Coming Out by Christmas Card
Holiday cards that really catch my eye, either for their brilliance or buffoonery, tend to be trying too hard. My sin, on the other hand, is not trying hard enough. I either don’t send out a card at all, producing a low-grade guilt that dogs me into the New Year, or slap together a family picture on Thanksgiving weekend, my kids’ grins matching the forced lineup. What does our card convey? Merely that I’ve gotten it done.
But our holiday greetings this year may reveal quite a bit more. I figured I was ahead of the game as I scanned a small cache of professional photos taken last summer on our Disney vacation, relieved it could produce at least one (highly unoriginal) Christmas card contender. But even though my four kids range from 12 to 20, it’s still tricky to find an image in which their eyes are all open, they’re actually facing the camera and they’re not subtly torturing one another. Quickly I noticed that the best prospects also display the bright purple shirt sported by my eldest, its Lambda Legal logo splashed across his chest.
Hmm. I’ve known for nearly four years that my son is gay. It was something I wondered about, curious but unalarmed, as Sean grew, not because he looked at other boys with special interest but because he never looked at girls. A bookish, introverted child, Sean kept mainly to himself, drawing, reading and absorbing everything imaginable about his beloved commercial jets. Girls were simply his classmates and playmates, fun to conspire with and ride bikes alongside. But there was never a gleam in his eye as he did these things with any girl — a sparkle I noticed early on, and with definite intensity, in his two younger brothers.
Learning his sexual orientation, then, didn’t rock our world; it barely nudged it. For exactly one afternoon, I mourned the family life I’d envisioned for him, the one that would now look different than I’d imagined, if it happened at all. Sean had come out to friends at his small, socially progressive high school before he’d even told his father and me, so we followed his lead, washing marriage equality T-shirts along with the rest of the kids’ laundry, walking the Castro in San Francisco during college visits and attending Gay Pride rallies in New York City.
I think this makes us a more interesting family than we’d otherwise be, my husband mused. And a piece of me is thrilled that my gender-lopsided family, with three boys and one girl, may someday end up with equal sets of sons- and daughters-in-law.
So why the hesitation over our summer photos? Because while Sean is out among his siblings, peers, friends and some of our extended family, my husband and I have scarcely told anyone else. Our casual policy has been that it is Sean’s news to tell, something he should do in his own time and space. But our family Christmas photo, such as it is, goes out to a much wider group: to many good friends as well as seldom-seen neighbors, far-flung high school and college chums, church acquaintances and families we mingle with at Scout picnics and on sports fields. I may joke to my kids about how much our clan resembles “Modern Family,” minus the Colombian stepmother but with adoption and blended family thrown in, but is this how I want people we’ve known for years to get in on the joke?
You may be thinking: “Nice job, lady. To heck with the holiday photo, now you’ve told everyone.” But in talking with Sean recently, I learned that even our loose and deferential policy seemed somewhat stiff and formal to him, lacking the organic quality of casual conversation where mentioning that my son is gay comes up somewhere between comparing the cost of braces and debating presidential politics. He recognizes, like the brightest civil rights trailblazers, that true progress is made not only in grand gestures, but in mundane moments that almost imperceptibly telegraph the many versions of normal we should all embrace.
Like a family photo with a gay kid in it.
This article was reposted from NYTimes.
Originally posted 2012-12-23 21:56:41.