It is November 1992
George H. W. Bush is President, but not for much longer. The biggest song in America is “I Will Always Love You” and Whitney nails it, but you liked it just fine when it was still just your hero, Dolly Parton, and her guitar. Hee Haw has ended and Absolutely Fabulous has begun but you will not hear of it for a few more years, when you see the VHS tape in the library and become obsessed. Malcolm X is sharing movie theaters with Mighty Ducks; they are never a double bill. Audre Lorde, who inspires you, has died; Miley Cyrus, who will inspire your pre-teen daughter, has been born.
The mall of America, Euro Disney, and Barney are new. But you, all of 25, feel supremely old and wise. You are in grad school and are already teaching undergrads. Life is a banquet of possibility. You have performed in a terrible dinner theater cabaret for which you have been paid despite the director’s horror that, the night before the show, you proudly got your first ACT-UP haircut, which makes you look like a melon with a forelock, and exposes your ears, allowing you to show off the single zirconia stud you wear in your right ear because the “right-is-wrong/left-is-right” rule only applies to boys who are straight, which you are not.
You are mostly out. Out to your Emerson College classmates, out to your Emerson students, out to the 20-year-old who convinced you to have sex with him on the rooftop of Charlesgate under the blinking gaze of the Citgo sign, presence the which will remind you of him at every single Fenway game for the rest of your life. You are out out out — everywhere except at “home.”
Home is a squishy term for you in 1992. Your parents, a Cuban refugee and a Maine farmgirl, split so long ago you don’t remember them living together. Home has meant winters in Maine with her, summers in Miami with him, the one constant being extreme temperatures. He drank too much and was quick with a fist; in your teen years, he became a phone call, not a destination. She was depressed and tried to kill herself when you were 15; by 16, you were on a path to never again live with her for more than two weeks at a time. It felt safer be other places: the church school dorm, the summer camp where you were a seriously overweight lifeguard, the college apartment where the landlord took out the shower without warning, even the grad school room you now share with the aspiring serial killer.
But for holiday purposes, home is still the house where your mother and grandmother live. Its walls are copiously papered; its floors are copiously carpeted, even, inexplicably, the kitchen. There is no alcohol or Coca-Cola; there are no playing cards, no make-up, and no jewelry — it is a Seventh-day Adventist home. There is no trace of your life in Boston inside these walls.
Thanksgiving dinner has been consumed, rapidly. It does not matter how long your grandmother has spent preparing a turkey, Stove Top stuffing, green bean casserole with crispy onion strings and cream of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes bathed in gravy made with George Washington broth, beets she pickled herself, and pumpkin pie from the recipe on the One-Pie Pumpkin can. It is consumed in under 30 minutes and you are now all in the living room eating second slices of pie on TV trays.
You and your mother sit in side-by-side Edith-and-Archie easy chairs, separated by a little nightstand laden with Kleenex, chapsticks, old TV guides, a cup with pens and scissors, a daily devotional book, and a Bible. Your grandmother sits across the room, almost on top of the television, because her hearing is really awful now and she doesn’t want to miss anything on Wheel of Fortune, whose contestants tonight are children playing with their teachers. She is far enough away that she cannot hear the conversation on easy chair row.
Your mother is talking about Dorian Dandy — name obviously changed — a closet case who is closeted only by the definition of polite Adventist society. He’s a man who uses words like “marvelous” and “gorgeous” and brings back interesting objects from the far-flung parts of the world where he has traveled; everything about that sentence makes him unlike anyone else in this rural hamlet of 3,000 people. Because he goes to church and dotes on his difficult mother, an aging hoarder jealously guarding her trove with actual talons, everyone maintains the fiction that he is not a homosexual, which is important for people in a faith tradition which has no problem with stoning.
Dorian Dandy is maybe 60 now and nonetheless your mother says to you, “It might not be too late for him. He might find the right gal yet.”
Your mother, eyes bright and merry as if about to declare Uno or Yahtzee, asks, “Why do you know so much about it? Do YOU Have a closet to come out of?”
She will swear for the rest of her life that she did not know. That she was being silly.
She will say she had no clue. Not one. Not even the first album you bought with your own money, Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits Vol II, or your second, the soundtrack to Annie. Not the year you ripped your Superman costume and immediately solved the problem by trick-or-treating in borrowed wig and pink robe as an off-brand Wonder Woman.
Not the sexy Shaun Cassidy poster on your wall, paired with a pin-up of Farrah Fawcett as a sort of poster beard.
Not even the melon-with-a-forelock buzz cut and earlobe with a suspicious hole that you are sporting at this very moment.
She waits for your reply and you consider that you have promised yourself you will never again lie about being gay. You have been harassed, chased, physically threatened, and faced the end of friendships for being gay. You have literally just this week lost a job because of it.
No, you will never lie about this again because to lie is to give power to the people who harass, chase, threaten, abandon, or fire you. To lie betrays those who now love you fully as you are.
So you don’t.
She is waiting for your answer. Do you have a close to come out of? And you say, “Only at home.”
In the quiet that follows, spots appear on her pale face, which now glows bioluminescent with mortification. Across the room, a boy buys a vowel. Ding. Ding ding ding ding. Vanna turns the letters to applause. Your grandmother knows nothing of the conversation; she knows only that the letter “O” was a very good choice. You think to yourself, This a ridiculously American way to come out.
“If I had thought the answer was yes,” your mother hisses, “I wouldn’t have asked the question.”
In a moment, she will shoo you into the kitchen to insist that your grandmother never be told, because it will kill her. (Spoiler: It will not.)
In the morning, your mother will tell you she has arranged for you to return to Boston with a cousin headed that way. It will be the last conversation you have with her for months. You will not see her again until July. You will be the prodigal, the sodomite, the serpent’s tooth — all the Biblical baddies rolled into one deeply disappointing package.
In time, she will come to want you home again. She and your grandmother will like your boyfriend, who will become your fiancée, and they will insist you split holidays between your two families— but they will still skip your wedding. Years later, she will be against you adopting a child and then complain when you don’t bring the baby home to see her very often. She will get frail and ill and rely on you and your husband to help pay her bills and then still vote to ban gay marriage. She will love you and you will love her and it will never be enough.
When she is dying in hospice, it will be you holding her hand that last week and she will mouth the words “I’m sorry,” though her last actual words will be “ice chips,” which you will provide. You will host her church funeral with all the songs and prayers she loved.
She will not see you in your 50s, which will be the happiest years of your life.
She won’t see you teaching classes. She won’t be at the opening nights of your plays. She won’t find your books in a Barnes & Noble or pick up the New York Times to see your byline or tune in to NPR to hear your voice.
She’ll never know how the very part of you that was so disappointing to her has been your greatest fuel — not only for your art and your work, but for everything else. That your truth has led to a life so joyful that even great hardships never dim your gratitude.
You wish she could have known that from the beginning. Maybe it would have comforted her.
But it is still Thanksgiving 1992. You have said the worst thing she can imagine and now she must live with it. When she returns from the kitchen where she has told you to never speak of this again, Pat Sajak is assuring your grandmother that he’ll see her tomorrow. Your mother sits in a silence that burns and you cannot bring yourself to enter the room. The TV announcer thanks the sponsors as credits roll and theme music plays.
You linger outside the door a moment and then head away.
Into the rest of your wonderful life.
Previously Published on medium
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The post How To Come Out in America, 1992 Edition appeared first on The Good Men Project.
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