Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who we sleep with

Two days ago, two things happened that set me off: the vote in North Carolina to outlaw any kind of recognition of gay relationships or domestic partnerships, and the death of Maurice Sendak, a gay artist of great acclaim. The first is bothersome on its own demerits. The second set me off because in a long obituary on CBS news, there was no mention whatsoever of Sendak's 50 year partnership with Dr. Eugene Glynn. When Glynn died, Sendak, who was openly gay, gave a million dollars in his partner's memory to Jewish Family and Children's Services, where Glynn, a psychotherapist, had treated children. I commented on this on my Facebook page. I said I thought that omitting this was most egregious on a day when gay relationships were being voted against in North Carolina.

Then came the shock. A straight but sympathetic friend responded that perhaps people had evolved to a point where it no longer mattered who Sendak slept with. I felt as if I had a bucket of ice water thrown in my face. I can't begin to express how painful it is to hear something like that from someone I had believed really "got it."

A huge part of this man's life, of what made him who he was, the core of his being which informed his art and creativity, was reduced to "who he slept with," and so was his 50 year marriage.

I will never live long enough to be able to explain to people that being gay is so much deeper than "who we sleep with." I tried with my friend, who could not understand that what she said was unbelievably offensive and who became increasingly hostile to the point we seem no longer to be friends at all.

It occurred to me a while back that maybe the way to explain this best is this: we are conscious as very young children that we are "different.," long before we have any consciousness of sexuality or understanding that it even exists. We are gay long before we become sexual beings. If that doesn't tell you there is more to it than genital sex, than who we sleep with, I don't know what will. We are not just like straight people who are attracted to people of the same sex. We are different inside in subtle ways that go far beyond sexuality. That's why I use the word gay rather than homosexual, a misnomer which has the unfortunate connotation it's only about sex.

My friend made the point that she saw us just as us and not as gay us and we should just shut up about the gay stuff (equated with who we sleep with) if we wanted to be accepted as just us. I want to be accepted as I am, not in an edited version. As I am includes a lifetime of personal experience of what it means to be gay and to live with it in a hostile world.  It is also a world that would be at a great loss if gay people with all their gifts and accomplishments were just to disappear one day. I don't want my lifetime of pain and fear and love and joy discounted in any way when you think of me. Don't erase my identity to make me easier to sell to a disapproving public. Don't cut away the core of my being to make me palatable to the multitudes. Try to listen to what I have to tell you about who I am.

I've been me for 73 years and I just may know something.

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