Growing up in Gayville

Disclaimer: I have no idea if there’s actually a town called Gayville in the United States, if so, my title is not representative of the actual town (it’s a euphemism) and all similarities are merely coincidental.

When I was a kid, there was no one else like me or my older brother. We didn’t live with our mom, or our dad(s), and we moved often. We were perpetual new kids, and we had a giant secret we almost never shared.

Our parents were gay.

Today, that statement isn’t so revelatory. In fact, it’s almost normal to say out loud. But back then, that wasn’t the case. There hadn’t been an Ellen scene where she confessed love for another woman accidentally over a microphone, Doogie Howser was still just a really smart kid who worked as a doctor, and the only Will & Grace we knew were the old married couple down the road.

Occasionally, people did find out our secret, and if so, it wasn’t a good thing. Children whose parents knew about our living arrangement weren’t allowed to play with us, and sleepovers were pretty much unheard of in our house, until we were much older. It’s not that we didn’t ask; it’s that no one accepted our invitation. Sometimes it was worse. I remember a neighbor saying our parents, who were actually my maternal uncle (who I call Dad) and his partner, were perverts and sinners. Those words stung as a child and still conjure bad feelings to this day.

Growing up in our own personal Gayville wasn’t always easy, but if afforded us a unique perspective during a time when gay was unfairly equated to the AIDS virus, psychiatric disorders and a lack of moral character. I understood, regardless of what picketers or the media told me, that it was okay to be different. I didn’t have to be like everyone else to be deserving of kindness or equal respect. I saw that love was not a concrete formula of male + female, but an emotional truth, whether it was between a girl and a boy, a boy and a boy, or a girl and a girl. As I grew older, and learned about sexuality and gender identity, it wasn’t hard for me to incorporate ideas like transgendered, transsexual, pansexual or intersex, because it all made perfect sense to me.

Now as a heterosexual married mother of two teenage boys, I still have that same acceptance and understanding of individuality that many of my peers didn’t develop until later in life. Although at the time, I was embarrassed by my family secret, I realize now what a gift it was for me, and for my children. My sons know they have gay grandparents, as well as straight grandparents, and it doesn’t faze them one bit. They don’t consider sexual orientation as a marker for judging a person, and instead rely on factors such as personality, compassion, kindness and trustworthiness – things that actually matter.

Last year, when the Boy Scouts of America stepped up to the plate and decided it was unfair to ban scouts who were openly gay, my family celebrated. Both of my sons are Boy Scouts, and both of them knew that it was hurtful and discriminatory to deny the accomplishments a young man had earned, or had the right to earn, just because he identified as gay. Not long before the Boy Scouts made their decision, the United States Armed Forces, of which my husband proudly serves as a Marine, overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; then afforded full benefits and rights to spouses of gay service members. It was a long awaited victory that couldn’t have sent a stronger message to those determined to suppress gay rights:

They’re here, they’re queer, and they have the support of the majority. Get used to it.

It’s a different world than when I grew up. Now it’s okay to say “I have gay parents,” and it’s not a big deal when someone you know says, “I’m gay.” I’m proud to be a witness, and a part of this movement towards acceptance, and ultimately, respect.  My dad always says, “I don’t want tolerance. People tolerate what they don’t like. I want to be accepted,” and he’s right. He deserves acceptance, the same as anyone, regardless of who he loves.

I’m curious to hear other stories, like mine, of adults who grew up in gay homes, before it was acknowledged or understood. I’ve still never met another child of Gayville, although, I have to believe, they’re out there too. Maybe they were also forced to keep their lives a secret, and maybe, just maybe, by reading this story, they’ll find the courage to say “I’m from Gayville, too, and proud of it.”