Pushcart XLII: Andrew Solomon, “On Gay Parenting” (nonfiction) from Threepenny Review

People often ask me when I came out, generalizing from the experience of many young people who announce themselves to the world on a particular afternoon. But I did not divorce my reticence in a single sharp break. Rather, I seeped out like a spreading wine stain. I told someone; I told a few more people; I denied what I’d said; I said it again, to someone else; I wished it away; I told my family; I denied it to the people I was sleeping with; I admitted it to those people; I denied it to my family; and so on. I had been completely closeted for two decades and I took another decade to declare myself even to myself….
Since then, coming out has been an almost daily exercise.

Complete story available online.

Those of us who have never had to explain or defend our sexuality might not understand the impact of coming out, but Solomon does a great job of comparing it to a separate issue: revealing his depressive illness. I think it’s a good analogy; those of us who struggle with mental illness are never sure how the person we’re revealing to will react. Maybe they’ll start to treat us like we’re about to flip out at the least provocation; maybe they’ll publicize it beyond our comfort zone; maybe they’ll deride it (my favorite reaction is always, Gee, I get depressed/anxious sometimes too, but I don’t call it an illness). Or maybe they’ll just say, Oh, ok, ask a few questions, and return to whatever the original topic was.

The article isn’t really about how gay couples parent their kids. Of course not; that would be silly, since gay couples parent the way any couples do: teaching, sometimes scolding, comforting, nurturing, disciplining. It’s more about how it feels to live in a world where the three-letter adjective matters so much to those outside the family.

New family structures are different from mainstream ones. We are not lesser but we are not the same, and to deny the nuance of that asymmetry is to keep us almost as ensnared as we were when our marriages and families were impossible. Acquiescence to historical standards is still commonly recognized as the essence of good parenting, but I would emphasize the equal power of imaginative breaks with tradition.

I came back to Miss Manners, oddly enough. Even in the 80s, the queen of propriety held to the belief that family events like weddings should be tailored around the family and participants, rather than tailoring family to fit some rigid template of What a Family Should Look Like (she was far more dogmatic on wearing black to weddings, or simplifying place settings).

Maybe we’re so determined to have everyone lined up in cookie-cutter fashion because it’s easier. Not on the parents, and not on the kids, certainly, but on the rest of the world, to have everyone fit a mold, so we can react to everyone the same way. It’s the same thing with accents, languages, religious customs: I think a lot of the push towards conformity comes from those who simply don’t want to have to work so hard to learn to pronounce names or can’t bear to see a guest eat salad at a barbecue. Maybe we need support groups for such folks, so the rest of us can just live our lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.