I have watched the situation of gay men change enormously since I was a child. When I first had a sexual experience with a man at the age of 20, it wasn’t even legal for us, as the age of consent was 21. It hadn’t been legal at any age in the UK just 11 years before. I grew up in a time when homosexuality was considered a psychiatric illness and was “treated” with ECT and aversion therapy. Psychiatry changed its mind in the 1970’s but various schools of therapy persisted in a view of homosexuality as maladapted or developmentally inferior way past that decade. You pretty much knew that if you had a need for any kind of psychological help, you had better find your own answers.
If you turned to esoteric or “spiritual” literature, you found that gay existence was either absent, studiously avoided, or condemned.
This all went along with a social and legal mainstream which viewed us as objectified and negative outsiders. Aside from various religions, things really have changed a great deal. But the nature of that blanking out of gay existence still bears thinking about I reckon.
If you want to really erase something, then you attack and deny its relationships. It is relationships which nurture and constitute things, and everything exists and is sustained in relationship. Think of a child, or a natural habitat. So when you seek to obliterate or negate the relationships that something is naturally embedded in, you seek in some sense to undermine and empty it of valid existence.
This is what we historically did with LGBT people even in modern times, either intentionally or as an unconscious cultural inheritance. We eliminated the sense of LGBT people’s relationships. Relationship with Nature, as a full part of Nature. Relationship with parents and family, as LGBT children. Relationship with the sacred, as members of spiritual traditions. Relationships with spouses, as people in marriages. Relationships with children as parents.
When these are negated and taken away, then you are left with an object; an individual, yes, but an object. A subject of study, legislation, a choice to grant concessions to, not rights. A possible object of sympathy and toleration, curiosity, even of liberal concern, but not empathy, real compassion, equality.
This is why an organization such as the Catholic Church attacks same sex marriage and LGBT parenting over and over again. This is why families won’t talk about their gay children’s partners. This is why when LGBT people are represented, the last people to be represented are us as children. This is why people ask “when did you realize you were gay?”, but no one asks “when did you realize you were straight?”. Take away our relationships, blank out the very issue of our relationships, and you have an object that can be judged, ignored or condemned. It puts the soul in solitary confinement, and then accuses it of being a lone wolf.
This is one of the reasons why things like same sex marriage are so important, and even more why the recognition of LGBT children is important. This is why coming out is a matter of “who I love” and the love I am capable of, even more than “who I am”. Who I make life with, and that I make life at all. Even that I ever had a valid life. If you unilaterally deny LGBT people the primary innocence and love that lies at the heart of all people, then all manner of abuses and denials become thinkable, justifiable. All manner of rights become deferable.
Liberation, for us, was the end of deferment. It was glorious, but it wasn’t a pretty sight, because it was way too late. It was something which should never have had to happen. It was that quality which also made coming out so hard, even when it wasn’t physically hazardous. I started coming out when I was 16, and even at age 16 it felt like moving a mountain to say something which was only natural (and that was so much the point) but could only sound like taking some kind of socio-political stand, or committing family suicide, or making a statement about “me”, to the ear that was trained to be deaf to the fullness of non-heterosexual nature. To a world inured to the primacy of social use in relationships, relationships of love are potential investments, but not hard currency. There’s a tag on the collar. We were cattle that learned to speak.
But we did do that thing, which should never have had to be done, and there have been a lot of brave and necessarily crazy people who put themselves on the line for love. Globally the picture is mind blowingly tragic, and mind blowingly brave.
But what we have had to do over and over is counting past one. Speaking from the great multiplicity of relatedness that we all intuit, that we all know. That the person coming out was not “one”, isolated, in the bell jar, but at the heart of humanity too.
For some people coming out is right on time and in time, but for many it feels overdue, or ahead of its time for the world a person lives in. And how many times do you repeatedly have to come out, and still not be out enough? For me, when I had a partner that I could talk about naturally like anyone else, that was it. The erasing spell on relationship was broken. I could have had “gay” tattooed on my forehead and it would only have been a statement about me. And that’s not what it’s about.
It’s not about being able to say “I’m gay” anymore than living freely for straight people involves being able to say “I’m heterosexual”. The statement “I’m gay” is weird, and not because the person is gay. No one really lives first person singular, least of all from that part of themselves most concerned with love.
Our well being is rooted in the life and well being of our family, in the most authentic and real sense of those words for us. Believe me, I don’t idealize family, but we all know what real family would be for us. Maybe a world away from what we are familiar with. Everyone’s family is different, and everyone’s relationships are different. But everyone grows and loves as a child, and needs love. Everyone comes home.
We need to heal and look after our folks, but that means having folks, not some kind of abstract “community”. That occurs in the real substance and scale of a person’s life. It’s personal, like it always has been for everyone.
And that includes talking cattle.