Sunday, April 22, 2007
Every now and again I catch myself in a bout of internalized homophobia, and it really irks me.
Before I go any further, let me clarify that when I talk about discussing gay issues, I'm not talking about sex. I'm talking about normal, everyday life and relationship things. Just so we can avoid the "I don't need to hear about what you do in the bedroom" discussion.
I'll admit that I've gotten as far as I have in life by doing a certain amount of pandering. If I'm in a situation where I don't think someone will react well to the subject of homosexuality, I conveniently choose to stay in the closet. (Let me blog later on the topic of how sexual orientation differs from race in that respect. The choice I have is both a blessing and a curse.)
I usually hate myself for choosing the closet. I almost never make that choice on a long term basis; e.g., I've never decided to remain completely closeted at work. But there are times where the cover of the closet is subtle. Like if I'm with a group of people I don't know, where everyone is talking about what they did over the weekend with their spouses. Sometimes I'll just say "I went to the movies" or "I had a dinner party." On the surface these kinds of conversations aren't important, and I agree that there is certainly no need to reveal one's personal details to everybody one meets.
But again, I'm not talking about saying "Oh, did you know I was gay?" to someone. (In fact, I don't think I've said anything like that for the past 20 years.) I am talking about situations where I choose not to say "my partner and I..." when everyone else in the room is saying "my wife and I...."
I bring this topic up today because something is afoot that is bothering me a lot.
I spent a year in a small town in France when I was 16 and 17. I lived with four different families in the town, for three months each. I grew quite close to all of them, and have remained in contact all these years. In fact, Mindy and I just visited one of them a few weeks ago.
I have not quite figured out the French attitude on sexual orientation; in fact, I remain quite confused by it. Every French person to whom I have said anything about George never makes any comment at all. I had emailed my friend Martine in Paris about ten years ago when George and I first got together, and she never replied at all.
I visited Martine in France a few years ago, when she had me over to her house for a small dinner party. One of the attendees was a man I assumed was probably gay, but I didn't know for sure. I also didn't know whether Martine had even received my email five years earlier. I didn't say anything about George during the party, although aside from that I did have a nice evening.
When I got back to New York, Martine's friend and I began emailing, but I still had no idea about him - or Martine.
Then a few weeks after that, I got together with my friend Martin who knows all these people I'm talking about because he had also lived amongst them. Martin is closer to Martine than I am, so I told him about my question. Martin said "oh, well Martine TOLD me a few years ago 'I received an email from Tom - I guess he's gay now!'" Martin also confirmed that Martine's other friend is also gay.
Ok. So right there for me that blew away the notion that the French don't say anything about this stuff because they simply find it uninteresting or unimportant. Martine obviously thought it interesting and important enough to discuss it with Martin. But she couldn't take two minutes to email me back saying "I'm happy you're in love; tell me about this guy!" She chose to ignore me.
So, because I was curious about all this, I emailed Martine's friend to ask him about it, generally. He replied, rather curtly, "well of course Martine knows you and I are both gay. We just don't feel the need to discuss such private matters with each other in France." I asked some follow up questions, and he never replied.
That pissed me off. "Private matters?" French people talk about their spouses, marriages, boyfriends, girlfriends and the like every bit as much as we do. Why is the fact that I have George a "private matter" that should not be discussed? Why is a French person's marriage announcement not a "private matter?"
The fact is, what he says is a load of crap. The French just can't deal with this - at least that is my honest opinion for the moment.
Ok, so flash forward to today.
I have a good friend from one of my French families who now lives in Washington DC with her husband and children. George and I had dinner with her and her husband in New York last year when they were visiting, and I thought we had a lovely time.
This woman emailed me on Friday inviting me to her 40th birthday party in May, when her parents will be in town from France. I replied that of course I'd like to come, and that I would make lodging arrangements at another friend's house.
This is the part where my internalized homophobia kicks in, and where I am mad at myself: I then wrote something to the effect of "I would like to bring George - would that bother you? He really enjoyed meeting you and your husband and liked you both a lot. I've never spoken to your parents about George, but I think they understand, based on the fact that they no longer ask me why I'm not married. So let me know if this is OK or if you think this will be a problem."
Why on earth did I feel the need to write all that? It's pathetic of me. What would have been wrong with simply saying "mind if I bring George?"
I was pandering, plain and simple. What I communicated in that email is "I realize my life may not be acceptable to you and the people in your family. Please let me know if you and yours think I'm good enough to attend your party with my life partner, despite the fact that if you were invited to an evening party it would be assumed automatically that your husband is also invited."
Part of me is still asking the world to accept me, and it pisses me off.
Sure, I've gotten far by not being one of those Larry Kramer "angriest fags in America" types. I know that. I know how to play the game. Furthermore, I enjoy being part of civilized society, and in polite company we do not go about bandying what we think is wrong with the world. We go about our own business while acting as pleasantly and courteously as possible toward others.
Yet part of the price I pay for playing along too much with my "don't rock the boat" attitude is that I have trained myself to do and say the kinds of things I just described.
I think I've already answered my own question in writing this. All I needed to do was ask if George could come. Period. Yet, it's my motivation behind writing what I did that troubles me.
Oh, and my friend who is having the party has not replied.