Wednesday, October 7, 2009

COMING OUT FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

I had coffee with Donna this morning. She is a neighbor of my aunt and uncle in a rural community outside of a town of 7,500. Her son Carter is seventeen and gay. She had cried on my aunt’s shoulder and, after meeting me last week, desperately needed to talk to an older gay man to gain some perspective on what might be best for Carter. (Bless Donna. She thought I was approaching thirty, not forty-five. How could I not want to bond with this woman?)

We chatted for almost two hours and both went away feeling nourished. As she explained Tyler’s coming out process, I was reminded how much things have changed in the past thirty years. When I was Carter’s age, Elton John had declared himself bisexual, but had a wife. A guy named Jack on “Three’s Company” pretended to be gay to get closer to Suzanne Somers’ breasts. That was it. I had no other gay reference points. Oh, there was a song by Rod Stewart, “The Killing of Georgie”, a stunningly accepting testimonial about a friend’s gayness. Unfortunately, as the title reveals, poor Georgie was beaten to death by a less accepting swarm.

Carter had found a gay confidant online in a distant Canadian city. He’d also found some of the more risqué sites, satisfying his curiosity and graphically revealing what gay sex is all about. He also lives in a country where gay marriage and gay adoption are legal. Protection against discrimination is embedded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Carter has grown up with far more gay influences. Ellen Degeneres is one of the most beloved TV personalities out there. Adam Lambert overshadowed all contestants on this season of “American Idol” and made the cover of Rolling Stone. Television is filled with gay characters on past and present shows like “Will and Grace”, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Desperate Housewives”, “Ugly Betty” and “Glee”.

Coming out is still a challenge, a burden even. So much drama. So much to carry on your shoulders. Despite all the recognition in pop culture, the personal resources remain hard to come by, especially when you don’t live in a big city. Donna had never heard of PFLAG and had only talked about Carter’s sexual orientation with my aunt and myself. She grew up in Toronto and could recall gay acquaintances there. Her husband grew up in this rural area and still can’t even say the word gay despite knowing for over a year that his son is gay.

While I believe most high schools still have too much machismo, too much gay taunting, Carter’s school in town is particularly brutal. He suppresses his love of writing and photography and plays up his fascination for fast cars. He has not come out to a single peer. He is as lonely and isolated in his personal world as I was.

Still, Donna and Carter are ahead of where I was in my teens. Carter accepted his identity at least five years before me. He didn’t have to make a Grand Declaration of Gayness to Donna; instead, she stumbled upon a letter he’d written on the Internet, hugged him and told him she loved him. (I had to fly from L.A. to Alabama for my official Coming Out Weekend to my parents when I was twenty-eight.)

Donna began our talk saying she felt uncomfortable. By the end, she was smiling and hugging me and hoping I would move closer—to Ottawa, not the local town. I felt like I was giving back in a way to another family, maybe making their growth a little easier, their bonding a little stronger. At the same time, I feel a little less isolated and a little more encouraged.

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