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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Anyone and Everyone. I chanced, in the middle of last nite, to see on one of my local PBS stations, NJN-2, a terrific documentary called Anyone and Everyone, about young gay men, and one lesbian, "coming out" to their parents. Several of these young people were lucky enuf to have loving and supporting parents, but I was stunned by how hard some parents took the news.
When I told my parents (after I had established myself in my own apartment in NYC, 40 or so miles from home), they did not give me much grief over it, but the same pattern as I saw in the documentary held for me: my father was better about it than my mother. She did eventually come around, even to the point of giving me, one Christmas, a book about famous gay people in history.
Why wouldn't fathers take homosexuality in their son better than the mothers? In wanting men, the son is not rejecting his father; tho the mother may feel he is rejecting her in rejecting women generally.
One of my brothers had said he thinks I should not use my real last name in my gay-activist work. I thought that was not for him to say, so I asked my father, from whom I got my last name. He laffed. Laffed at the idea that I shouldn't use my last name — his last name. It was one of the best moments between us in all of life. So I am, here in this blog, on the MrGayPride.com website, and everywhere, L. Craig Schoonmaker, not some pseudonymous phony. (I don't know what I'd have done if my father had also said he'd rather I didn't use the family name. Fortunately, I didn't have to make that decision.)
The documentary was very well done, and quite moving in places, esp. where the sons got choked up about how well their fathers rallied to them. One father, a Mormon whose family is highly placed in the church by ancestry and church activity, was told by the mother (whom the son had told earlier), while the parents were driving somewhere. He pulled off the road into a strip mall to find a fone (pre-cellfone era) so he could call his son and say "Everything's going to be alrite." As you might expect, the son was very relieved, and moved, to hear that.
In another case, a Catholic teen was also reassured by his father on first hearing, and needed a hug, so asked his father if he could just hold him for a moment. He did.
Not every case examined went so well, and some of the mothers were extraordinarily, and in my view absurdly, upset. It took them weeks or even months to come to terms with their child's coming out. But the bulk of the parents rallied around their kid, even to the point of standing up against their church and other family members who weren't so accepting. The Mormon mother even told her own mother not to attend her dauter's wedding if she couldn't accept her son's homosexuality, because he would be there. The dauter had already told an unaccepting aunt, the mother's sister, that she wasn't welcome at her wedding.
The 1975 song "Stand By Me" comes to mind:
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.
Not everyone has been so lucky as most of those in this splendid film. A Puerto Rican guy says he hasn't spoken to his mother in several weeks, because she threw him out and didn't want to see him. And in that small group of interviewees, TWO suicides by gay men of their acquaintance were mentioned. The film's website speaks to homelessness and suicide among gay kids, all of which statistics are speculative, since nobody in Government really knows who is gay and who not, in that the Census doesn't ask and a lot of people would lie anyway; and we don't really have statistics even on homelessness (in part because there are different definitions of "homelessness"). I think the Jewish kid in the film found "disgusting" the fact that someone he met shot himself dead because people couldn't deal with his being gay — or is it that he himself couldn't deal with being gay? In any case, it is disgusting.
I visited a friend from high school in her first year at Swarthmore College, an elite institution near Philly. In a group conversation, a guy said that some kid had committed suicide by walking on train tracks near the school, and some of the fellow students condemned that as "stupid" — which made quite an impression on him, because kids in elite colleges don't ever want to be thought stupid. Perhaps if people contemplating suicide thought that they would gain not sympathy but contempt for doing that, it would help them hold the line against a momentary crisis, to push beyond into the better times ahead.
Suicide has been described famously as "a permanent solution to a temporary problem". In regard to gay suicides, documentaries such as Anyone and Everyone, and videos like the recent anti-bullying statement by a gay Fort Worth councilman have to help. Appallingly, 41 years after Stonewall, much more still needs to be done.
I trust that the kids shown in this 2007 film have passed along to other gay men the emotional support they got at a key time in their lives. The last couplet in Ben E. King's song speaks to giving as well as receiving support:
Whenever you're in trouble won't you stand by me, oh now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me.
P.S., November 7, 2010: Perhaps someday I will be able to read this post and follow its links without crying tears of joy and liberation. That day has not yet arrived. And, you know what? I am proud to be pushed to tears by the two extraordinary renditions of the wonderful song "Stand by Me" that I link to above, links that I hope you have followed and listened to. I have been alone much of my life, and if I can help someone get past a terrible time, I will do so without hesitation or apology. I personally have never, alas, actually needed anyone — my personal tragedy — because I am unusually self-sufficient (not wholly by choice). Even I, however, would have been happier to have someone to "stand by me".

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