3 min

Fatherly approval

There's a censor we develop early on in life that can be difficult to turn off

When my lover left me last year, I was an inconsolable heartbroken mess. It was not unusual for me to spend my lunch hours sobbing in downtown parks. Nothing anybody said to me seemed comforting until, oddly enough, I had a heart-to-heart with my father.

Now, it’s a gay cliché to say my father and I were not close when I was growing up. When I came out to my mother in my early 20s, she warned me against me telling him, for fear he would say something hurtful to me.

Since then – though he’s certainly not offered to march in a Pride parade or sign up for PFLAG – he’s proved himself supportive of my life well beyond the limits of his conservative rural milieu. I’ve appreciated his casually curious inquiries about Pride, his warmth to my ex-boyfriend and his attempt at not appearing ruffled as he fled the room after 15 racy minutes of Queer As Folk.

And my break-up talk with him helped me turn an emotional corner. He told me something he had never told me before about one of his own heartbreaks as a young man and how he recovered from it (by ditching work and throwing himself into the singles scene). He said he knew the factors of the relationship were different – his girl was different than my boy, they had different expectations of each other, had worked out different arrangements – but that the feelings were similar.

He made the comparison between my life and his so naturally, I didn’t even realize at the time what a chasm he had crossed. It was more than the basic tolerance and acceptance many gay and lesbian people seem to be seeking from their families, friends and the law; rather it was an equivalence. My father gave my experience the emotional weight, the personal repercussions of something he had himself experienced.

I think that in the worthy fight for equality rights in law (ie marriage), that this notion of equivalence – equal but different – is sadly lost. Equivalence is judging relationships not by their conformity to a model (boyfriend, fiancé, husband), but by their effect: How important is this to you? Does it hurt? How do you make it feel better?

And it’s partly the fault of gay and lesbian people who hold back details of their own sexual and emotional lives, choosing instead to try to make them equal. Even a “good” relationship with one’s parents often remains a highly orchestrated affair. Salacious details are omitted or coded, boyfriends of three weeks are turned into “partners” to help the folks understand. There’s a censor I think gay and lesbian people develop early on in life that can be difficult to turn off.

On The Movie Network’s Six Feet Under, the show’s matron invites her two straight children to bring their respective boyfriend and girlfriend to dinner. With all the good will in the world, she tells her gay son to bring a “special friend” if he has one.

“Why is my friend special?” the son replies. And it’s that “special” designation that’s the mark in the sand.

I think if we offered more candour about our lives, there’s lots that would fascinate our straight counterparts. Straight men are critical of the promiscuity of many gay men partly because they envy it. Many straight women also envy gay men’s promiscuity.

Which makes me think that straight men and straight women are missing out on something both sides yearn for, but can’t negotiate. Yet much of what is specific to gay life is about building frameworks to negotiate the desire for friendship, intimacy and sex among other things. You hear it in the line-ups at bars – what made Kevin sleep with James when James was trying to dump the guy he met on the Internet – but we love accepting banalities like “special friend” or “life partner” when sitting across the table from a relative.

Perhaps we’ve worked things out with our families and straight peers to a degree of success that makes us anxious about rocking the boat.

Or perhaps we don’t want to share trade secrets.

* Paul Gallant is Xtra’s features editor and acting news editor.