I mailed it.
I finished writing it last night but then I woke up with a sore throat and decided that between that and lack of sleep and an all-over stress-induced run-down-ness I simply wasn't up to going to work today. I called in sick but then still had to drag myself to the post office anyway, which I thought would be a short enough trip for me to manage okay in my run-down condition, since in the past I've sent packages there in half an hour on my lunch break (which is what I would have tried to do today too if I hadn't been sick) and logically speaking, at a non-lunch-hour time on a workday the place should be expected to have less of a crowd. But for some unclear reason it worked the opposite way, and I spent an hour and a half standing in line there feeling sure I was going to die of exhaustion, stress and old age before I ever got to the front of the line.
It all has a certain edge of unreality to it still, and I keep wondering if I've finally entirely lost my mind. Driving back from the post office just now I took note of the fact that the sky is still a greyish, slightly overcast blue, not stained suddenly fluorescent purple and orange or something else which, to be honest, would have seemed more appropriate and probably surprised me less.
Anyway, you can read it now. I've edited a few parts, mostly ones that would have given away my gender if I posted them, but you can read the vast majority of it here.
Oh, and um . . . all references to Star Trek are purely gratuitous, yet also essential since the language of Star Trek will always be my mother's first and most fluent language. For the non-Trekkies reading this, I added a definition of "Trill" in the comments section.
Dear Mom and Dad,
You asked if I'm divorcing the family. In fact, you've asked me that quite a lot - over dinner the last time I visited you, for example, when I said if I move across the country I don't want to be required to fly back and visit you every two years, you accused me of not loving you. You always make these accusations in a tone that implies there's no possible excuse for such a thing. But you can't order someone to enjoy being with you; you have to earn that. And so far, you haven't.
That's not to imply that you're horrible parents. From what I've seen of other people's parents in this world, it's clear that you could have done a lot worse. Extremely few people in this world seem to have grown up with the kind of internal strength, courage, cheerfulness and self-confidence that I have; and although I believe that a child's school environment and personal choice can have at least as much influence on what s/he grows up to be like, it's still clear that you both deserve some significant piece of the credit. And I am grateful for that.
However, my decisions about whether to associate with you now cannot be based on what a positive effect you had upon me then - they have to be based upon the kind of effect you have upon me now. Right now, we're on a path where if I ever write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I'll have to publish it under a pen name and never tell you about it. Right now, we're on a path where if I ever get married, I'll have to do like David Bowie tried to do with his first marriage and keep it a secret from you. And don't go claiming that it's not your fault I never tell you anything, because as we all saw a few weeks ago, I can't even reveal such a basic and, one might think, inoffensive part of my opinions as the fact that I don't believe innocent American teenagers should be sent to Afghanistan to go shoot at and be shot at by innocent Afghan teenagers, without putting Dad in danger of losing control of his fists.
Dad, how convenient it must be for you that whenever you feel in danger of losing control of your fists, you're always able to say so and order me to change the subject. Allow me to note that it was never permissible for me to order you and Mom to change the subject - especially when I lived with you and was dependent upon you for the roof over my head - and I long ago lost track of how many hundred times while living with you I had to bite my tongue and run to hide in my bedroom to prevent myself from losing control of my fists.
There are so many of my opinions you don't know about. Where should I start? First of all, I don't believe it's natural for human beings to be exclusively attracted to the opposite sex. I've been bisexual for nearly ten years, since April of tenth grade, when I was fifteen and decided I wanted to marry Chris.
I'm not in love with Chris anymore, but I'm still extremely happy to be bisexual, and I wish that you'd be extremely happy for me too. In addition, I'm not just any run-of-the-mill bisexual; I'm a sort of expert in my field of queer theory and I've been interviewed about it three times by a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, and a radio talk show host. Nearly everyone at the national headquarters of PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) in Washington D.C. knows me on a first-name basis, because my best friend Frank Aqueno and I wrote them daily letters for a year as part of a campaign in which the two of us succeeded, nearly single-handedly, in forcing them to repeal their former policy statement which had stated that "sexual orientation is not a choice" - a line that seems to appeal to a lot of homophobic parents but which, for us, is an offensive blatant lie.
I run two websites (http://www.queerbychoice.com and http://www.davidbowie.com/users/gayle/), an online journal (http://www.livejournal.com/users/queerbychoice/) and an email discussion list called Queerchoice which I founded in May 1999 and which now has 135 members (including quite a few published writers and editors of queer magazines and newspapers). I was an active member of the CSUS Queer Student Alliance throughout college, and I have many online friends now who I'm very fond of. My best friend, Frank Aqueno, is a 58-year-old writer and performance artist who runs two websites (http://members.aol.com/FRANKAQ/ and http://members.aol.com/QBCHOICE/). My second-best friend, Frank Episale, is a 28-year-old writer and actor who runs a website (http://members.aol.com/semantic01/) and an online journal (http://www.livejournal.com/users/frankepi/). The following are some bits of advice offered to me in recent weeks by my friends:
from Frank Aqueno:
I think you are going through the point in life where you realize that your parents are no more and that if you are going to continue to deal with them YOU will have to learn to be the good PARENT. They are YOUR children now.
from Frank Episale:
if you're considering breaking ties with them, you should perhaps also consider ending a secret or two. to some large extent, they don't even know who you are. if you're going to tell them off anyway, you should go all out: "this is who i am; this is why you cause me pain; fuck you for not paying enough attention to notice."
from Bob Fink (a friend of Frank Aqueno's - he's also a member of my Queerchoice mailing list):
I am so sorry about your news - having an acceptable relationship with one's parents is such a nice ideal and worth a little work if it can be done - but in your case, you really are not free in spite of your great intelligence, and you finding the gentlest and most effective way of accomplishing some freedom seems to be the way to go, if you are to grow. This is my best, I hope it helps.
You are often in my thoughts. I'm so glad to know you - you are smart, steadfast, but forgiving, and do not hold a grudge out of sheer malice. Here's a thought? Can you forgive your parents for being who they are - a product of their times and ignorant upbringing - and maybe give up right now (and maybe forever) on trying to teach them ANYTHING? - and just move on to a new life with your friends and associates for whom your life is a gift and a blessing. I hope so.
You asked if I'm divorcing the family. "Divorce" is a good word to use. Any married couple whose entire set of values, interests and beliefs were as hopelessly alien to one another as mine and yours are would have certainly divorced years ago, with good reason, and been much better off for having done so. Yet for some reason, even in a culture as divorce-ridden as ours, people still cling to the notion that parents and children have to stick together "till death do us part." Well, all I can say is that something's got to change drastically between us one way or another, because I don't wish to go to dinner at the house of anyone who's going to want to beat me up if they find out anything about me or my opinions. You've hurt me a lot over the years, both of you (Mom, I think you'd like to be able to blame it all on Dad, but that would be extremely unfair of you because even though Dad is the one who laid the last straw, the fact is that you're the one whose ego has always been most obsessively invested in trying to instill carbon-copies of all your own attitudes and opinions into your children), and it's been a long, long time since the days when the help outweighed the hurt. At first I couldn't talk about it because I had to live with you and I couldn't risk having you make my life more hellish; and after I moved out it took me a while to decide whether my fear of the pain of coming out outweighed the pain of not doing so; but now I have decided. I'm not going to put up with it anymore.
Frank Aqueno referred in the letter I quoted above to a saying which has become something of a cliché in the queer community: that after a person comes out to their parents, they switch roles and become the parent. I am mindful of the fact that I probably have some duty as your "parent" to offer you whatever small bits of help I can to help you adjust; I intend to buy and mail you a few books or similar gifts in the coming weeks for that reason, and I'll probably answer any email from you that I consider to be at all reasonably inoffensive. However, the fact remains that you are adult children and besides that it is your own fault that you tried to decide for me before I was born which people I was allowed to fall in love with. You should never have decided to have kids in the first place if you weren't prepared to accept the fact that your children are independent people whose first duty must always be to live by their own consciences and perceptions of what is right, no matter how violently at odds this may turn out to be with their parents' wishes. And so also I must protect myself first, and you must respect my limits if you're to have any hope of not alienating me further. I am willing to communicate with you by email still, but I do not wish to see you in person or talk to you on the phone for a long time to come. I do not trust you not to cry all over me, and it isn't fair of you to cry in front of me because I never cried in front of you.
If you wish to mail me Christmas presents, you can let me know and I'll mail some back; if you don't wish to, that's your own business and you can disinherit me too if you feel like it. But I don't think I'll be ready to see you in person by this Christmas. I know how severely our beliefs and values clash with one another; all the words you casually uttered over the years and forgot the moment you said them have always stuck much more firmly in my mind than in yours, because I was the one whose own beliefs and values were being trampled and who was obliged to sit quietly seething and pretending not to be one of those who you expressed your disdain for; and to be quite honest, I don't really believe there's any hope of us ever getting along. The majority of even the queer community infuriates and disgusts me with its own homophobia and puritanism, and since I can't cure them of it, I'm even less likely to be able to cure you.
[two paragraphs about PFLAG deleted]
You may consider me to be divorcing you, but I'd like to point out that even if I never said another word to you for the rest of my life, you'd still know infinitely more about me after receiving this letter than you ever would if we'd gone on as we were doing before. Recognize that I am the one who's taking a huge risk here by throwing away my carefully protected privacy and allowing you to enter my inner sanctum even when you've shown no evidence whatsoever of being at all inclined to treat it or me with even half the respect that it and I deserve.
Recognize that I never desired to hurt you, but that I have to live by my own conscience, and I was never able to forgive Dr. Crusher for rejecting her Trill lover just for happening to have a female body - nor would I ever want the kind of lover who'd reject me if I simply happened to have a different kind of body.
Nor, for that matter, do I ever want the kind of parents who'd reject me or become upset with me for not rejecting others on the basis of their bodies, or for not wanting the kind of lover who'd reject me for having any particular kind of body.
[insert my signature here]
HOW TO BE THE KINDS OF PARENTS I'LL WANT TO BE WITH
1. Do not assume ANYTHING about me. Recognize what you do not know, and ask the right questions.
2. Do a lot more listening and a lot less talking. Remember that you have a decade of listening to catch up on.
3. Do not try to change my opinions. I've researched them far more thoroughly over the past ten years then you ever will in your whole life, and the only thing you'll accomplish by trying to change my opinions is to make me find being in your company to be unpleasant. So take me or leave me as I am.
4. Do not ever, ever suppose you know more than me about any queer-related issue. You don't. I've been studying queer issues for a decade, reading every book I could find on the subject of queerness, talking to hundreds, probably thousands of different queer people, and writing essays about my opinions for numerous college classes (including Psychology 160: Homosexuality and English 185H: Lesbian Literature: Theory and Practice - both of which I never told you I took). And just from being queer, I know a whole lot about what it means to be queer that no heterosexual can ever really understand from just hearing queer people try to explain it.
5. [paragraph deleted]
6. Do not get any silly ideas about somehow persuading me to marry a hetero [person of the opposite sex]. I don't even consider myself romantically compatible with exclusively homosexual people, much less heteros. I very much prefer bisexuals of both genders.
7. It has gradually become clear to me over the years that you (at least Mom, and I doubt Dad's views are very different) don't really quite believe in bisexuality, and respond to all assertions of bisexuality by trying to figure out which gender the person is "really" attracted to. I have nothing to say to this except that it's laughable. I'm equally open to both genders. The first time I ever heard of anyone not believing in bisexuality was in the CSUS Queer Student Alliance, when a bi woman who was also an English major informed me at a meeting that one of the queer English professors did not believe in bisexuality. I laughed - I'd never heard of such a thing and it was the equivalent in my mind to saying that a professor didn't believe in birds, or trees, or cats. Since then I've become aware that not believing in bisexuality is one of the defining traits of your generation; but your generation is, for that reason, laughable. So for your own sakes, get over it.
8. Don't pretend that having sex with queers is inherently any less safe than any other kind of sex. First of all, it's not as though I'm having sex with anyone anyway; but if I were, I'm quite capable of being safe about it, and I know plenty of other queer people who are very safe and non-promiscuous about it, too. By contrast, almost every hetero couple I've ever heard about has relied only on birth control pills without any condoms - I used to lecture Chris about that, and my friend Frank Episale is always lecturing a hetero friend of his about it now, but neither of us has had any success at persuading heterosexuals to behave responsibly.
9. In high school I spent a long time adapting the concept of "no sex before marriage" for use in a queer context, deciding what constitutes "sex" and what constitutes "marriage," so I could prove to the world that I could resist the horrible sinful temptation of having it; the result being that I held myself to much stricter limits than the average heterosexual even of your generation ever did, because I had a much broader definition of "sex." However, as far as I'm concerned I've already proven my willpower more than enough for my own satisfaction, and the concept no longer interests me. I have no interest in ever becoming wildly promiscuous (there'd be too many inevitable health risks involved), but recognize that when I feel like having sex I will have it, and it's none of your business when that happens.
10. Recognize that I would much rather have no parents at all than be dragged continually into the company of parents who disapprove of everything I hold dearest. If you can't make yourselves into pleasant people for me to be around, then by all means go away and don't feel guilty about it. Congratulate yourself on your generosity in letting me go.
QUOTES FROM REAL LIFE PARENTS OF QUEER CHILDREN, GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOUR QUEER CHILD HAPPY - JUST MEMORIZE THEM AND RECITE THEM WHENEVER CONVENIENT
selected from quotes in
Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences,
edited by Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marian J. Wirth, and Arthur G. Wirth
Mary wanted us to share in her happiness. I couldn't do that, when she first told us, but I can now.
- a parent
I have such admiration for Rachel's character and personality that I knew if she felt this way, it wasn't immoral in her mind. And if it wasn't immoral in her mind, then it wasn't in my mind either.
- a parent
I feel closer to everyone I've told in the family. I also notice they are willing to tell me about their own concerns. The whole family seems more honest and aware of each other's needs. We're more like good friends. To the question "How are you?" I hear more real answers than "Just fine."
- a parent
Because my son turned out to be gay, I was forced to give up that hurtful idea of conforming to a fake image. I'm glad I was forced to do it because it helped me get more in touch with myself and with all my children. I think it even had a good effect on my marriage. To some extent we had been living an illusion, and now that is gone.
- a parent
I have come to realize that my son's being gay has been a major source of personal liberation for me. I grew up in a conservative German neighborhood with the message: "Keep in mind what the neighbors will think." I have gradually come to realize how crippling and burdensome that message is. It asked me not to look at the world through my own eyes and not to face the truth about my life as I experienced it. I spent too much energy trying to keep up appearances.
If Chris had not been gay, I would have let life cheat me. In a very real sense he rescued me from that. I am freer now to take other risks as I face what I want to do with my life.
- a parent
At first I thought being gay was shameful and perverted, but now I think Herb is fascinating. He's going to live a different kind of life. The life style is interesting, and some things about it are admirable. He lives a lot more in today's world than I do. I think my life would be happier if I could do that.
One friend asked me, "Wouldn't you like it better if he wasn't gay?" And I can very honestly say "no." . . . I don't want him different in any way. This is him. Being gay is part of him. He's a wonderful young man. Now I confess, I do wish he'd stand up straight. He's going to have a bad back by the time he's thirty.
- a parent
One friend did ask me, "Don't you really wish that he was straight?" and I can very honestly say, "No. I am thrilled that I am even in the same family with this young man."
- a parent
We have grown up as we examined our inner thoughts. It's almost indecent how much fun this has been.
- a parent