Solitary Confinement

As a child, I learned that being gay meant being alone; as a gay man, my community has taught me a better lesson

After coming out to my mother during college, she and I entered into one of those melancholy conversations familiar to so many of us who faced parents who obviously loved us yet had some intense feelings of loss and sadness at the news their child was going to be different. So we discussed, obliquely, some of those feelings, such as the sudden removal of potential grandchildren from her future. And we touched on the oldie-but-goodie standby of maternal coming out stories: ”Well, I always knew. You never dated any girls in high school.”

Fair enough, since in retrospect my lack of dating — not to mention my habit as an 8-year-old to exclaim things like, ”Oh, my goodness!” complete with hands on hips — the writing was on the wall early. But it was another part of the conversation that stuck with me and spoke directly to my own fears about being gay.

”I just don’t want you to end up alone,” she said.

This was the late 1980s, back in the world of my rural Kentucky upbringing where the prevailing view of homosexuality was still about urban hedonism and the gaunt faces of AIDS patients. Gay men left the farm for the city and returned home to die; lesbians quietly lived out lives of spinsterhood. My mother feared I would end up alone, and I did as well. It was the one fear our world had implanted equally into each of us.

The world is mercifully different today. Upon meeting new straight people, gay and lesbian couples will inevitably be asked, ”Have you gotten married yet?” often followed closely by, ”Why not?” The fact that I have married in a religious ceremony but not a legal one turns out to be a chance to explain the difference between civil and religious ceremonies, which a surprising number of people still don’t see.

No matter. People can ask me all day long about whether I’m going to legalize my union. Families can pester their single gay and lesbian children about when they’re going to settle down and get married. Finally, the message more young people and their parents are getting is that gay and lesbian life doesn’t equal solitary confinement — our lives are as varied and filled as those of our straight families and friends.

What I didn’t know back in 1988 was that the gay community would never be a place where I would be forced to be alone, regardless of marriage or civil unions or domestic partnerships. There was a community that had grown politically and had banded together in the face of an epidemic. It wasn’t a world of vapid, meaningless encounters; it was a world of vibrancy, bravery, friendship and love.

This was on my mind last Saturday, Jan. 28, as I watched the member organizations of Brother, Help Thyself give out $110,000 to local LGBT groups, from SMYAL to the Gay Men’s Chorus, from Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS) to lawyers providing free legal assistance to LGBT Marylanders, and so many more. BHT was kind enough to recognize Metro Weekly with the George Dotson Business Award, which we are all grateful to receive. To paraphrase what I said that afternoon, if someone had asked me 18 years ago what I liked best about working for Metro Weekly, I would have said, ”Having a job as a writer.” If someone asks me that today, I would say, ”Having the honor to be part of a community as caring and supportive as this one.”

As long as we have each other, we never have to be alone.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.