Family Reunions

On Being a Gay Parent

I am writing this issue’s column on the cusp of July 4th celebrations. Of course, you’re not reading it until a week, maybe two, later. I couldn’t help but take the opportunity.

This annual holiday weekend promises the usual array of fire work sellers in temporary tents planted on the edge of strip mall parking lots, along with the tangy aroma of barbequed ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn and bowls of cold slaw. City streetlight poles are festooned with “Old Glory,” red, white, and blue bunting on government buildings. John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” play repeatedly on television commercials. Families and friends make their way to a relative’s house, to a nearby park or to a stadium to watch fireworks explode with magnificent colors in outrageous shapes in the cloudless night air against a velvet backdrop. Still others set off a smaller display of fire works amid the tight enclosures of suburban tract homes.

It is during these festivities that there have been countless stories setting off other fireworks: telling our family members and friends that we are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. For generations of LBTQG people, family reunions offer many of us an incredible opportunity to tell everyone, all at once, who we are: “Mom, Dad, Aunt Ruth, Uncle Marvin, Grandma, Grandpa, cousins one and all, I have something I’ve wanted to share for a long time.” After mustering all the courage we can find, we tell the entire family network exactly how we understand ourselves in the various households where we’ve spent our growing up years.

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For some of us, especially in the South where there is the assumption that our being quiet about our sexual orientation is expected among family members, and is equal to simply being nice, this initial time of outing ourselves can create its own kind of fireworks with, “You’re what?” with rockets red glare in our loved ones’ eyes, and the bombs bursting in air with “Are you sure this isn’t a phase of some kind?” that gave proof through the night that we are — after answering everyone’s query and awkward questions — gay. Yet there are others who simply shrug and said: “I knew it all along!” and the more quietly understatement “What took you so long?”

But, the opportunity for fireworks doesn’t end there. The next round often comes when we introduce our boy- or girlfriend, partners or married spouses. Our new loves simply give further evidence that we — sigh — are really LGBT, confirmed by the relationships that we’ve created. “For better or worse, richer or poorer”… whatever the families’ response could be should be part of our vows of betrothal.

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And then there is the next round of possible fireworks as gay parents: we bring our children into the family reunion fold. This is where it gets interesting: For some family members, their once brittle heart and well-fortressed attitudes of begrudging respect give way to hearts that expand in love for us and our families as our extended family members become aware that they are now grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. The mere presence of children has the possibility of enabling some family members to re-think our relationships and who we are, realizing that being LGBTQ is not the “worse thing” that could happen to a family. Our being gay has the possibility of making the family gatherings more interesting.

Sadly, there are some families that will never be comfortable with us, our relationships, or even with our children. Paraphrasing Armistead Maupin from “Michael Tolliver Lives,” it is at moments like this in a family’s life that we realize that our biological family is not our only option. We can also have our “logical” families, people that we choose to be part of our family. We can re-draw the lines of our relatives and simply reunite once a year with our family of choice. Such family reunions with those in our families of choice are bound to be more authentic and transparent, and are worthy of being celebrated in this our celebration of Independence Day. Let the fireworks begin!

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