DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #57: That Ecstatic Parade

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Dear Sugar,

I’m a twenty-one year old guy. I’m in college right now. Though I work full-time to pay for some of my bills, I’m still dependent on my parents for room and board. I also use their car. I have no problem with living with my parents—at least I wouldn’t if I wasn’t gay. My parents are fundamentalist Christians. They believe that being a homosexual is a “sin” that someone struggles with similar to alcoholism or drug addiction and that gays should repent and see Jesus.

My parents know I’m gay but they don’t acknowledge it. They believe I’ve repented and found Jesus. When I was seventeen, my mom threatened to kick me out of the house because she didn’t want “my diseased behavior under her roof.” In order for me to stay at my parents’ house I had to go to Christian counseling to undo my gay-ness. I went, but it did absolutely nothing for me. It only confused me more.

Though I act “straight” around my parents and sister, I am out to friends and co-workers and also to my brother (who accepts me unconditionally). It’s a huge strain to live a double life.

I don’t hate my parents, but I strongly dislike them for their treatment of me. They think I’m “straight,” but they don’t trust me. My mom constantly checks up on me, often barging into my room seemingly in hopes of catching me doing something. If I go out, I have to tell my parents exactly who I’m with or I won’t be able to use their car. They refuse to leave the internet connected if I’m at home alone and they hide the modem when they go to bed because they are afraid that I’ll look at “sinful” material and it will pull me back into the “sinful gay lifestyle.”

I’ve had two gay relationships. The first wasn’t as involved emotionally as I would have liked, but I’m very involved with the guy I’m with now. My parents know he’s gay and they treat him like he’s going to re-infect me with his gay-ness.

I would move out, but I can’t find any available rooms within my budget. One option that has arisen recently is that a good friend asked if I wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest with her—I live on the East Coast—and I’m seriously considering it. The thing is, I don’t want to run away from my problems and I really like the guy I’m with, but right now I feel like I’m stuck in a situation that is hopeless. I feel suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides of my double-life. One side would damn me to hell if they found out I was gay. The other side wants me to cut myself off from my family.

Is there any advice you could offer that could help?

Thanks.
Suffocated

Dear Suffocated,

Yes. There is something I can offer that will help. I can tell you to get yourself out of that house. You mustn’t live with people who wish to annihilate you. Even if you love them. Even if they are your mom and dad. You’re an adult now. Figure out how to pay the rent. Your psychological well-being is more important than free access to a car.

It’s miserable that your parents are hateful, ill-informed bigots. I’m sorry they’ve made you suffer so, sweet pea. There is nothing correct about their ideas regarding homosexuality (or alcoholism or drug addiction, for that matter). We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people. This is what your parents are doing to you. And by choosing to pretend you’re straight in order to placate them, you’re also doing it to yourself.

You must stop. Stopping is not running away from your problems. It’s solving them. In your question you write that you feel “suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides,” but there are not two sides. There is only one and you’re it. The real you. The authentic you. The gay you.

Be him.

Even if you aren’t ready to come out to your parents yet, I implore you to remove yourself from their company. Pack up your things and go. To the Pacific Northwest, across town, to your wacky cousin’s basement in Tuscaloosa, it doesn’t matter. Just stop living with the people who sent you to re-education camp because they equate your (normal, healthy) sexuality with a disease.

This doesn’t mean you have to break all ties with them. There is a middle path, but it goes in only one direction: toward the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.

Your lunatic parents are going to figure out you’re gay whether you tell them or not. In fact, they know already. They aren’t banishing you from the internet so you won’t watch Scooby Doo, doll. I encourage you to leave your parents’ home not so you can make some giant I’m gay! pronouncement to them, but so you can live your life with dignity among people who accept you while you sort out your relationship with them from an emotionally safe distance. Sooner or later—whether they learn it from you or discern it on their own—your folks are going to have to grapple with the reality that you are a homo beyond (their) God’s reach. It seems that the best-case scenario when this happens is that you will lose their approval. The worst-case scenario is that they will disown you. Perhaps permanently. Which would mean that their love for you hinges entirely on:

Nothing. Because you are their beloved son                           √ No
and their primary obligation to you as your
parents is to nurture you and foster your
growth, even if you turned out to be someone
they didn’t precisely imagine.

Your agreement to refrain from touching                                √ Yes
other men’s man parts.

Wow. Really? Isn’t that so sad and crazy? I know I’m being a bit glib about it, but only because if I look at it stone cold serious it smashes my heart into smithereens. More importantly, I’m trying to make a point: love based on conditions such as those set forth by your parents is ugly, skimpy, diseased love. Yes, diseased. And it’s a kind of love that will kill you if you let it, sweet pea.

So don’t. There is a world of people out here who will love you for who you are. A whole, vibrant, fucked-up, happy, conflicted, joyous and depressed mass of people who will say, You’re gay? So the fuck what? We want you to be among us. That’s the message of the It Gets Better Project that’s currently sweeping the land. Hold on, it says, and stick it out, because guess what? It gets better.

And true as that is and moved as I’ve been by many of the videos made by gay, lesbian, bi and trans people telling their stories, I think there’s an important piece missing in that message. All those people in the wonderful videos? It didn’t just get better for them. They made it better. Each and every one of those people rose at a moment in their lives—one that is very much like this moment in your life, Suffocated—and at that moment they chose to tell the truth about themselves instead of staying “safe” inside the lie. They realized that, in fact, the lie wasn’t safe. That it threatened their existence more profoundly then the truth did.

That’s when it started to get better for those folks. When they had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.

Some of those people lost jobs because they said that. Some lost family and friends. Some even lost their lives. But in saying that, they gained themselves. It’s a sentence that lives in each one of us, I believe—the one in which we assert that we will be who it is we are, regardless—but sadly it has to live especially strong in you, Suffocated. I hope you’ll find it within you. Not just the sentence, but also all the beauty and nerve that has gotten you this far, so that when you say it, you’ll say it loud and true.

Have you ever been to a LGBT Pride parade? Every year I take my kids to the one in our city and every year I cry while watching it. There are the drag queens riding in Corvettes. There are the queer cops and firefighters all spiffed out in their uniforms. There are the lesbians on bicycles pulling their kids on tag-alongs and trailers. There are the gay samba dancers in thongs and feathers. There are the drummers and politicians and the odd people who are really into retro automobiles. There are choirs and brass bands and battalions of people riding horses. There are real estate agents and clowns, schoolteachers and Republicans. And they all go marching by us while my kids laugh and I weep.

My kids never understand why I’m crying. The parade seems like a party to them and when I try to explain that the party is an explosion of love that has its roots in hate, I only confuse them more, so together we just stand on the sidelines, laughing and crying, watching that ecstatic parade.

I think I cry because it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by. People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn’t simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.

Just like Jesus did.

Yours,
Sugar

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