Friday, January 31, 2014

Dear Mama: A Letter from a Gay Son

I have recently discovered a gem. Or rather, a series of gems. These jewels? Armistead Maupin's series of books that began with Tales of the City. The city is San Francisco, and the first novel in the series begins in 1976 - the year I graduated from high school in a small town in southern Illinois.

I had purchased Tales in paperback after hearing Maupin give a reading in Seattle in the summer of 2011, but it sat on my bookshelf, unread past the first couple of chapters. I'm not sure now what prompted me to purchase the book on Kindle a few weeks ago and to begin reading - and keep on reading. But, wow, I'm glad I did. I read. And read. And read. I loved it. It made me feel light, happy, carefree, engaged. And I continued on to read the next volume in the series, More Tales of the City.

One of the main characters in Tales is a gay man named Michael. Michael was from Orlando, Florida, and like thousands of other gay men in the 70's, Michael moved to San Francisco so that he could live in an environment where he wasn't judged and condemned for being gay. 

Without giving away any of the plot, in the second book of the Tales series (which I just finished), Michael contracts an illness (not AIDS) which is life-threatening. Conceding to his imploring friends, he decides to dictate a letter to his parents in Orlando from his hospital bed. 

Although I realize I am probably infringing copyright, I hope Armistead Maupin will pardon me for quoting parts of the coming out letter Michael wrote to his mother in Orlando, who had become part of Anita Bryant's crusade. The words are so poignant ... they resonated so deeply with me, as I'm sure they will with others. I would like to think that they belong to the entire gay community, worldwide and timeless. Here's to the 70's ... and the 2010's ... :

" ... I'm sorry, Mama ... for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief - rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes. 

"No, Mama, I wasn't 'recruited.' No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, 'You're all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You're not crazy or sick or evil ...'

"I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don't consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being ...

"I know I can't tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it's not.

"It's not hiding behind words, Mama. Like 'family' and 'decency' and 'Christianity.' It's not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It's not judging your neighbor, except when he's crass or unkind.

"Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it ...

"Your loving son,


It could have been signed, "Joseph." 

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