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A little background on my father

Note: this was originally written as a letter to a friend during the early stages of a wonderful correspondence.

If there had been recognition and acceptance of homosexuality among boys growing up in Tennessee in the 30s-40s my father would have had a different understanding of himself and his place in the world much earlier, and he would have had the option of living as an openly gay young man. He would not have married my mother. But, like a lot of men of his generation, he fully recognized and reconciled himself to his sexual identity as an adult, and came out in the ’70s to most of the rest of the world. Leading up to his choice to live the life he was suited for were five very painful years of negotiations and compromises with my mother after his homosexuality became known to her. In 1976 he and my mother divorced and he moved in with a man he lived with for the next eleven years. My parents were able to remain close friends until my father died in 2002 of pancreatic cancer, and my father’s second long-term male partner – the person I refer to as his widow – remains a close part of our family. My mother never recovered or even acknowledged how much the experience wounded her, in spite of appearances to the contrary. The story she has wrapped around her experience is that she is glad that she had me and my sister, so she did not regret the marriage.

I have a great deal of compassion for people on all sides of the devastation wrought by these “lavender” marriages, and I want to see longer strides towards a society in which there is no longer any need for them. And my parents’ situation isn’t a simple relic of a less enlightened time. This still happens, and it’s still painful – for the homosexual spouse living a life of deception in an outwardly hetero-normative marriage, and for the spouse who discovers that their partner is of an orientation that doesn’t include him or her. People who insist on hetero-normative marriages as the only valid form are perpetuating the terrible damage that results from the dishonesty and suppression of self and the deep wounds of rejection. Same-gendered relationships need to be able to flourish without ridicule, persecution or violence.

In the more honest and just society I envision, I wouldn’t have been born. (Technically this depends on one’s particular religious/philosophical understanding of the individual soul, but that’s getting a little far afield). My mother would have married a person who was attracted to her and someone who could be completely honest about who they were. My father would have partnered with a man. But holding a strong belief that those particular two people should never have married has never had any negative impact on what I think about myself.

I always try to choose my language around these topics very carefully, because distinctions in identity and desire and integrity are important. One aspect of the need for clarity in descriptions is, ironically, recognizing the murky areas in how people work and what they are, and respecting how they decide to talk about those aspects of themselves – or not. The world includes many more nuances of personhood than just gay or straight. I myself exist in a grey area of identity with no need to declare anything about what that means. My evaluation of people is essentially without regard to gender, including the ways that I am attracted to them. I don’t fit into conventional male/female relationships or gender roles, and I wouldn’t want to. Less than two years ago I married an out bisexual man, for whom non-heterosexual identity and the difficult “coming out” process is extremely important. Our relationship is entirely different from my parents’ situation, because my partner’s identification doesn’t exclude me and he does not have to submerge any aspects of himself to be fully and entirely in this partnership. That he is not involved with a man does not redefine his identity as heterosexual, and this is a crucial piece of understanding. The privilege of our right to marry is something I feel acutely on a political level. We’re nowhere close to nuclear-family conventional, but through pure happenstance of gender the State allows us to enter into a sanctioned, recognized partnership. It makes no sense to me, but refusing to participate in what a friend of mine calls a “Jim Crow Marriage” wouldn’t have any political expediency either.

Posted in Personal Stories, Socio-politics.

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