With the political landscape so intensely polarized, the LGBTQI community has become the most convenient scapegoat for political panderers. It seems that any zealot can put on a suit, use a healthy dose of booze to blur away images of all of their past mistresses or misters, and recite innumerable ways in which the LGBTQI community’s “agenda” has undermined the country’s traditional basis–you know, the one steeped in the bloodshed of North America’s native populations.
Laughable at best, these “arguments” fall apart faster than a Saltine in water. Traditions are meaningful, but are social constructions that change with us; after all, we’re the social creatures that create them. We can easily embrace more inclusive traditions–ones based in acceptance and equal rights protections. Still, politicians manipulate entrenched generational norms to justify partisan politics–to perpetuate a legacy of disenfranchisement. But it is very possible to transcend generational bigotry. And it starts with you.
Growing up in a liberal Catholic household in small-town Alabama, my sister and I knew what it was like to be different. While our more conservative maternal grandparents, Nanie and Papa, circulated the small town social scenes with grace and style, we were contradictory and stirred the pot more than occasionally. Less Flora than Mirarchi, Laura and I were more interested in pulling our father’s finger than pulling out a chair for our grandmother. So it was no surprise that the day I intended to come out to my family, I waited until after dinner, after Nanie and Papa left, before calling my parents and sister back to the dining room table for a wee chat.
After the whole shebang ended, my mother insisted she be the one to tell Nanie and Papa. To this day, I still don’t know how my mother told them or how they initially responded. But as time passed, Nanie would make allusions to alternative “lifestyles”–her olive branch–even though we never really sat down and spoke candidly about my social life. Several years later, when Papa was diagnosed with cancer, things changed.
Papa became a shade of his former gregarious self. When I’d speak to him over the phone, the wear in his voice was palpable; intensely invasive surgeries had prolonged his life, but robbed him of his energy. Suffice it to say I didn’t feel like peppering either of them with details of my latest catastrophes in boyfriendom. After all, I figured there was always time. Years later, as I sat across from Papa in his hospice room, I knew I wouldn’t have any other opportunities. With no leave left at work, I had to return to North Carolina. It was my turn to feel robbed.
Since I’d come out, the two of us never sat down to talk. In some ways, I think he preferred it that way. I respected that; after all, he and Nanie still wanted to be a part of my life. Even so, anxiety kept washing over me; it was the same feeling I’d had when my paternal grandparents died–that they didn’t know about this part of my life. I realized I’d been repeating the same mistake for years without really knowing it.
But this was it. It was incomprehensible to me that I’d never see him again. We chatted about this and that. The drain of the conversation began taking its toll, and he began drifting off. So I assured him that we’d watch after Nanie and got up to leave.
That’s when he stopped me, hesitated momentarily, and asked, “So, are there many gay people where you are? To be near?”
I lost it. Never had I heard him utter the word “gay,” much less in reference to me. It wasn’t a request for a tell-all, just an acknowledgement. And that was enough.
“Yes, yes there are. I’ll be fine.”
“Good. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
I turned, walked to the door, and looked over my shoulder at someone I thought had become a stranger. But he’d been there the whole time. Just waiting.