Today is International Day Against Homophobia. What does that even mean? What does homophobia look like? Gay bashing? Discrimination? Hate? I've heard people say how they can't be homophobic because they would never lash out at a person just because they were gay. But what about those times they didn't reach out? What about when they refused to say it was okay? Did they ever stop to think why they couldn't accept? Or what it did to the person every time they turned their back or said nothing?
When I was a little girl, I remember a visit to my uncles' house. I admit to being a bit of a naive kid. My uncles had just moved into a new house and I was visiting with my parents. They had a tournament, and I was to spend some time with my uncles while they were off doing their thing. So my uncles showed us around their home, through the kitchen and the perfectly appointed rooms. (Yes, they were both very successful interior designers) and up to the second floor, the spare room where my parents would sleep, and the one where I would sleep, and then on to their own ensuite.
Being the innocent kid I was, I asked Uncle Cliff "Where does Ray sleep?"
The next few minutes will stick in my head forever.
My mother hustled me out of that room so fast, I tripped over a rug and skinned my knee. My uncles stood there, mouths open. My father said nothing.
The rest of the weekend passed in an uncomfortable haze whenever my parents were in the house. When they left me in the care of my uncles, it was the first time in my life I can remember feeling completely content and understood. And I didn't know why.
I spent Sunday morning with my uncles going shopping, deciding what we would have for dinner and getting to sort through their dinner services and set the table. I was excited to sit and share one last meal in that house. I felt grand having spent the day trying to remember my parents favorite things, listening to my uncle talk about his brother's (my father's) favorite foods from childhood and realizing he still liked roast beef and quietly but strongly disliked turnips and zucchini. I felt like a grown-up, helping to make that last meal together special. My parents came back from their tournament, packed up and insisted we drive home immediately.
There was no dinner. There was no discussion. There was never another visit to my uncles' home.
It took me many years to realize the answer to my innocent question of "Where does Ray sleep?" I had to figure that one out for myself.
By the time my Uncle Cliff died a year ago, I hadn't seen him in almost twenty years. He hadn't spoken to his brother, my father, in ten.
And I can't help but wonder. What if my mother had let my uncles answer that question? What if they had told me; "Uncle Ray sleeps here, in this bed, with me, because we love each other, just like your mom and dad love each other." How would it have changed the way I understood myself to know such love was a possibility when I was that young? When I was just learning about life?
It wasn't that I didn't know I was as attracted to girls as I was to boys, as I got older. Just that I it was a very long time before I knew it was okay. There are so many things I could have taken away from that long ago weekend other than a skinned knee and the vague feeling of disapproval and wrongness.
I'll never know why my father and his only sibling fell out and didn't speak for the last years of my uncle's life. I only know there were a lot of things that never got said, and looking back on it all, I have to ask again: what about when you don't reach out? What about when you don't say it's okay? What about when you make it so invisible, the people in your life disappear completely?
So what does homophobia really look like?
ETA: I forgot to mention the giveaway. I have a few paperbacks and tones of back titles. Pick something. I'll let you know if I have hard-copy of it, and you can decide which version you'd like :) Leave a comment on this post, and I'll draw names Sunday around suppertime....