No longer in the mood to eat, I said, "So do the men, Dad." But somehow that didn't get at the, uh, bigger issue. Aside from how distressing it is to listen to your dad talk about his penis and its size--to say nothing of what it's like imagining your mother squealing over it--it only then dawned on me why, a year earlier, he had taken my news about being gay so well: He hadn't really taken the news at all.
People don't raise their children to be gay, which is why coming out to parents always exhausts three days and 14 boxes of Kleenex. Depending on the particular parents' self-perceived fuckups (my dad was absent, my mom was domineering), they receive the news with a personalized combination of horror, hysteria, emasculation, guilt, and denial--especially denial. Most of us gays try to avoid said overblown parental crisis by leaving obvious clues and encouraging parents to put it together on their own, but that never happens, because parents are thick and slow, every last one of them, and they assume everyone is straight even after proven gay.
Straight people have the gift of default sexuality and never have to spell it out to their parents. Make no mistake, Will & Grace be damned, gay people still have to spell it out: I have a friend in her 30s who, while uncomfortable broaching the issue directly, wears no makeup and a Utilikilt--that's a kilt crossed with a utility belt--and her parents, against all evidence, still set her up with men. Similarly, I did so much high-school and community theater that by the time I'd turned 17 I'd been in three separate productions of The Music Man. And my parents were shocked when I told them.
Not only did they not realize I was gay before I told them, but they refused to believe it--or accept it--after I told them. Such denial is insistent, illogical, dull-headed, and tedious, and it is commonplace among parents of us gays. It explains why, a year after I thought I had made myself clear, I found myself having the aforementioned conversation with my dad about how fun it is to fuck the ladies with our big Frizzelle family dicks. That day he left me no choice but to articulate, in no uncertain terms, just how fun it is to fuck the guys. If ever there was a chance for us to be close, I ruined it that afternoon; I'm fairly certain there's only one thought that occurs to him when he looks at me now: Buttfucker! Buttfucker! Buttfucker!
My mother, for her part, refuses to accept my sexuality because that's what her Lord Our Savior demands. I have three straight brothers who, while also having to deal with my mother's piousness, never have to be the subject of her overwhelming grief. They have never received packages of material from my mom about how to become an "ex-gay." They have never experienced the embarrassment I suffered when, a few years ago on a trip to Seattle, during a ride on the Bainbridge Island ferry, my mom burst into tears because she was convinced I was dying of AIDS. (I had lost some weight.) Moreover, it is not uncommon for holiday family gatherings to devolve into something that resembles my own funeral. My brothers and I were trimming the tree a few Christmases ago when my mom began to cry about how much she was going to miss me when she got to heaven. She was inconsolable.
Obviously, there are much worse things to befall a fag, parent-wise. I was never bludgeoned with a rolling pin or disowned or surprised to find the contents of my bedroom strewn on the driveway. Nor have I been made to endure the flag-waving theatrics of those parents who tread water at the other deep end of the crazy pool--the mothers who knit rainbow sweaters and join PFLAG and introduce their child to strangers as "My gay son, Christopher." Some parents of gay children probably exist on a sensible middle ground, but based on an anecdotal survey of my friends, most gay people's parents are freakishly religious, freakishly aloof, or freakishly overinvolved. Freaks, all of them. Straight people's parents don't turn into freaks--or, if they do, it's not the straightness of their children that drives them insane.
A huge difference between the parents of gay and straight people is that the parents of gay people don't usually take an interest in their child's love life--they'd "rather not know"--and when they do, it's always euphemistically. My parents wonder, for example, if I have a "friend." This makes for strained conversation, and it makes for awkward Christmas cards. (Unlike my brothers' short-term girlfriends, my ex-boyfriend never made the mass-mailed family Christmas letter, and we were together four years.) What straight people don't often recognize, and wouldn't recognize unless they had to appropriate our parents, is that being gay means (1) having to describe your lurid sexuality to your parents in no uncertain terms (Buttfucker! Buttfucker! Buttfucker!); (2) having to suffer their vain heartache of coming to terms (or, as the case may be, not coming to terms) with what you cannot change; and (3) always having to be embarrassed in front of your parents, on some level, about the people you love and have sex with.
That last one is a big deal. Unless you have two mommies and your name is Heather, being gay means going against what your parents have taught you, or shown you, about relationships--you're going so far as to be against the very method by which you were conceived--and for most parents it seems that this is an unconscionable slap in the face. It is a barrier to having a close relationship with them. Straight people's sexuality does not exist between them and their parents as an uncomfortable divide. When you're the only gay person in a family, everyone talks around the issue--it's an elephant in the room, with flashing pink lights--and instead of just addressing it, everyone's much, much happier to talk stiltedly about absolutely nothing.
As uncomfortable as dinner conversations inevitably are, I wouldn't actually wish my parents on anyone--my dad and his penis and his condescending politics, my mom and her fondness for Jesus and her collection of cow-related decorative objects--because on a certain level I do love them. Still, it strikes me as profoundly unfair that my straight brothers have never had to reconcile their natural tendencies with the teachings of the Lord, or, Lord have mercy, explain buttfucking to our father over lunch.