I was about eleven years old when my father brought home his usual copy of Newsweek. Per our custom, he handed it over to me and off I went to read it. I was vaguely aware, as I was leaving, that my mother had made an indignant-sounding noise that my father had countered with a mild, pacifying one. I paused to see if the magazine was going to be taken away, but nothing happened. Ah, blessed inaction.
When I got to my room and flopped on the bed, I saw what had probably upset my mother. On the cover was a couple, fully clothed, but in a pose that was unequivocally intimate. And they were both men. One had his back to a wall and had one or both hands on the other man’s waist, while the other was leaning over him, his wrist and forearm resting casually on the wall. They were staring right into each other’s eyes, faces inches apart. I had never seen a man look so tenderly, intimately, passionately at another man.
I cannot explain the sudden surge of joy I felt when I saw that. I wanted to cry with relief – I think I might have, I’m not sure. All I remember is that I also wanted to dance around my room and tell the whole world about this wonderful thing I’d seen. I felt good. I felt happy. I felt like everything was going to be alright. And I had no real idea why.
I didn’t really understand the story either. All about ‘Gay Pride’ and a ‘gay march’ and ‘gay men’. I’m sure the word homosexual was in there somewhere, which I also didn’t understand other than getting that it had something to do with sex. So I asked my mother.
She blinked. Paused. Exhaled. All signs of her preparing to lie to me. “Happy people,” she said. Now I was completely confused. Surely that couldn’t be it? They didn’t look unhappy, so maybe she was right, but it couldn’t just be that. On the other hand, why shouldn’t that be it? I was glad they were happy because some part of my brain reasoned that if they could do it, so could I.
I am unutterably grateful that my mother’s fear of addressing sexuality kept her from explaining homosexuality to me because not only was she unable to feed me canned homophobia, she inadvertently implied that there was nothing wrong with being ‘gay’. Her discomfort with my question made it clear, though, that this Was Not To Be Talked About, so I didn’t. I didn’t really mind not talking about it. I was too busy feeling vindicated and triumphant for weeks afterwards, though at the time I couldn’t have explained that either.
Some part of me must have understood though. I’d always fantasized about women so, I figure, seeing those men on that cover must have told me – thanks to the knack girls have for identifying with both female and male ‘characters’ – that it was ok for women to do the same thing. I couldn’t wait to grow up and get out there.