Saturday night was pretty memorable. I went to see an incredible movie called Milk, which I’m sure you’ve heard about (Mr Penn won the Oscar for his mind-blowingly brilliant performance). I think he got tips from his ex-wife?
Now, you may recall that I posted about the fact that I cry pretty easily in movies. So I knew that I may shed the odd tear – I know the basic premise of the story. For those of you who don’t – it’s based on the life of Harvey Milk who was the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in the States. It’s set in the 70s, and Milk, after seeing the way gay men (there aren’t many gay women in the movie) were treated by the police and businesses around his, decides to stand for office in an attempt to change the way gay people are treated, and most importantly seen. He transcends from a hippie gay man to a respected man in the community, who is pivotal in standing up against Proposition 6 which was wanting to stop gay people from not being discriminated against – especially in the workplace. Anti-gay activists like Anita Bryant and John Briggs were spearheading the campaign and wanted gay people removed from working in schools – for fear of them influencing the children and making them turn out gay too.
Milk turns his attention on getting Americans to vote against Prop 6 by encouraging gay people to come out and reveal their sexuality to those around them. Something I can only imagine being terrifying at the time. I think I cried through most of the movie, not just at the movie’s and his tragic end, because it resonates so much with me as a gay man, and a man who speaks out against prejudice and tries to find a bridge to acceptance (even if it is on this small platform called ‘In the now…’)
I’ve shared my journey before, but this movie hit me hard. I remember the first time I came out to a friend – it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. She reads this blog and is still one of the most amazing friends I have (I’ll call her Tart)… and she was the first person I told. It wasn’t easy for her to hear, mostly because it was difficult for me to tell her. I couldn’t say the word ‘gay’ because it was such an embarrassing word for me. In my mind it meant dirty, and deviant. I was also the first gay person in her circle of friends and that would have all sorts of consequences – sharing in my silence, lying to friends to protect me and hearing all my woeful stories about my unwanted sexuality. She has been instrumental in my acceptance of myself and I want to honour her in this.
I told Tart many years before a member of my family ever knew. I was too terrified to tell them. I had grown up my entire life desperate for their approval and especially my Dad’s and admitting to being different to what they expect is hard. I think the hardest part in coming out is that their response might just affirm the loathing I felt for myself – that I was some sort of pervert, less of a man than others and destined to be seen as disgusting.
I first told my brother – I’ve mentioned before that I told him by fax, which should remind you that I’m closer to 40 than I am to 20. I called him to forewarn him and said that he should read the fax with his wife when he got home and call me if he wanted to. He phoned back almost immediately and reassured me of his love for me, but told me of his concerns.
Gay people grieve their sexuality – I’ve said this before and I’ll stick to it – whether they grieve their loss of perceived “normality”, their loss of the possibility to have children in a “natural” setting, a loss of relationship with the church or other religious institution and for some the potential to lose their family.
But the family grieve too. And not many family members know how to grieve, especially when it comes to their child’s sexuality. That’s why I believe in dialogue – even if you think homosexuality is a sin and, may go as far as perceiving it as deviant, you may have a child, family member or friend who happens to be gay, and your response is instrumental in their lives.
Grieving is appropriate.
So my brother responded with grief – he cried, as did I, and said he wished that things could be different. But no matter what he felt, his assurance of his love for me, helped me like myself just that little bit more.
I then told my younger sister – who’s significantly younger than me in years, but my twin in every other way. Her response was incredible. She immediately thought of who she could set me up with and was more upset that my brother knew before her. She’s has been more militant in promoting acceptance for gay people than I have – starting with a school play that she directed that was about exactly that. Pretty damn daring for a Benoni school play, let me tell ya. I never saw it, but friends did, and that was one of the proudest moments of my life… and made me like myself a little bit more.
My Dad then found out… not in a way I would have wanted him to, but his discovery was out of my control and the hardest for all of the family.
There are different generations that deal with homosexuals differently. You have the generations that Harvey Milk experienced who vilified gays and saw them as abominations – evil creatures out to corrupt children and destroy family values . These anti-gay people still exist, and I’m not sure if much can be done to dissuade them.
Then you have a younger generation, who have, through people like Milk’s encouragement, met openly gay men and women and been able to see past ‘type’ and see the human behind the label. Some have been able to say “I know a gay and he seems fine” and then there are those who have managed to integrate gay folk into their circle of friends. Women have been better at this than men in general, but that’s a post on it’s own.
And then there are the post-Will and Grace generation who have grown up with gay people on their TV screens and around them, and have no issue with it…
I witnessed all those generations in my family… and my Dad surprised me the most. He struggled with it, still does, but has chosen to love me, and see past the label of gay. He’s told me he wished I could settle down with a young lady and have kids, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect FJ and my choice to be with him.
And his respect for me and my choices has helped me like myself a whole lot more.
Milk, as you can tell, left me thinking long and hard about the struggle that has gone on before me so that I can freely post about my journey as a gay man. The fact that I could even come out and be honest with the people who mean the most to me, is thanks to people like him.
That’s why I will continue to be vocal. Continue to find ways to build bridges between people of differing opinions, and why I will continue to present gay people as human beings with a right to live their lives maturely, relate to their God as they want to, and be accepted into communities as people, and not types to be afraid of, mocked, rejected or even beaten or murdered for their sexuality.