Dear Father T,
My partner runs around the house taking all our "gay" artwork off the walls when his parents, brothers or sisters (all of whom are over 30) come to visit and he does the same when my relatives come over. He also rips the "gay" books off our bookshelves and hides them. They all know we are gay and they know they are entering a "gay" house. I am against this and we have had some arguments about it. What do you say?
Proud Mapplethorpe Owner
Your sign-off was helpful because it gave me an indication of the kind of "art" you may have in your house. You don't seem to be talking about Lalique crystal dildos and butt plugs insouciantly placed among the cabbage roses as a centerpiece. You don't seem to be talking about framed and signed photos of naked Jeff Stryker (We have two.) You've probably got some male nude black and white photography by well-respected artists.
I am reminded of a scene in a movie in which an older woman and her adult daughter are touring an art gallery. The daughter approaches her mother who has been standing transfixed by the sight of Mapplethorpe's Man in a Polyester Suit. She asks her mother if she is OK, and the mother assures her that she is fine and then, while not taking her eyes off the photo, says "I was just wondering why I stayed with your father all those years."
I will confess to having sprayed our house with "Gay-Off" in preparation for visits by our relatives in the earliest years of our cohabitation. I wanted to make things comfortable for my new extended family. I did not think of this as a denial of our gay identity. I thought of it as a gesture of respect and an overture of friendship on my part when we took the gay magazines and bar rags off the coffee tables.
I think the referenced Mapplethorpe work perfectly illustrates the dilemma because it is a serious and successful and legitimate work of art, but its in your face sexuality is bound to make some folks nervous. I can't imagine asking my mother and mother-in-law to sit down to Christmas dinner beneath that photograph.
Once, during a very large "mixed" party at our home, an older and very proper straight lady needed to get away from the crowd to make a private call (BC - Before Cellphones). Someone showed her to a telephone extension in our bedroom. I entered that room at one point, not knowing that she was there, and found her leafing through our copy of that enormous Taschen Books edition of The Complete Tom of Finland while making her call. Without saying a word, I backed out of our bedroom and closed the door behind me. She was in there for almost an hour although I think the call was considerably shorter.
In more recent years, at Christmas, one of our favorite decorations is an excellent pen and ink sketch given to us by an artist friend who is addicted to foreskin and has mastered its depiction. The drawing is called Santa Pimp and it is a picture of Santa Claus wearing a large fur-brimmed hat and coat in the gangsta-pimp style with an enormous holly-festooned penis with enough foreskin to wrap a basketball. This I will quickly stash in a closet whenever carolers call.
I know what you are saying, PMO. If we are proud enough to march in Pride parades and sing "I Am What I Am", why should we hide our non-pornographic gay stuff? I don't think of it as an indication of a lack of self-pride. I consider it an act of kindness and an effort to make a guest comfortable. As a dear friend's mother once said, "Dress to please others. Eat to please yourself." The art on the walls falls exactly half way between those two extremes, so a good case can be made for either position. Personally, I hold with those who use "Gay-Off" with their dust cloth.
There is only one occasion that indisputably merits the removal of gay art and literature. Hide all of it when you are selling your house and a real estate agent is arriving with a potential buyer. In this market, the homophobia of a potential buyer may be catered to with all the bowing and scraping one can manage.