I think I was about 16 when my dad came out as gay. Following a series of hospitalisations relating to his mental health, the time had come for him to start talking about his sexuality. In the years that have since passed, I have also come out and subsequently been asked various reductive and predictable questions. For most of these, I have prepared a stock answer, a kind of here's-one-I-made-earlier-approach that has seen me through some inane, insulting and downright ludicrous conversations.
"So, it's genetic? Or maybe your sexuality is a way of coping with his?"
"Is your brother gay, too?"
"Coming out must've been a breeze for you, then!"
So, let's set the record straight, as it were.
Firstly, I have no reason to believe that his sexuality has any bearing on mine, genetically, environmentally, or in any other sense. "How can you be sure though?" is the usual supplementary question I get. Well, damn - you got me. Dad, we've been found out and must flee to Mykonos immediately to live amongst our people! No really, I'm quite sure; in the sense that most heterosexual people don't assume that their sexuality is correlative in any way to that of their parents.
Studies in homosexuality and genetics have recently proffered inconclusive results, and will probably continue to do so. Science and society insist on working out why homosexuality 'exists' and a lot of the time it is handled insensitively, serving only to further alienate those who don't identity as heterosexual. Your DNA is analysed in a way that suggests some sort of incurable disorder is at work, the results of which might render you, I don't know, dangerously fabulous in jeans-shorts or bad at every sport.
Onto the next point. My 'coming out' was just as fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty as one else's. In a society that still routinely fetishes homosexuality ("are you the postman, or the post-box? If y'know what I mean"), and ascribes certain reductive stereotypes based upon on sexual orientation ("I was never sure about you, you don't look or sound gay") I think there are very few people who feel totally safe in their coming out. I certainly didn't, because even the most ardently supportive of family members and friends can only do so much to protect you from the onslaught of hate and ignorance heaped upon those of us who don't fit criteria based on heteronormative values.
Irrespective of my own sexuality, having a gay parent can carry a lot of stigma and give rise to lots of questions more generally. People often instantly assume that they can ask probing questions, safe in the knowledge that your family unit is outside the 'norm', and so they have the right to inquire. Yet trying to 'understand' can often be conflated with 'having a fleeting, morbid curiosity in someone else's private life', and this can become tiresome.
No casual observer has the right to ask leading questions about whether your parent was "living a lie" up until a certain point, nor should they assume that you "feel betrayed" in some way by your parent's sexual orientation. In terms of normative values, the naturalistic fallacy suggests that we have sought to understand what is 'good' by how closely it 'appeals' to nature. The conjugal family model is often held as the bastion of British life: one man, one woman, two children, and preferably a dog or two thrown in for good measure. This model is understood as good, natural, normal and we understand it from a biological perspective. It follows that people are curious about your 'alternative family'; they want to know how your family has reached this point, and they want to figure out the dynamic, when really there isn't much to figure out in the first place. We're quite normal, I assure you. Whatever that might mean.
The tiresome questions and wide-eyed curiosity can be frustrating and serve to make you feel as though your family should be behind some sort of glass front, but ultimately it's possible to live with all of this. I approach every question as reasonably as possible, and hope that I'm helping to widen perspectives. Whilst we're still having debates on whether gay marriage is 'right' and whether gay couples should adopt, the odd ignorant question or two is to be expected.
I often think back to the day of my dad's civil partnership ceremony. I gave a speech to a room full of people, and I made sure they knew that I was proud and happy to be standing there. I'll always look back to that day with fondness, and many more besides, because ultimately, I'm proud of my dad for having the strength to come out in the first place.Suggest a correction