C and I spent last week in the Midwest. First to Columbus, then Muncie and Fishers, Indiana to introduce C to my family, which consists of my brother and his long-term companion, my parents, and my sister and her husband and three boys. (Everyone loved him, of course.) And then to rural Wisconsin where C's aunt and uncle have a house on a small lake. There was a surprise anniversary party for another of C's father's sisters and her husband, so our visit there started off with about 15 relatives and culminated with 50 or so on Saturday.
My family consists of 9 people. (There are a few cousins scattered about with whom we're not exactly out of touch, but we never see them.) C's family consists of dozens, and they follow each other everywhere, move in packs. The smallest family gatherings include at least 3 generations and 2 or 3 branches of the family tree. My family tends to linger over meals, talk endlessly about politics, or just sit and read. Liberals in Indiana - I was raised on opposition. C's family never sits still and they never discuss politics. Many of the North Carolina clan are Bush Republicans. They've embraced me sincerely as a new member of their family, and I feel a deepening affection for them, yet they have positive things to say about Sarah Palin - the cognitive dissonance is enough to make you cross-eyed. And C and I think some of the Wisconsin branch are liberals, if I understood a conversation I eavesdropped on regarding the Minnesota governor. If someone happens to express an opinion about, say, President Obama or the financial crisis, it hovers in the air long enough for everyone to silently ponder it, and then it falls to the ground. Subjects are avoided.
Regardless of politics, everyone -- everyone -- was kind and open and warm as C introduced me over and over to members of his extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and their spouses, partners, and progeny, many of whom hadn't seen him in many years. C is obviously a favorite in the family, the handsome son who moved to New York, pursued an acting career for several years, and is now a successful lawyer in a big, prestigious firm, and they seemed genuinely delighted to see him with a partner.
At some point midway through the anniversary party, C expressed to me his self-consciousness about saying "This is my boyfriend, Steven." Coming out over and over and over, it felt like a big performance. His brother could introduce his girlfriend by her name without saying "this is my girlfriend" because it would be fairly clear that they were romantically involved. Why else would they have traveled so many miles together to a family gathering? But our relationship would not be so recognizable. We had the choice of either of two performances. Either be explicit every time as to the nature of our relationship, which begins to feel like a performance of homosexuality, or leave the question of our relationship unanswered, which is essentially a performance of heterosexuality since that's the norm. We all recognize that performance as the closet.
It occurred to me that no matter how normative our lives, we will always be remarkable because we are exceptional. I'm not arguing for some kind of permanently aggrieved victim status. I'm saying that -- short of eugenics or some kind of program of forced acculturation that would be impossible now because we so little and so poorly understand the development of human sexuality but is certainly imaginable in the future -- homosexuals and other gender deviants will always naturally be smaller in number. "I'm homosexual," will always be unusual news.
I think this fact is overlooked or brushed aside in our current rush to convince everyone (in order to obtain "equal rights," to avoid discrimination and persecution) that we are "just like you." I understand why it might be important to make known the ways in which we are unexceptional: we fall in love, we raise children, we work, we care about our families. It stirs empathy. But no matter how comprehensible, familiar, no matter how value-neutral our lives and relationships become to our heterosexual families and communities, we will always be a small minority among them. We will never be completely and permanently out of the closet.
Because there is an essential aspect of our nature that we don't have in common with most or any of our blood families, some kind of separate gay culture or community will always be necessary. I suspect we will always form alternate communities, shadow families. We will always be compelled to create and sustain some kind of web upon which we can find each other. We will still yearn for a place where we don't have to decide whether or not to come out every time we meet somebody new.