03 August 2010

The Childhood We Always Wanted

The other night, when Pauline and I were scavenging the racks at The Strand bookstore, I found a copy of "Blinded by the Right."  In it, author David Brock tells the story of how he sold out his principles to become the one who wrote "The Real Anita Hill," among other things.  

But what's truly heartbreaking about it is that he was, from his early adolescence onward, a closeted gay male.  His father was even more conservative (in the truest sense of the word) than his colleagues and bosses in the right-wing publications and think tanks for whom he worked.  As he became more and more enmeshed in the world of right-wing punditry (I was tempted to write "puppetry."), he became more and more fearful. As you might imagine, the circles in which he traveled were inhabited mainly by men who wanted to be, well, men, at least by their definitions of the word.  So homophobic and misogynistic epithets were as much a part of their vocabulary as the names of tools are in the language of a construction worker.

At times, Brock says he was trying to gain approval from his father, who never wanted to hear about his boyfriends or any other aspect of his homosexuality after he "came out."  You might say that he was looking for surrogate fathers among his editors, coaches and others who mentored him.  He also felt as if he were always the "outsider" and could operate in no other way. That is the reason why his first political hero was Robert F. Kennedy, but by the time he was a sophomore in college, he was hanging out with the Young Republicans.

Through it all, he felt intense isolation and loneliness, to the point that he couldn't form relationships even if he'd wanted them.  That sounded all too familiar to me.  

I think of that now when I replay, in my mind, a conversation I had with someone who said that he felt gays were always "throwing their preferences in other people's faces."  Now I wish I had explained this:  When you're straight and cisgender, you don't really need to assert your desires:  People assume that you want to have a relationship--in whatever form it might take--with a member of your opposite gender, and that you want to, in some ways, fit collective notions of how members of your gender comport themselves.  When you don't have the same attractions the majority of the population feels or don't think you are the gender to which you were assigned at birth, you must speak up for yourself, especially if someone thinks he or she can "change" you by finding someone for you.

But this self-repression that so many of us practice, whether we are forced into it or feel as if we are, is inevitably self-destructive.  It leads some of us to abuse substances, and others (or sometimes the same people) into abusive relationships.

Some people, of course, want us to conform to their notions of gender identity and sexuality no matter how much harm it may do us. But there are others who simply don't, through no fault of their own, understand why  you cannot be a part of the gender binary or the heterosexual world.  In other words, they simply don't know how to support us in the ways we need.  

Now, at least there are more people who understand than there were when Brock, Pauline and I were growing up.  But I hope there will be more.