Almost two weeks ago, I went over to my parents' house for what I thought would be a regular visit with the usual innocuous chit chat about work, church activities and the latest happenings in the world. Little did I know they had other plans...
It started off simple and subtle enough; my mother asked if my former music teacher had gotten in touch with me about an opening for a church musician. I said she did, but I told her I wasn't interested, for reasons I've gone into great detail about on this blog. "Why?" my dad asked with a tongue both curious and holding its own answer at its tip. Having felt I already explained myself to them on this front, and wanting to head off any potential confrontation, I said something along the lines of "I need time away," or "I'm just not interested in playing for anyone."
My mother brought up how the job could bring in more cash, which I countered by saying I'd just gotten a freelance gig, which led to more probing by the both of them about how much my boyfriend was contributing to the household. It was something they'd brought up before, as I will admit that we've struggle a bit money-wise; but no doubt the topic had resurfaced this time due to a bad car battery and neither of us having enough coin on us to replace it (damn those AutoZone prorates), being that a big chunk of the income had gone to other repairs earlier that week.
After a few more minutes of deflecting and defending, my dad brought up the real issue: he felt I was being ungrateful or disrespectful because he didn't hear me say "thank you" for paying for the battery (for the record I did) and that my boyfriend--who was in the car at the time--was being disrespectful by not speaking to him.
A warm sensation, like the first embers of a crackling fire, began to burn in the pit of my stomach as I thought about how he wouldn't even look in my boyfriend's direction as we walked into the store or even acknowledge his presence at any point from the moment he drove into the parking to the moment when we drove off. I called him out on it, saying how could he expect him to break his neck to say hi when he basically banned him from ever coming to their home without so much as a meet and greet the day I officially came out two years ago.
"Because I'm an elder," he said, sitting forward in his favorite recliner (anyone whose from the South probably knows elder means "the adult," but just to clarify for everyone else). He went on to say how he's helping him out by allowing him to drive a car that's in his name, with my mother chiming in that if they really wanted to be "evil' or "nasty," they'd ban him from driving or having anything to with the car altogether.
All fair points, but the more they kept talking about how I'd become so distant, the angrier I felt myself getting. My chest constricted more and more, as if my organs were being chopped up and consumed like kindling for the bonfire now raging inside me, an ironic result for someone who was being accused of being so cold. Leaning forward on the couch now and wrestling with keeping my voice steady, I tried to explain to my dad how ignoring my man the previous day and acting like he didn't exist in general, had upset me and him at certain points. Instead he leaned back and nodded, showing no regret; he might've even let off a few "that's rights," but my frustration was making my ears malfunction.
"How do we explain this to the rest of the family?" he said, acting like I'd just uttered the words "I'm gay" two minutes instead of two years ago, causing me to snap "I don't care." "How do we explain that?" he said, pointing to the ring on my finger. "Do we just say this is your significant other?"
"Yes," I shot back. "You don't have to explain it. I can do it!" To which he shook his head and said he wasn't ready "for all that." I reached for some compromise, saying the four of us--my parents, the BF and me--could just meet at their house instead, but was still met with no. Working to cool things down, my mother tried to explain how having a gay son in a serious relationship was still new to them, that if they saw the two of us together then it became "real," and the fact they were even delving into my relationship more was a sign of progress.
All I can say is I'm glad I kept my mouth shut, because my thoughts weren't anything nice. You're able to talk to your gay son about him being gay after years of silence and treating my man's name like it was a vicious viral plague or it was Voldemort? Wow that's great. Maybe after ten years we can sit down and watch Will & Grace reruns together. I softened a bit when my dad said he'd cried almost every night the first month after I came out . He isn't the type to shed tears, so I knew it was something serious for him to admit.
Though when my mother said they've only been dealing with my sexuality directly for two years but have been taught/believed certain things about it for over fifty, and it would take more time, my smart-ass instincts got the better of me. "So when you're in your eighties and I'm fifty-something you might be ready to meet him then?" My dad's face contorted in anger as he leaped from the recliner and began shouting to my mother about my "smart alec" attitude, pacing as he said I was intolerant when it came to listening to their point of view.
Things didn't get any better when talk turned to my atheism. I was told my decision not to be a church musician anymore was like turning my back on how I was raised, and that I should least go back to church and "try" again--try meaning to both believe in Jesus and maybe get delivered from being gay. "Shit. What the hell is it about this they don't understand?" I thought. I clasped my hands together to keep from pounding my fists on the coffee table, and calmly but firmly explained that just as I would never attend a racist church, I would never attend an anti-gay one.
That got the ball rolling, and the next thing I knew, we were talking about heaven and hell, DL men, homophobic preachers, how said preachers have to preach against homosexuality just like other "sins," whether or not America was a "Christian nation," that'd strayed from its roots, the way the bible justifies and has been used to justify horrible behavior, and a litany of other subjects.
At this point my mother jumped in again, saying I shouldn't allow rejection from people to make me hate or reject God. It was the same incorrect link between my sexuality and non-belief she'd made the first time I broke it down for her, so I tried again, explaining how the whole "pray the gay away" mentality screws people up. My dad popped up again from the couch again, walking into the kitchen before walking back in and saying I'd let blogs and intellectuals corrupt and brainwash me, and that "this isn't how I was raised. It was a remark that pissed me off more than all the others. It was the same thing he'd said to me every time I'd done or said, or in this case, been something he didn't agree with, be it right or wrong.
All I can remember next is my mother repeating "peace" over and over again as we went for another round of back and forth. He plopped back in his recliner, gazing at me with an inscrutable stare as I ranted about how I hating having to pretend to be single at family functions, how the BF had let me totally into his life and I couldn't return the favor, the havoc the whole arrangement had sometimes wreaked on my relationship.
"I don't see what's so hard about this," I said, rubbing my forehead as I held my head in my hands. I felt exhausted, and, as is rare for me when I'm riled up, speechless. Finally, my dad conceded he could do better in dealing with the situation, while my mother said they were really trying, making baby steps, and things would get better. Apologies and pledges to improve things were made all around, and the visit ended on a happier note.
However, that night, after talking things out with the BF, I realized the whole incident--from the call about car trouble to the next day's argument--was a near deja vu of the days that preceded and followed my initial coming out. I also came to the conclusion that while our previous conversation had been helpful in getting both the general truth and our true feelings out in the open, it hadn't produced any significant change in the way we interacted with each other.
After the high emotions and accusations died down, things continued in the same cycle: they treated me as if I was a single straight dude, and I was so hesitant to push the issue for fear it would it crack the foundation of our shaky relationship I kept everything but the most trivial aspects of my life close to the vest. As such we fell back into old patterns.
It is this realization that makes me afraid. That as much as I try to put myself in their shoes and remember that way of thinking, and remind myself that a decade ago I believed and felt the same way about my sexuality as they did, that it won't be enough. That as much as they say don't hate the BF and they'll inquire more about him and our relationship--which, to their credit, they did during my last visit--it won't be enough for me. That their words are just that--words--and the minute I cross an invisible line by revealing too much I'll be pushed back with an uncomfortable silence. I'm afraid I'll be too afraid to reveal more of myself. I'm afraid I'll grow impatient, and that that impatience will grow into resentment, then cynicism and grim resignation that causes me to pull away again in frustration at the futility of trying to have an open, mature relationship with my parents.
Most of all, I'm afraid I'll be writing another post like this, retreading the same old shit, in two years. And that the three of us will keep on going in circles...