Sunday, April 22, 2007

I'm mad

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.


The Freelance Cynic said...

It's tricky subject thoguh isn't it. I'm still not allowed to mention my boyfriend around certain company incase my religious uncle hears. Everone else in the room wil no but not him, and I end up making up lies to get out of it.
It's kinda like asking if people will mind if we don't sit at the back of the bus today

Dale said...

Because I get such childish joy saying it, let me get it out of the way: It's always the French!

Your post captures the way I feel about the compartmentalizing I tend do with my life.

More pets, fewer people.

jin said...

First sucks that in this world you even have to give all this crap a second thought!!!

Hmmm...I realize this is different, but I know where you're coming from about occasionally keeping it quiet. About 2 years back I met a lady who I thought would become a great friend of mine...then it turned towards the topic of religion. She started 'Praising the Lord' & bashing 2 local 'witches'. What the fuck did I say? Nothing...and to make matters worse I discreetly tucked my pentagram necklace inside my shirt. Everytime I think about it I could kick myself for not speaking up.

I think that comes from the desire to have people know YOU as a person before being judged as anything else. (Which is totally stupid anyway...but we're stuck in this world full of people with their heads stuck up their asses.)

Your second paragraph reminded me of an episode with my 10 year old nephew. His Mom was a homophobic psycho that never censored her alcoholic brain from saying really nasty things in front of her kids. I was taking care of my nephew for the summer & was trying desperately to teach him right from wrong. My fave show at the time was Six Feet Under & I allowed him to watch it with me. We were watching the first episode that had two guys kissing (Had to be David...was it David & Keith? Hmmm...?) & my nephew starts going on & on how disgusting that is & they shouldn't put it on tv.
I had to think FAST!
I said, "QUIT talking like that! What's the big deal? There's nothing wrong with showing that on tv...after all, gay people have to watch men & women kissing all the time! If they can stomach that, YOU can stomach this."
I wondered for days after if I said the right thing or not!??! But in my presence he never said anything like that again.
(LOL...long comment. I'm not too far off topic ... am I?)

Melinda June said...

You're right. You did answer your own question.

The most insidious thing about homophobia (or being different from a societal accepted standard in any major way, for that matter) is getting rid of the need for hearing that who you are is okay. No matter how comfortable you are with your life, it's a huge deal to learn that this is all the validation you need.

Someday, who knows? Instead of asking if you can bring George, you'll ask if you and George should plan to stay at the house or make hotel reservations at a nearby hotel.

Coaster Punchman said...

I totally hear you on the bus thing, Cynic.

Funny Dale! I hope I end up in one of the luxury compartments. Are there cocktails served there?

Jin, thank you for your thoughtful comment. The religion conversation is quite similar to how I feel in these situations. As for your nephew, of course you did the right thing. It's amazing what kids can be taught to hate or accept. It's taught, 100%.

Min, xxoo.

Bubs said...

Jin's right, it's lousy that it should even be a consideration.

You do the best you can, and it's no use beating yourself up over not having said what you'd have liked to say. You shouldn't view it as a personal weakness, you should view it for what it is--an instinctive response to other people's prejudice. It's not something you control, and it stinks that a lifetime's worth of obtuse anti-gay remarks and attitudes does that to you. Your anger is best directed at societal homophobia, not yourself.

Tanya Espanya said...

You and George can stay in the spare room or on the pull out couch whenever you come over and I will always reply to your emails. (and you're all, "Who are you again?").

chelene said...

CP, I think it's bad that you even have to ask if George can come. Maybe I'm gauche and impolite but if I have a party I assume that significant others are coming. As a host I do the asking because what is worse than being short on finger food and booze?

GrizzBabe said...

How strange. The French laugh at Americans for being prudes and yet they won't openly discuss homosexuality. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

lulu said...

I think this is really a case of that polite to a fault, I really don't want to be a bother, Midwestern thing, wrapped up in a colorful rainbow flag. If you're anything like me, and like a lot of people I know, you do it all the time, but you're just noticing it now because it is tied in with your identity and your relationship. I could be way off base here, I don't know.

At any rate. I love you, and poor George, and you can come hang outh with my parents any time, although I am not sure if you would want to.

Coaster Punchman said...

Thanks Bubs. Your words "it's no use beating yourself up over not having said what you'd have liked to say" are wise ones that I would like to live by for all sorts of reasons!

Thanks Tanya! Will coffee and croissants be served in bed too? Not that I'm a demanding houseguest or anything.

No kidding Chelene - I once ran out of booze at a party on a Sunday in Minneapolis where there were no liquor stores open. That sucked. It's best to know how many are coming.

No kidding, Grizzbabe. After all these years of knowing these people intimately sometimes I just don't understand them at all.

You're right Lu, this is partly wrapped up in my regional identity and upbringing. Everything is "oh don't really, please don't trouble yourself." Some people get tired of that.

Splotchy said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, CP.

I hope it is therapeutic for you to share them. Just as there are people in the world who you can put you in an unhappy and uncomfortable place, there are many who are understanding, nice and have no difficulties communicating their feelings and thoughts.

May you someday find a French person that openly communicates with you!

Tanya Espanya said...

I can make you a toasted bacon, cheese and tomato sandwich and a pot of tea. I could try and make coffee but it takes a lot of work and I like lapsing into comas instead.

Coaster Punchman said...

Thanks Splotchy - funny thing is, the French usually never have a problem sharing their thoughts...

Thanks Tanya, but can you skip the tomato please? When you wake up from the coma, that is.

Beth said...

This topic has been on my mind for the last couple of days, as I watched Trembling Before G-d yesterday. I have many, many friends who still have to live at least part of their lives in the closet — some still among their own parents and siblings — and it breaks my heart.

As a lifelong single woman, I'm considered a sexual suspect, so I understand a tiny bit of what you live through. I don't get invited to dinner parties thrown by good (yet coupled) friends; I'm not sure if it's because they're short a place setting or consider my singlehood a threat. But at least I don't have to hide my paramours (well, not most of them, anyway).

And those damn "sophisticated" French! A relationship should never be sniffed away as a "private matter." It's so hard to meet someone just right for you, and thus it must be celebrated whenever possible.

C'mon down to Atlanta, CP. We'll embrace you and George. And drink all damn day long.

Rant! Scream! Kick! I'm there with you.

Tumuli said...

As has already been stated more intelligently than I could attempt, the fact that you even have to conceal and/or ask speaks volumes about our society. (The sidestepping also says more about everyone else than you.) Perhaps someday preference/orientation will be insignificant. Who knows.

Grant Miller said...

Wait wait wait. You're gay?

It doesn't matter. You'll always be accepted at Grant Miller Media.

Coaster Punchman said...

Beth, you are not the first to note to me about not being invited as a single person. That blows my mind - I just find that incredibly bizarre. A person's marital status has absolutely NO bearing on my decision to invite someone over. When judging others, I stick to the more important criteria such as dress, personal style, humor, drinking ability and tolerance for my whining. Please know that if you lived in NYC you woudl ALWAYS be invited to the home of CP & Poor George for dinner.

I agree, Tumuli. The world could stand to improve in a number of ways, this being one of them.

Glad to know we'll always have a place at GMM, Grant. You should also invite hookers and drug addicts (because we have a lot in common with them in our sinning, you know.) Then you could be like Jesus.

Tenacious S said...

I agree with Lulu. I think we were raised to "not be a bother." I have a hard time not making excuses for myself all of the time. Sucks though that people are so rude to you. Because that's what it is. Rude. Lots of love to you and George.

Coaster Punchman said...

Thanks Ten-S. I try not to be rude myself, though it's hard what with my prickly personality.

Anonymous said...

In this day and age it irks me that your "relationship status" is of any concern. I thought we'd all gotten over all the homophobic bullshit. I mean, you have to talk about it, he is your partner, whats not to talk about? I'm not feelin that dawg and I'm not so sure this person should be considered a "friend".

Jake's Mom said...

As someone who loves you dearly this entry made me want to hurt someone French. Fortunately I am a big chicken except when it comes to standing up for my Lil' Bro'.
I would like to think people are not judged by who they do but what they do ie: fight injustice, look for the good, support yourself and whoever else you invite, don't get sloppy drunk unless in safe company and always pay attention to you sister!
You have always looked so confident to me I guess I never considered the outside world infringing on your rights. I am sorry you have had this feeling.
I just want you to be happy but it's not about what I want. Still can I knock someone into enlightenment for you? xoxoxo

Dino aka Katy said...

This totally sucks but I know why you felt the need to write what you did. I used to have to go out with gay couples when they wanted to go to a club so it would look like a hetero couple and his friend because there are so many neo nazis in my homestate.

I do the same thing with religion more often than not. Especially down here in the south it sucks but sometimes in my work life I can't help it.

Tanya Espanya said...

Your prickly personality, or did you mean 'prick-y personality'? I'll take pricky any day!

U rock!

I heart u!


Coaster Punchman said...

Well Bluez, that is my fear, that this could be the end of a 25 year friendship. Sad.

Sure Sis, you can still beat people up for me, right?

Neo Nazis would make it still more complicated, Dino.

Sorry Tanya, but I did indeed say and mean "prickLy." But heart you back!


Writeprocrastinator said...


First, we are talking about a predominantly Catholic country. So even when they are consciously tolerant of something, there is still that facial tic.

Second, to provide contrast, the French family I stayed with would invite a priest every year to stay with them. The priest would always be accompanied by an "assistant" who was always a beautiful African or Martiniqian (sp?) female. Nobody said anything and while there was no apparent tension, it was still a case of the white elephant sitting in the middle of the room.

We were all just to pretend as if these women were actual assitants and that he couldn't get defrocked and excommunicated.

Third, they are French. They are just as mercurial and divided as we are. How many times has their political pendulum swung? For Chrissakes, we're talking about a country during World War II that was 60% surrender, 20% Vichy and 20% valiant partisan.

Bring George and you'll have eighty percent of the room either behind you, or capitulating into the acceptance that he is your partner.

Coaster Punchman said...

Interesting Write, I never knew the WWII percentages.

Agreed on the Catholic thing, although my estimate (based on nothing scientific - I'm just making it up as any statistician worth his weight would do) is that around 85% of them don't at all or just barely believe in God or even attend Mass. So that's no excuse for their squeamishness. It has to be simply because they are French.

Frankly (no pun intended) I just don't know what their damn problem is. Whatever it is, though, they better get over it because I do intend to bring him to this party! That is, once I get the formal invitation. (To date I don't even know where and what time, so she'll have to respond at some point if she still intends for me to be invited.)

While I'm on this rant, let me note that while the Europeans love to talk about how Puritanical we are, how behind the times, how not avant-garde, why is it always us who have to have the big revolts (e.g. Stonewall) that get these movements started?

Loaded question there - obviously the US has immense problems that the Europeans don't have.... but when they get arrogant on my ass, I like to throw this in their faces.

Flannery Alden said...

Maybe, instead of emailing, you could call these people? That way you'd get your answer. ...though it might be kind of pricey to call France, it might also be worth it. I find that email tends to be problematic when emotions are involved.

I feel for you, man. I hate it when I find myself being overly apologetic when, in my heart of hearts, I know I don't need/want to be.

Coaster Punchman said...

Well I could call France Flannery, but since they live in Washington now they probably wouldn't be home! :) Agreed on the email thing.

Flannery Alden said...

Oh, duh! My biorhythyms were off yesterday, causing me to have problems with reading comprehension.

Writeprocrastinator said...

"Interesting Write, I never knew the WWII percentages."

As you had probably figured out, I was kidding. Glancing at one of the other posts, I'm glad that things have worked out.