Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Genealogy

Middlesex has put me in a mood to reflect on past generations. To that end, I’ll post one of the many blog posts I’ve waiting in the wings:

I was blessed in many ways with my family, but I was particularly surprised upon coming out by my grandfather, the only grandfather I ever knew. He’s now passed on, but I wish our children could have known him. He loved my partner like a grandson and repeatedly told me he was proud of us; he even encouraged us when we were attempting to become parents. This is the man who baptized me into the LDS church.

I was at a loss as to how I’d been so fortunate, but I eventually learned my grandfather might have had long held experience influencing him to some degree.

About 5 years ago, I was told his little brother, my great uncle, was gay (I’ve been surprised to learn how many of my relatives were/are :-)). My grandfather, along with the rest of his family asked my great uncle to ignore it, hide it and marry a woman, and he did.

He tried and succeeded in doing what they asked, but became increasingly miserable as the years added up. His unfortunate wife grew just as miserable, with his inability to connect with her in the way she had expected. There was no physical intimacy between them, not publicly or, as I was told, privately. I guess he was the sort of gay that not only was attracted to men but also strongly repelled by women, physically. To say the least, no children were brought into their home, and, in this case, probably for the best

He kept his family from one sort of shame, but, eventually, he failed. He did not divorce or ever cheat, to anyone’s knowledge, but there are other ways to fail. He eventually went into a strong depression, and began drinking heavily. Not that I can blame him too much for that. I suppose, lacking the pharmacology many rely on today, it was one of the better chemical “treatments” of the time, not to mention the “sin” least objectionable of the two to his society. Still, his drinking got to the point where he couldn’t keep a steady job.

Then, one night while headed home, he killed two people, a married couple with children at home. He was driving drunk and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s, in a way, tragically symmetrical: the gay man who’d married a woman and couldn’t be intimate enough to raise children ended up making orphans of children he never knew. His life produced two miserable and complimentary halves of a whole that is the most common example of human beauty and selflessness.

Unfortunately, this was a time when drunk driving could merely be an “accident”, and he pretty much got off scot-free; legally, that is. He had to live with the guilt and he didn’t for long. He stepped up his drinking, and died of cirrhosis a couple years later.

I want to be clear, I don’t mean to at all say my great uncle’s miserable fate is fate for gay men who’ve made his choices. It was brought on by the same challenges in entering into a relationship unnatural to him, and hiding his true self, but he did not meet those challenges well, and it was his fate.

What does strikes me in this instance, though, is how his life, a near unmitigated tragedy, may be one factor by which I came out relatively unscathed, two generations later. I almost feel embarrassed to think I may have benefited in such a way, but I can’t help but thinking that’s what happened, in part.

My great uncle caused a lot of grief in his choices, from the children he left orphaned, to the woman he made his widow, and I’m guessing my grandfather had his ideas as to why, and it left an impression. He did not flinch when he learned I was gay, and, when the time came, there was no question as to if he’d be at our wedding. In the end, my life has been nothing like “Uncle Jack’s”, and people like my grandfather had a hand in molding both.

Funny, long before I ever heard this story, even before I came out, my dad used to repeatedly tell me to never drink to get drunk. He’d joke, “You’ve got Jack’s blood in you, and you don’t want to end up like him.” What an odd coincidence.

Maybe I do have Jack’s blood in me, but I didn’t end up like him.

3 comments:

santorio said...

if i had been born 10 years later, i expect that i would have made different choices regarding marriage. i didn't feel pressured into marriage--that's just what one did, so i did. of course it helped to have met a wonderful person to marry. if that 'wonderful person' had been a gay male, who knows? i'm not expressing regret here, just acknowledging the small, seemingly insignificant 'coincidences' that bring people together.

Elbow said...

Until recently I've not thought a lot about gay men who grew up in the 1920's or 30's. How must that have been for them, to not have outlets and healthy means of expression?

I'm glad I have this blog, and I'm glad you shared with us this entry. You have a lot of great things to say. Thanks.

Scot said...

Santorio,
“just acknowledging the small, seemingly insignificant 'coincidences' that bring people together.”

I agree completely. They deserve their credit; I know I owe them that :-) (Also, I’d never assume anyone regrets any coincidence that leads to their children or the person they love of either sex).

Elbow,
How must that have been for them, to not have outlets and healthy means of expression?”

This story makes me wonder the same thing. If I were born in his place, would my character have me repeat his mistakes, and be the one in the car that night, drunk and dangerous? No, absolutely not (I’ll just pretend I know for sure ;-)).

I’ve histories of homosexuality in civilization, but I’ve wondered if there is a text written on this specific period. I’d bet, for those actively gay, it went the range from miserable to tolerable. But times, they are a change’n.

Thank you for the kind words, Elbow.