I hinted at this a few months ago, when discussing the sudden death of my cousin Ann, but I’ve never really written in detail about it… But over a recent lunch meeting with a colleague of mine, discussing our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employee group, I found myself telling the story in more detail.
And I realized that it’s a story that I wanted to share.
Prior to the funeral, I hadn’t been to visit my family in several years. The last time I had been in Rockingham was for Thanksgiving dinner six or seven years prior, to spend one final holiday with my Aunt Margaret before she lost her battle with cancer. I was in grad school at the time, finishing my Master’s degree, and took a few days out to drive my mom up to North Carolina for the holiday.
It wasn’t necessarily the best of family visits. While it was nice to see several members of my family — and of course, to be able to say my goodbyes to my beloved Aunt Margaret — there were a couple of incidents that really marred the visit for me. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just share that some of the kids there epitomized my insecurities around Southern people.
There was a whole lot of conversation around deer hunting and car racing, and the height of wit was when one teenager called another one a n****r-lover.
At the time, my reaction was pretty absolute: I couldn’t believe that these people were related to me, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.
That encounter pretty much solidified my concerns, nonspecific at the time but since crystalized, that racist hunters and race-car driving enthusiasts are not likely to be the most “gay friendly” of people. I felt certain that these folks would never accept me as an openly gay man, and would certainly never accept anyone I was in a relationship with.
I was wrong. And I’m disappointed in myself for letting my own preconceived notions, based primarily on the behavior of unruly teenagers, prevent me from having a stronger relationship with my family.
When Sal and I went to Rockingham for the funeral, my family was great. They were so nice to me, seemed so happy to see me, and were genuinely welcoming to Sal. Aunts, uncles, and cousins were terrific – everyone was perfectly civil at a minimum, and some were incredibly engaging with Sal and spoke excitedly with him about our life together.
I guess the moral of the story here, for me, is you shouldn’t let your fear of rejection keep you walled away from the people that you wish would accept and embrace you. When I gave my family a chance, they by and large treated Sal – and me – like they would any other family member bringing a significant other to visit for the first time.
And it took THREE HOURS before anyone even said the n-word once. (And when that DID happen, another family member jumped in and chastised the speaker for using that word.)