Tuesday, August 18, 2009
To Be Proud of Who You Are
It was easier than I thought it would be.
My brother Powell had been pestering me to get on with it for weeks, but in my nervousness I kept putting it off, waiting until the time was "right."
"BB, if he's the last one to know, it's gonna break his heart," Powell said to me.
"He is the last one to know," I replied. "I've told literally everyone else. I'll get to it, I promise."
Last night, I waited until Beautiful Cousin had gone downstairs to do her homework before approaching my father, who was watching television in the living room. I can't even remember what movie was on now, because while it was playing I busied myself preparing and eating unnecessary amounts of food.
In about fifteen minutes I consumed an entire bag of popcorn and half a container of macaroni and cheese, which I brought with me to the couch when I sat down and said to my father, "Turn off the TV."
"Why?" he asked.
"Remember how I said earlier we needed to talk?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said, already becoming reticent. He probably thought I was about to bring up my tuition money.
"Well," I said. "We still need to do that."
"Okay," he said. "Give me a minute."
He continued to watch his program, while I got up and got something else to eat. When the television finally buzzed into silence, I sat down again, not sure what to say.
"So..." I began. "I love you."
He stared at me.
"And I hope that you love me...a lot."
"I do," he answered.
This was followed by about ten seconds of "um" and "ah" on my part before I looked up at him and said, "So, I'm gay."
I almost sounded like I was apologizing for it, not because I felt it was wrong, but because I wasn't sure how to broach such a topic with him.
"Your mother's been saying you wanted to talk to me about this for a while," he said. "What makes you think you're gay?"
"I just am," I said. "I just know."
"Are you okay with it?" I asked.
"BB, I just want for you to be happy," he said. "You're my son, and I'll always love you no matter what. I know that I can be an asshole sometimes, and I know that I'm crass, but when it comes to you, and Powell, and Thomas, and Pie, and your mother, I will always love you."
"Thanks," I said.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"Dad, because I do," I replied. "I know what I feel inside. I know what attracts me."
"What you 'feel,'" he said. "How can you know what you feel? You've never really had a girlfriend."
"Dad, didn't you ever wonder why I never had a girlfriend?" I put forward. "In high school, I was like a saint. I never even tried to date. What teenage boy is like that? I never pursued anyone, because I knew deep down that if it ever came to having sex, that desire wouldn't be there."
"You don't have a desire to have sex with women?" I asked.
"No," I said.
"But you do have a desire to have sex with men?"
I cringed at the forwardness of the question, at the accusation it carried.
"You said you were okay with it!" I responded.
"BB, I am," he said. "But I just don't understand that. You can't expect me to get on the bandwagon right away. It's going to take time for me to get used to it. If this is what you've decided, I support you."
"Dad, I didn't really decide it," I said. "It was kind of decided for me. I didn't really have a choice. I've known ever since I was a little boy. I can remember being like seven years old, and having a crush on another kid. It's always been there."
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asked.
"Because," I said. "When I was younger, I was never really masculine, and sometimes you got upset with me for it."
Memories flashed through my head, the recollections of a boy who knew something was wrong.
"You're a boy," my father told me angrily one night when I was about seven years old. "If you look between your legs, you'll find a penis, not a vagina."
Another time when I was about eleven, I made a flamboyant gesture that struck him the wrong way.
"I wish you weren't such a faggot," he spat. I went to my room and cried for a long time that night.
I don't write these things down out of anger. I write them because they are the images that flickered behind my eyes in the moment I confessed my sexuality to him, because they are the images that I can't help but recall, because they sometimes come to me without my bidding them.
"Well, I was wrong to do that, BB," he said.
"And I remember the way that you and your friends would talk about gay people," I said.
The slurs of our working-class neighborhood in Native State returned to me, the casual way in which the residents disparaged "faggots," even if it was often behind their backs.
"I've learned a lot since then, BB," he said. "I understand a lot more."
"How could you not have known?" I asked plaintively.
He sighed again, leaning back against his pillows.
"I guess I always did," he said. "When you were little, you never wanted to play with Tonka trucks or anything like that. You always wanted to play with Barbies. You have no interest in sports."
He reflected, then added as an afterthought, "You have terrible taste in music" as if that were a dead giveaway of my homosexuality.
"I do not have terrible taste in music," I said, feeling the need to defend the Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson records that are piled to the ceiling in my bedroom. "I just like more modern artists."
"Mom and I actually had a counselor tell us that she thought you were gay when you were still a kid," he went on. "We were going in for family counseling, and she told us that we should prepare ourselves for you to be gay as an adult. I guess it was just a matter of knowing and not wanting to believe it."
"But you're alright?"
"Yes, BB," he said. "It's a little weird for me, but I want you to be happy, and if this is what makes you happy I support you."
"So, it'd be okay with you if I started dating someone?" I asked.
"Not really," he answered bluntly. "But I guess I'll just have to get used to it."
"Alright," I said. "So how much do you want to know? I don't want to tell you anything you're uncomfortable with. If I'm dating someone, do you want to know about it?"
"Yeah," he said. "I mean, I don't need to know all the details of your personal life, but whatever's important."
"Alright, Dad. I love you."
"I love you, too."