A Letter to a Godchild About Being Gay
It’ll be some time before you read this letter, if you ever do read it. I thought it would be better if I tried to put down, in words, my thoughts about what being gay, for me, has felt like, and what it might mean for you to have a gay uncle.
There are ideas out there that some people choose to be gay. I do not ever remember making this choice, just as you might not remember choosing to like pirates, Star Wars, or fruit snacks. (All of these, at your current age of eight, you enjoy.) I can tell you some moments that, when I reflect upon them, seem to me to be signals that I was different from other boys my age.
In the small town that your mother and I grew up in, there were some prescribed ideas about what boys would do, what activities they would be involved in, and how best to fit in. (For example, your Uncle Matthew, who is a year older than me, was involved in wrestling.) I, from an early age, enjoyed drawing--I would spend hours drawing dinosaurs, dragons, and Jafar from Aladdin. (I think it had to do more with Jafar’s wardrobe than his temperament in the Disney version of the story.) Boys were expected to play football, basketball, and baseball. I did only two of these sports, basketball and baseball, and elected not to participate in football. I believe I was the only boy--maybe there were one or two others--who decided that I didn’t want to be involved in football.
This was when the real pain of puberty and middle school began.
When you’re young, as you will indefinitely experience, it (at least to some people’s minds) is best to fit into a crowd: girls are to look a certain way, and boys are to act a certain part. I did not participate in the acting of football. I did not find it worthwhile to appear tough, and so I suffered the consequences. To make matters worse I was the only boy on the Speech team. Instead of lifting weights and practicing tackling, I practiced elocution and poise which, it seems, have served me well in the longterm.
In middle school there are odd rituals of mockery and exclusion. In whatever way, I felt threatening to a group of boys: I hung out with girls, I got high grades, and I was well-liked by teachers. I spent a majority of my time preparing for speech meets and practicing my saxophone. I did not act the part of the other middle school boys.
A guy I will call Ted decided this wasn’t acceptable. Ted, being the local sheriff’s son, wrangled a posse of boys and launched a coordinated effort of humiliation and teasing against me. They hurled words such as faggot, queer, and gay toward me, and I, being rather naive, didn’t quite know what they meant. Their sounds were hard and hit me in the gut; the mere way Ted and his friends used these words let me know that, whatever they meant, I did not want to be these words.
This seems to be a common story of young gay people. We are currently launching a campaign against bullying in this country, and I am skeptical that it will bring any good. There are numerous schools of thought on the matter--one stating that bullying and the learning of how to handle it are a part of coming of age, whatever that means; another believes that there should be zero tolerance for any type of jest, humor, or fun-and-games allowed in school; another believes that it is the sole duty of teachers to enforce order in the classroom and hallways, though this still leaves the matter subjective to each teacher.
By the time you read this letter I imagine you will have undergone a fair amount of teasing and bullying, maybe even mocking others yourself. For better or worse--I think worse--it seems that bullying is a gauntlet most, if not all, of us have experienced in an educational setting. I hope you have had the courage to stand up for yourself and your friends, though it is not easy.
When I was in middle school I watched a show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that involved a cadre of gay men, each with a speciality, such as cooking, decorating, fashion, culture, and hair styling, that would advise straight men about how to look, appear, and dress better. Essentially it brought the idea of metrosexuality to the forefront of American consciousness, paving a way for straight men to look gayer without being a source of mockery.
I loved this show. As a child growing up on the prairie of North Dakota it was the only exposure to gay culture I had. It eventually led to me getting a job in high school at J.C. Penney’s, and it eventually caused the comments from friends that they never saw me in T-shirts or sweatshirts, unless I was exercising.
But Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was not the only show I was watching during this time. Will and Grace was a popular sitcom on NBC with two gay male characters, Will and Jack. Will was a successful lawyer in New York City who lived off-and-on with his friend Grace. Jack was a thespian-type, doing a number of odd jobs that included working at Banana Republic, offering acting classes, and performing musical numbers at local clubs.
In both of these shows I could not find myself. I didn’t think of myself as flamboyant as Carson from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Jack from Will and Grace, and I prayed I wasn’t as high-strung as Will from Will and Grace. I did not find a role model, someone to emulate, in learning how to be gay, and I do not know if I ever will.
Growing up in a straight world you have undoubtedly heard stories of happily-ever-afters, about the leading man getting the blonde bombshell, and about boys taking girls to prom. I hope you have also had the great chance of living in a state that allows same-sex marriage, and have known girls who have taken their girlfriends to prom.
In high school there was one “out” guy named Levi. (I use Levi’s real name because I want to honor him for his strength.) Levi was stereotypically flamboyant: he wore tight jeans, make-up, glitter, and spoke at a relatively high pitch. Levi’s life was not easy. Our sophomore year of high school a petition circulated to have Levi change in the girls’ locker room for gym class. Levi liked boys, and it was argued that he would try to make a pass on a number of boys, especially the football players. I remember the petition circulating in the locker room; I remember seeing friends of mine sign it--either mindlessly or intentionally--and I remember when it came to me. I swallowed what felt like a small coal and I passed the petition on, not signing my name.
The girls were great. They rallied around Levi, calling the boys stupid and immature, and they even welcomed Levi into their locker room, saying they’d be honored to have him change with them. Of course this couldn’t happen, and when word reached the principal, the petition was pulled and Levi kept changing in the boys’ locker room, relegated to sneers and humiliation.
Levi eventually moved.
I tried dating girls in high school. My first girlfriend was in my sophomore year. She was on the high school dance team and could lift her leg higher than my head. She was shy, sweet, and blushed easily, which I thought was cute. I tried to understand what other boys felt when they were with their girlfriends. I asked my male friends questions about how to act, what to do, how to feel. None of it came flooding to me.
After kissing my girlfriend once, I broke up with her.
Junior year of high school came and I attempted to date another girl, this one lasted a little longer, but the way I asked her to go-out with me was anything but graceful. She and I were both in the play version of The Hobbit, with me being the lead character, Bilbo Baggins. At our last performance I bought her a bouquet of flowers and asked her out behind a garbage can. (Rule No. 1, Logan: Never ask anyone out behind a garbage can.) She said yes and I didn’t know what to do. So she gave me a hug and a kiss on the lips. I still didn’t feel the rush of emotion that my other friends felt when they were with their girlfriends.
At a cast party that night we watched one of the Saw movies, a scary movie that involves a twisted man who develops elaborate ways of torturing and killing people. During the movie my girlfriend and I would cuddle, hold hands, and occasionally she would jump into my lap. All I wanted was to be her friend. I did not want to be her boyfriend. I did not want to be any girl’s boyfriend.
In college I made new friends: lesbians, gay men, transgendered men and women, and people from around the country and the world. I was exposed to different subjects in college like Norwegian, and asked different questions from the ones in high school: What did it mean to be gay? What was the difference between 1st and 2nd-wave feminism? Why study Nietzsche or binomial theorems? What does pot feel like? How do you know if sex is good? My world grew larger and so did my sense of self.
In my junior year, while singing karaoke at a bar, I decided to say it, to name what I was. My friend Leslie, whom I had met as a prospective student, and I went to the bar to order gin and tonics. Through a blur of liquor-laced words and a haze of cigarette smoke I said it: “Leslie, I like boys.” She squealed, snapped her head back, and told me that she did too--and then she proceeded to kiss me, perhaps the most “action” I have ever received from a woman.
I began to tell other friends and, eventually, professors that I was gay. No one seemed shocked or moved; no one seemed to treat me differently. I still couldn’t accept it myself. One night, after coming home drunk, my friend Emily and I tried to have a conversation:
Don’t touch me!
Taylor, what’s wrong?
Stop it. Just stop it. You don’t know me. Why does everyone think they know me?
Taylor, you’ve had a lot to drink and I think you’re just upset. What’s wrong?
Taylor, what’s wrong?
What’s wrong is I’m gay. It’s my first time saying that phrase and I feel my throat go dry as if my body is telling me it’s not natural, as if it’s not okay to say that word. I’m not happy, Emily, not that type of gay. I’m talking the type of gay that’s damnable.
Taylor, it’s okay. You’re not the first person I know who’s gay. God still loves you...
No. Don’t go there. God does not love me. The Bible says I’m an abomination. People look at you funny when they know you’re gay. People think it’s okay to make fun of you and people think you’re some type of shtick. I’m not a shtick, Emily! I’m Taylor. Plain, simple, gay, Taylor.
I couldn’t handle it. The politics of being gay in college were too much for me: I did not see myself reflected in the gay culture where I went to school, and I was not strong enough to claim myself as a gay man. I was elected student body president, was out to a number of friends but not the student body, and I still regret not being proud of being gay at that point in my life.
I do need to say a word about your mother and father. I came out to your mother, sheepishly, on the telephone. She had a moment of silence and then told me she knew for a number of years, ever since I was obsessed with watching Mary Poppins every day and having her draw Jafar.
By the time you read this I do not doubt that you will have had numerous fights with your parents, have probably said words you would like to take back, and probably want both your mom and dad to accept you for who you are. Remember: your parents are being just that--parents. (I will still take you out for ice cream when they say you can’t have any.)
In the world as it currently is, Logan, in the year 2014, there are a few states in which I can get married. The one I currently live in, Washington, is just such a state, and Minnesota, where I just moved from, is another. North Dakota, where you live, does not allow me to get married.
In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down the rule in the military known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a restriction that was placed upon military servicemen and servicewomen that pushed them to keep their sexuality hidden. We have yet to create a national law that allows all people to marry regardless of sexual identity.
So what is this letter really trying to say? It’s trying to say this: I love you, I love you, I love you. You probably don’t think it’s very cool to have an uncle who is so willing to say that phrase three times, but ever since you have been a baby, up until your current age, the age of eight, I have asked you this question: How much do I love you? And you have replied, “To the moon and back, Uncle Taylor!” The truth is I love you more than that.
Right now, at the writing of this letter, you don’t know what it means to be gay. You do know that boys aren’t “supposed” to wear dresses, although I did when I was little. You know that one of my favorite things is to give you a hug. And I know one of your favorite things is to wrestle around with me. I have a suspicion that you don’t think I’m any different from your Uncle Matthew, Uncle Christopher, or Uncle Steve (even though I know you think I’m the coolest uncle ever). In time, though, you will know that I am different. You’ll know that I didn’t seriously date women, that I hated myself for a good, long while growing up, that your grandparents struggled with my being gay, and that, through it all, I loved you just the same. You’ll know that boys get made fun of for being gay, and girls get called dykes. You, I hope, will know that that is not okay.
You see, Logan, the world is filled with love and it is better to stand with, alongside, and behind love, than to stand against it. Love carries the day. Love always wins. With love, all things are possible.
Taylor Brorby is a writer living in the North Cascade Mountains. He writes forThe Huffington Post and The EcoTheo Review. He is currently at work on a commissioned book and his first vespers service.