Like pretty much everyone else who has ever existed, I have a complicated relationship with my parents. And while my circumstances are arguably slightly more complicated than other people’s (we’re all artists, and any cliches you can think of about drama and eccentricity are probably at least vaguely relevant), ultimately, at least these days, it’s pretty unremarkable.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of that mundanity that I want, and in fact need, to talk about. Not as some wacky Internet catharsis thing, although that’s always a bonus, but because I’m still spending a lot of time parsing how to be my parents’ gay kid, and I suspect there are things about this experience that, while they often make no sense to me, might actually be instructive to someone else.
Now, in a lot of ways, my parents are awesome. They adore Patty; they’ve never said anything that indicates they take this relationship less seriously than they might if it were with a guy; and we’ve always been of pretty similar political minds.
But sometimes they’re just weird, not about my being queer, but about my being part of the queer community. My dad always gets a little bit excited if he misunderstands some story I’m telling about an online disagreement and thinks I’ve angered the gay community instead of someone I’m arguing with about the gay community.
Meanwhile, my mom just sort of freezes if I say I’m a lesbian or talk about the performative hilarity of the hyper-feminine designs I like to wear from Trashy Diva, assuring me, frantically that I look good in dresses. I know I look good in dresses. Sometimes, I even enjoy wearing them, especially the ones that no one, regardless of gender or orientation, could possibly wear without winking. I wink a lot.
All of this feels complicated not because of the moments where they don’t get it, but because of all the moments where they do, like when my mom says that this or that boy on TV reminds her of me or notes that a story line in something or other makes her so glad I’m political and makes her think that she should be too.
But she isn’t, and my parents, while totally rock the boat people in that loud, artist, eccentric way (you should see my mom’s hats, and my dad’s endless self-publishing adventures), are also totally committed to the idea that my being in a same-sex relationship makes me just like anyone else. And, well, it kind of doesn’t. It gives me different adjectives for one, adjectives that I wish they wouldn’t be so uncomfortable about my using.
But these things… it’s not that they aren’t worth getting into fights over, it’s that they’re impossible to even discuss. They are the invisible weights of being gay in a society where that still isn’t entirely (or often remotely) okay, where people have to work to prove that they don’t care, and where everyone makes a ton of missteps because we’re all sick of the topic (in general) and we’re all people who are narratively focused and desperate to be seen (in specific).
My adjectives — gay, queer — are some of the most comforting words in the world to me. Before I had them I just thought I was some other species who didn’t know how to talk to people or wear clothes well or move right, and it was hard, just being other, like a rat in a foreign nest that smelled wrong. These words sustained me when I was less able to be a visible queer person, not because I was closeted, but because it was just hard to keep explaining it when I was involved with someone of the opposite sex. I was still so awkward in those years, smelled wrong and moved funny, and to be at parties and think queer, queer, queer made it all right and reminded me that I was supposed to be different — I wasn’t failing to act right; other people were failing to look close. Being queer made me — makes me — stand taller.
Life is never what we expect, and I’m sure I’ve thrown my parents for a ton of loops over the years and still do with big words and political obsessions and my reflexive need to perform and reference stuff they don’t even know about. I love that they see me as their unique, complicated, weird, driven kid above anything else, but sometimes I really wish they would just see me as one of those people, over there, referred to by the adjectives that make them uncomfortable.
Because my community isn’t just part of who I am, it saved me when all their love couldn’t. And if my parents are going to be proud of me, I’d of really like them to be proud of it, and my place in it, too.
I was going to say need, you know?
But need and want are two really different things, especially, I think, when you’ve got adjectives the way I’ve got adjectives. Certainly, it doesn’t seem so strange to me now when my parents tell me about how as a child I would never ask for anything, but just stare at it with great longing.