One Origin, in Shame, of My LGBT Advocacy
An Origin, in Shame, of My LGBT Rights Advocacy
In the very early Eighties, before we were married, T introduced me to two gay women, then in their early fifties, Patty and Rachel, longtime, very close family friends of her parents, women with whom they’d grown up. Tamar adored them loves them still. They’re wonderful people. One is a painter who showed her work often and widely. The other is a novelist who, at times, has been fairly widely-read. Patty, then, had short-cropped, black and silver hair. She was long-waisted with narrow, often winking, often arching eyes and a fun, Gotcha!-grin. Rachel was quite round then, a snow-woman, a spherical head set atop a large, globe-like body. Her very long black hair, thick, dropped to the middle of her back. Her serious, onyx eyes hid the existence and sudden power of her often hilariously randy language and social humor. Patty was more reserved. At the time they were living in a rented house overhanging the crags of a Boston North Shore seaside village.
Tamar and I, visiting friends at Cambridge, drove up one morning to Patty and Rachel’s place on the sea rocks. We had coffee, talked, laughed, then we strolled through their quaint town. As we were leaving, Rachel suggested we all go to lunch back down in Cambridge. They hadn’t been there in a month or more, she said, adding how much they both loved Harvard Square’s shops and particularly an exotic popcorn emporium. Patty said she loved the place because the flavors were “part of the popcorn itself”, unlike so many imitators whose popped kernels tasted as if the flavors had been “layered on.” This popcorn, she said, “had integrity.”
As it turned out, that day, I did not.
We visited that shop, bought some popcorn, had burgers, and Tamar said, “Let’s stop in on your dad early.” She and I were expected for dinner at his Cambridge home in the evening. It sounded good to me and we drove up from the square to dad’s.
What I did then to these two good, talented women was not only inexcusable but came as much of a complete shock to me, as it did to Tamar, as it did to them. This was a moment of simple, brutal, personal failure not only stunning in themselves, in their content, but horrid not only to those who witness your failure, but horrid to yourself.
As we pulled up to dad’s tree-shaded Tudor, I heard myself say, from a place in me I hadn’t previously known, “Tamar and I will step in, say ‘hi’ to dad, and we’ll be out shortly.” I got out. To her credit, Tamar did not.
I left them all in the car as if they were children, or worse. I went inside, chatted with dad for several minutes, assuming, wrongly, that the prejudice I’d just found inside myself would naturally be in, emerge from, him. I felt sure, had we all gone inside, that he’d later ask me questions I’d find uncomfortable. I know now, and I remain surprised that I didn’t know then, that he would not have. This was wholly me.
I returned to the car now fully aware of what had surfaced in me. I felt ill. I’d sickened myself. Tamar didn’t look at me as we drove Patty and Rachel home, nor on the hour’s ride back to Cambridge and later on, back to my father’s. Remarkably, as dismissed as Patty and Rachel had to have felt, and hurt, they said nothing about it. They had dignity; I’d none. As the two of them and Tamar talked animatedly, I remained mute until good-byes up at the North Shore.
I had begun and ditched letters of remorse, end over end. Nothing I’d written to them seemed to me by any measure adequate. So many decades on, and article, after article, after public addresses on the rightness, on the simple decency, on the absolute necessity of thoroughgoing equal civil rights for LGBT citizens, I did own up. Rachel and Patty insisted they had no memory of my shabby behavior. I assume that either they, to honor their love for T, decided to lie, or, just as likely, they felt I just wasn’t worth further conversation about what I’d done, or, just as likely, still, that, as a gay couple born into Nineteen Thirties America, my slight was just one more and not as noteworthy to them as it had become to me. And that despite my now long marriage to their adored T. Every time I have published and spoken since about Equality I have done it, conscious of this origin, for them, for what’s best in me, for what I know what was best in my parents, for what I had always assumed was there and just was not, certainly not on that day.
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