Monday, March 30, 2015

My Relatives Never Figure It Out

Rome City, Indiana, November 2005

When I was a kid, we visited my relatives in Indiana at least once a year, sometimes more often.  But in high school and college, I often had other things to do, and my visits became infrequent.  After I moved to West Hollywood, I flew home once or twice a year to visit my parents and brother and sister, with little time to spare for an additional six-hour drive to Indiana.

Then I moved to New York, then to Florida, and the years passed, and I hadn't seen Aunt Nora for over a decade, and some of my cousins, not for 20 years.  They had families of their own, with husbands and wives and children that I heard about often through conversations with my mother and brother and sister, but had never met.

In 2005, I got a job in Dayton, Ohio, a 2 1/2 hour drive from Rome City, close enough to visit again.  So I went to Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Nora's house. And I found out something disturbing.

I wasn't out to them.

Not one, except for my parents, brother, sister, and Cousin Joe.

Aunt Nora's new husband says, “You must have to fight off the ladies with a stick!”

Cousin Joe's teenage son asks me to evaluate the breasts of a female celebrity on tv.

Cousin Eva gets right to the point: “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Why did every one of them think that I was straight? Even though I hadn't seen or heard from them for many years, I heard about them: every visit and telephone conversation with my family consisted primarily of discussions of these relatives,their job prospects, medical problems, and straight romances. Surely the next day, when they got on the phone, they mentioned my job prospects, honors, medical problems, and same-sex romances.

Well, all but that last thing.  My extended family members said things like “I hear you’re a schoolteacher”; “I hear you’re a writer”; and “How do you like it in Ohio?” One even knew that I threw my back out, an injury that happened five months ago, and was incapacitating for only a few days.

But that last thing, the people I was dating, in love with, sharing my apartment with, sharing my life with: no information.

My mother, brother, sister, and Cousin Joe failed to tell those other relatives anything about it. In conversation after conversation, year after year, they had forced me to pass. No one should know.

It would take too long to come out to fifteen people, and besides, I don't believe in pronouncements, as if I were revealing a secret, so I simply answered the questions as they arose.

To Aunt Nora's new husband: “If a lady tried anything with me, I would run into the nearest gay bar and hide until she went away, or until I got lucky.”

To Cousin Joe's teenage son: “I wouldn’t know about women’s breasts, I’m too busy looking at guys.”

To Cousin Eva: “No, I don’t have a girlfriend. My boyfriend would get jealous.”

They just stared, thinking that I was a wise guy making a silly joke, or not comprehending at all. But even if they concluded that I must be gay, would word get around, as uncle called cousin, cousin called aunt, brother called brother?

Six months later, at a Fourth of July barbecue, I went through the same thing all over again, with them or with other members of the extended family.

Cousin Eva's daughter's boyfriend: “Are the girls in Ohio hot?”

Aunt Nora's new husband's brother: “You must be a real devil with the ladies!”

Cousin Ed:  “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Why do family members who know that you are gay keep so aggressively silent? Perhaps they are used to not thinking about it themselves, except when absolutely necessary.

If I do not have my arm around a lover at that moment, if I am not discussing a Gay Pride parade at that moment, then they can forget. I return, in their mind, to the default: male, therefore interested in women.

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