I wish I had mustered the strength to hold my head up and be proud of who I was, but society had ingrained in me this hateful shame. If I could give any young gay person advice, it would be to let that shame go the way of the dinosaurs. I would wish for them the courage to face the fear of rejection and to walk away happy, whatever the outcome. I know now that I am not responsible for how other people react. I can only live my life to the fullest and pray for understanding some day.
The reward for finding that courage is not losing the friends and family that still love you. By assuming my entire family had rejected me, I lost so much. I should have given them more credit. If I had it to do all over again, I would hold my head up and say, "Look at me. I'm the same person you loved five minutes ago, before I told you I was gay. I would like to remain in your life, but if that's uncomfortable for you, then I will wait patiently for you to come to terms with it. I love you and that will not change."
When faced with the challenge of coming out, while easier today than it was for my generation, it is still a difficult process. That internal shame is a mighty demon to conquer. A gay person has been told all their lives that homosexuals are less than others, an "abomination." That doctrine has been embedded deep within our psyche and is a formidable hill to get over. The fight to live free of oppression is a day to day struggle in many of our lives. I wish for all a day when that feeling of shame does not exist, but until then, have courage. Don't assume people won't love you anymore. I did, and it cost me my extended family and a few friends. Sure there are those in my family that reacted with intense homophobia, but that's their problem, not mine. My problem is that I shut out all of them, without waiting to hear what they had to say.
Be patient with people and live a happy, productive life. Don't shut people out. Leave the door open. If my mother, the one who flipped completely out, can come around and say, "I'm glad you lived your life the way you chose to. I see now that you are happy and that she loves you. I'm sorry for my behavior," then there is hope for everyone. Don't assume the worst. You may cut people out of your life that really just need a moment to get it together, or others who have no idea why you're gone.
I'm glad I reconnected with my cousins. I plan to spend the rest of my life letting them know how much they mean to me. I now know my cousins are supportive of equality and acceptance. If I hadn't made the effort to communicate, I would never have known. The LGBT community needs allies. Start with the people you love and who love you. We're changing hearts and minds everyday. We'll change this world one step at a time. We'll put an end to this family killing shame and hate. Don't assume the worst in people. Presume the best. Maybe that glass is half full.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your bitter-sweet story and a piece of you. They are words many will read and embrace. For many this freedom is along time coming, and for others...maybe never.Kudos--keep writing (and a little FBing...)

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  2. As always, Decky, your insight is an inspiration and your ability to put it down in words that can be shared, a gift to every life you touch. May you always know your worth and embrace it. It was a gift long before you accepted it. I am honored to call you my friend. With Universal love, Dawn

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