I believe that experience really is the best teacher and that the experience of knowing a gay person first-hand teaches you this: gays do not CHOOSE to be gay. The experience of raising my son taught me better than any TV show or movie could that no one chooses to be shunned, to be bullied, or to feel the self-doubt that gays endure every single day of their lives.
My son, Matt has always been able to “pass” as straight. In spite of that and the so-called innocence of youth, his classmates in elementary school must have possessed some weird, homophobic radar, because the boys excluded him from everything. Matt spent most of his time alone in front of the TV pretending not to hear the other boys out front laughing and cheering for each other during pick-up baseball games.
In middle school, the boys stopped ignoring him. Instead, they cornered him in the bathroom: “hey faggot,” they taunted. In the locker room one bully grabbed and twisted Matt’s genitals; they followed him home from school; they threatened him. I wanted to complain to the school but he begged me not to: “that will make things worse, Mom.” He grew so depressed I feared that he might hurt himself. A counselor I took him to said, “be more outgoing,” but offered no suggestions about the bullying. We didn’t go back.
Matt did catch a few breaks. He got into a local production of The Sound of Music. Then he was accepted at a high school for the arts where he met other boys like himself, boys who loved musical theatre. I believe it’s no accident that so many gay guys excel in theatre; they need to pretend to be someone else their whole lives, so they’re naturals on stage. Matt was accepted at theatre college in New York, where he made friends; he marched in Gay Pride parades and put his lonely past behind him.
Or did he? At the end of his second year in college, he decided leaving school and taking more dance and voice lessons would further his career better. When he called to tell me his decision, we joked that neither of us would miss paying off the extra college loans. Matt sounded mature, confident, and happy. Just before hanging up, though, he said, “well, now what do you think of your son, the queer college drop out?” The bravado was gone; in its place was the lifelong fear, fear that he might not be accepted, even by me—or was it by himself?—because he’s gay. Matt’s question made me think of everything experience taught me the years we were together and what it’s still teaching me; that being gay means struggling daily against prejudice and self-doubt, wondering if you’ll ever truly belong.
Watching Will and Grace or The Bird Cage might open your eyes somewhat, but nothing can teach you like personal experience that being gay is definitely NOT a choice.
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