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Who Thinks You Can un-Gay Anyone? Parents?



My uncle grew from an awkward teen boomer to become an inspirational gay man.

I could say inspirational man, but he’s more proud of being a gay inspiration.

He’s lived life his way on no uncertain terms: Accept gay or go away.

But that’s not how it started out.

He wasn’t all about his way or the highway at first.

In fact, he was the one who hit the road.

Where did a high school boy coming to terms with his sexual orientation find support in the mid-60’s?

If his parents were civic minded citizens active in the local church scene, if his mom was the town mayor and dad a church deacon, they moved in with their former Marine Corps brother in law who’d teach man lessons.

That former Marine from the Korean War was my dad.

What was the plan to un-gay Johnny?

My uncle showed up as a tall seventeen year old ready for his junior year of high school.

He was tall. Could he play basketball? No. Any sports? No.

Not a sporty guy.

Moving to a small town on the Oregon coast put him in touch with the outdoors.

He could fish and hunt with my dad, except he didn’t fish or hunt and thought the whole idea was too messy to contend with.

Teen boomer cleaning a fish or gutting a deer? Get out of here.

He didn’t have the killer instinct for the outdoor or sports, so those wouldn’t be un-gaying tools.

Since the boys in the house were age 6, 10, and 11, we were a good audience.

The old man talked to his brother in law about military service. It was 1964 and the Vietnam draft was heating up.

Johnny wasn’t interested. The Marines wouldn’t have their chance to change him.

Instead of gaining a partner in crime to cruise the ocean, the forest; to dig clams and build fences; dad got his wife’s brother who showed no interests in most everything.

The pressure to conform was a weight on the young man’s shoulders.

After the school year he went back home. After graduating the next year he announced to his parents.

“I’m gay.”

His parents heard him and responded with, “We’re not sure what that means, but we’ve got a name in this town and you won’t tarnish it. If you’re gay or whatever, you can’t live here.”

His mom was the first woman elected to the city council, his dad was a logger who taught timber falling classes in college.

It was like he’d been coached when he said, “Fine. I’m moving to San Francisco. If you ever want to see me again, you know where I’ll be.”

And he left.

Un-gaying a boomer teen in the mid-sixties didn’t work any better than a prayer meeting with the Westboro Baptist Church works today.

Take it from behavior specialist Lady Gaga, they were born that way.

Over the years my wife and I have been the family members attending events in my uncle’s life.

We were there for his partner’s birthday when he gave him a copy of his original birth certificate.

Michael read the paper, his mom and dad’s name, then down to race box checked at Negro.

“I’m black?” he said.

“Apparently,” uncle said.

“Best present ever.”

They knew how to handle surprises.

Over the time we spent together I got some insight into gay life. I asked questions.

“When was your first gay experience?” I asked.

“It was with a cowboy in Burns, Oregon my senior year.”

“Burns, Oregon?” I said. “Goes to show there are no boundaries.”

“Horse trainer on a ranch. A real cowboy.”

“Did you get drafted?”

“I did. After my physical I sat in a room with a captain who noticed I checked the gay box. He said lots of guys checked it. Then he asked when I’d had my last gay encounter. I smiled at him and said it was a couple of hours ago, but I’d be ready for another when he was. And that was that.”

During the eighties AIDS epidemic my uncle lost scores of friends. Wave after wave died. Not him.

As a result he was named in many wills, which turned into a Victorian B&B with another partner named Mike.

We were there when John and Mike got married. We were there for Mike’s funeral a few years later.

The gay life isn’t always as happy as it sounds.

You may have a bias against the unknown, but once you know gay people you understand how much you share in common.

They endure the same highs and lows, the same wins and losses, as you and yours.

They show up and represent the same as you. When you part ways, they go theirs, you go yours.

The unsettling part comes when strangers express their opinion.

Does Ireland need anti-gay opinion any more than a straight man needs anti-hetro attacks.

Bending people to fit a preconceived form is a way to break them.

If you’ve been broken and put back together, you know this truth.

If you’ve never come close to breaking, your turn will come.

The gay people you see celebrating on TV have endured harsh times.

Could you do the same?



After seeing the error of their ways in how they treated their son, my grandparents got active in PFLAG, parents and families of lesbians and gays.

They turned their home into a safe house for battered women.

Instead of turning away and growing more isolated, they welcomed change and helped foster better relations.

If a couple of old cranks can turn themselves around for the love of their son, so can you.





About David Gillaspie
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