Deep breath. Go. Go. Go!
Me (brightly): So I have some news for you! Andrea is pregnant.
Grampa (surprised): Which Andrea? (My sister’s name is also Andrea. What a shock that would have been.)
Me: My Andrea. The Andrea I live with.
Him: Oh yeah. How?
Me: At a clinic. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s called insemination and they do it at a clinic.
Him: Oh. Okay. Well congratulations.
Me: And we’re going to raise the baby together.
Him: Oh, I see. What if one of you wants to get married?
Me (smiling): No, we’re going to stay together and raise children together.
Him (shrugging): Well, I had an idea. I figured, you know, I just assumed. Did this just happen or has it been a long time?
Me: It’s been a long time.
Him (nodding): Yeah.
Me: So what do you think? Mum thought you’d be upset.
Him: What do I think? No, what can I say? It’s up to you. I’m not going to change your mind. If it makes you happy.
Me: Okay. Great! Awesome. I just wanted you to know. (Long pause.) So what do you think about that 20-game suspension?
We didn’t make eye contact. We didn’t touch at all. I watched his thick brown thumbs rubbing erratically against one another, folding and unfolding. My voice was shaky the whole time. My father was there, sitting low in the couch, supporting me by smiling and enduring the discomfort. It really couldn’t have gone any better. I was bursting with pride in my eightysomething Grampa for staying put beside me on the window seat, for asking the right questions, for hugging Andrea and saying congratulations when he saw her later.
We haven’t had many conversations like that. Three years ago I told him over the phone that I was depressed and that’s probably as close as we’ve come. Mostly we speak superficially — food, weather, neighbours, sports. We tease each other, make faces across the dinner table. We never talk about real things. Actually, sometimes he does. I don’t reciprocate. The obvious reason is fear but I recognize that it’s also laziness, a persistent conviction that he wouldn’t get me if I tried and the sense that his acceptance is less significant than other people’s because of his demographics.
Something like 25 percent of all youth in North America who come out to their families face serious rejection. I don’t know how many twenty-somethings have out, honest relationships with their grandparents but I would bet that number isn’t very big. I never expected to be in that category with my Grampa, who grew up Catholic and very Italian in a tiny town overseas. My internalized stereotypes about my own family prevented me from expecting better, even as I coached friends with similar or harder family dynamics through coming out, assuring them that all would be fine.
Now I regret not telling my grandfather 14 years ago that I was queer, and I regret playing into my mother’s fears.
“I just don’t want it to become an ultimatum,” she said dramatically when we talked about the pregnancy. “A you or him kind of thing.”
I didn’t ask her who she would choose. She always insisted he wouldn’t understand, projecting her own fears of rejection as his daughter onto me, barely masking the shame she feels.
“Well, what you’ve got going for you is that he loves you”, she said finally. “He definitely loves you.”
I think we play into the stereotype of queer-as-victim sometimes. As a kid I honed the belief (with my mother’s help) that it was better not to tell my grandparents anything controversial. My Grampa is opinionated, stubborn and impulsive, but he is also fiercely loyal (I’m sure he has always voted Liberal) and very, very loving. It’s a shame that I let the more difficult parts of his personality dictate my decisions about what to tell him for so long. My mother and I both gave up on my Grampa before he even had the chance to let us down, which we do of course when we are afraid of rejection. We reject ourselves on behalf of other people, quit because word has it we could get fired, demoted, shunned in the staff room.
It was cathartic for both of us to tell him. I’ve spent a lot of time convincing myself that given family is not as important as chosen family, but sometimes they overlap. I discovered last weekend that the grandfather I happen to have is actually the one I’ve always wanted.