Anthony Carter

The High Cost of Fear

Filed By Anthony Carter | July 05, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: black, black dads, black families, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay youth, homophobic behavior, intergenerational relationships

I don't know my nephew.

fear.jpgI have not seen my family in two years. Fear hurts. Fear kills. Fear breeds stupidity disguised as safety.

As an out, proud black gay man, I am often asked to be less than my marvelous self. This can be addressed with a hearty fuck you. It is more challenging to tell an elderly family to get bent when they are in their 80's and preparing for that big send off.

My family neither knows nor understands me.

It seems easier to deny what I am. This allows a safe and comfortable distance. But what are they saving themselves from? HIV, embarrassment, humiliation, a proper revamping of their homes?

My father, at one point in our odd and strained relationship could only interact with me based on an obsession with making sure I stayed "healthy".

I always found this both touching and weird simultaneously.

Shocked that this was the totality of what it meant to be gay and male and confused as to why this could be discussed but nothing else, I gave up trying and let our interaction become sparse and unthreatening.

Perhaps it is time to do something else.

Perhaps it is time to demand a restructuring of our delicate and shallow relationship. Once, I was told, "I tried to have a relationship with you, be close, but you went crazy". I was too hurt to speak.

If I were presented with such nonsense now, my response would be "I didn't go crazy. I stopped being crazy and got very real. You should give it a whirl."

But that would be being disrespectful and we all know how we black folk love to respect our parents even when it is undeserved.

Although fear may keep our children and some adults from doing something totally wacky, it has no place in the confines of a relationship. My parents and several ex-friends constantly choose fear over having a relationship with me.

This hurts.

It has taken me years to understand their limitations and try to establish a relationship despite them. I have not been that great with this endeavor. I have friends who are so much more masterful at this than I could ever be.

I would like to share a bit of what I learned in watching them all navigate these entertaining and frustrating waters.

For one thing, it most definitely helps to have a relationship with the peeps prior to dropping the LBQT bomb. This only helps if you have previously established some ongoing dialogue. If you haven't what do you do? I can help with this one.

What did I do? I was as honest as I could be when circumstances presented themselves. In other words, I protected myself, stayed alive and came out to them when I was not dependent on them any longer.

Was this cowardice? I'm unsure. I survived.

Actually, I came out to my mother when I was in the throes of straddling being a recent college grad with readjusting to life as a civilian. It was difficult and she constantly expressed her disgruntled opinions at every turn (daily). Fear dictated her every interaction with me and it continues in the present incarnation of our interactions.

I have had to deepen my compassion levels and it has not been easy. My parents believe if it goes unspoken or unexamined it doesn't exist.

This is our healthy family way of saying "We support you just don't ask us to change." My own little version of DADT. To all my young friends struggling within families who may or may not ever support you, I urge you to obsess. I urge you to find someone who made it and emulate their life.

Let your obsession with a person who has triumphed be your guide. Know that others have been in families and situations where people didn't appreciate their talents and gifts and yet managed to somehow hold on until they could make an escape.

If you have no money or skills start to acquire them now. Love yourself by learning to take care of yourself.

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Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | July 6, 2011 9:53 AM

Thank you, Anthony, for sharing this story with us. Coming out has its many quirks and all of our stories are different.

You asked if it were cowardice that you waited until you were no longer dependent on them before you dropped the LGBT bomb. I think we as gay persons may fear that those who gave us life may withdraw their love after such a revelation from a child, regardless of either the age of the parent(s) or the offspring.

In my own case -- I am now in my 80s -- I came out to my aging parents (they were in their 70s) during the years of the notorious Anita Bryant's tirades and when I was a few weeks shy of my 47th birthday. I had been a life-long celibate until just a couple of months prior to my revelation that I was "one of the abominable." I reached a point where I could no longer live the lie and I had to come out or I would not have survived. Your survival seems to have been in spite of your coming out; mine was totally dependent on my coming out.

My parents were in a state of shock. But I had determined that I could not be responsible for their reactions to the information that I had provided. They were better equipped to handle it over time since they had each other with whom to discuss this startling new development. As for myself, living in the deep South, I had had absolutely no one in those 47 years with whom I could discuss my homosexuality. And even after we had the coming out conversation, there later had to be the "what scripture says" discussion.

Coming out is a difficult and anxiety-producing situation for many of us and, as in my case, may take a long time before feeling secure enough with self to risk alienation of family by disclosure. We must remember that it is not easy for aging parents to come to acceptance either. And it may take them a long time to "come out" themselves. It took mine a couple of years. But when I entered into my first and only live-in relationship 5 years later with my late partner, the first thing my parents did was to invite him to come with me to visit at Christmas. They loved him almost as much as I did.

While I can sympathize with the pain you may be experiencing, may I be so brazen as to offer a little thought: continue simply to be yourself and dare to get out of yourself the best that's there. As long as you are not hurting anyone else, how others respond is not your concern. Your parents will come around, I am guessing. If they don't, I am sorry. However, you cannot be true to anything else, or anyone else, unless you are true to yourself.

Hang in there!

tobyhannabill | July 6, 2011 11:52 AM

Beautifully written. My parents went to their graves never getting to know the real me. I have resolved myself to the fact that this was their loss and their choice.

Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | July 6, 2011 2:54 PM

Toby, that must have been extremely painful. I'm sorry you had to experience that. But I think you're right. It was their loss.