One hopes the answers to all those questions is a resounding yes. It’s entirely intentional; Designed to subvert the oft-disseminated stereotype of the marginal underling gay. When I was a boy, 25 to 30 years ago, this was so endemic it even shaped people’s perceptions of the types of jobs we could have.
Gay men were hair-dressers of florists. If one was wealthy, one could become an art or antiques dealer (aah, the irony), or perhaps a museum curator. We weren’t just boxed in, we were excluded from mainstream society. There was the presumption that the (presumed) flamboyance of the gay man precluded him from working in a boardroom, in a bank, as the CEO of a company. I mean, how could we possibly work at a university if there was a chance we might show up to work one day dressed like this:
The choices were simple. Either one was discreet to the point of closet-living, or one had to choose a profession and an environment that was unconventional. These limitations encompassed all aspects of life. They even affected how and with whom we could socialize.
Mike and I have been together for thirteen years, all of which we’ve spent in a quite traditional and conservative community called Sotogrande, one of Europe’s (and the world’s) most exclusive residential developments. The first couple of years weren’t easy. I remember people with a straight face saying things like “You’re invited to the party, but you two have to come separately“, or “We’d like to invite you, but would you mind staying in the garden area where it’s more crowded?“, or even “I can invite you when my husband or the children are away“- I’m not sure exactly what they were expecting, whether there was a risk we’d burst into Broadway musical style song, or that we might just start having sex in public view. The prejudices were so absurd, they seem almost funny in hindsight.
Having never been one to take anything sitting down, I decided to fight fire with fire. Sometimes it’s the only way to make people seriously consider the impact of what they’re doing. This took a measure of wit, but me being me, it also took a degree of brutality. To the woman who suggested inviting us when her husband was away, I said “What a relief! I didn’t want to say anything, but I’m not really comfortable with people from that country“. I may have followed that with a comment on terrorists. Her eyes widened in horror, and there began her crusade to prove to me that her husband was a lovely man despite my misgivings regarding his nation of birth. Dearest shoe, meet other foot. Other foot, meet shoe!
It’s a shame that so many people feel prejudice and discrimination in the form of reductionism is an issue that doesn’t affect them, and they adopt positions that are genuinely harmful to others. That’s my problem with websites like Askthebigot and groups like Grace Church Seattle. Someone there said that if my life was ‘great’, why would I waste my time fighting back against what they were doing? The implication being that I had some sort of insecurity. That couldn’t be further from reality. I fight back because it’s only fighting back that we’ve been able to arrive where we are today.
The other day I received an anonymous email from a young man who explained how happy he was when he first heard the gossip of us being here. He was a young gay teen who up to thirteen years ago had only been exposed to the idea of gays living in the sidelines. Like him I once thought the only social role we could have was that of a companion, a walker. This took the form of accompanying widows, divorcees or women whose husbands were away, to social events. We filled in the boy/girl/boy/girl seating arrangements. That was it.
We weren’t invited as independent entities. We fulfilled a role. I’ve had the pleasure to see and participate in this change during my lifetime. It happened gradually, and not because people sat back and did nothing. I still remember my anxiety the first few times I hosted. Will they come? Who will come? An uphill battle.
We had the monumental task of demonstrating, proving even, that our existence wasn’t limited to our sexual orientation. People enjoyed the black and whiteness of it, some in the world still do. When they say a gay couple is less capable/ideal than a heterosexual couple, they imply that gender is the single most important factor in a child’s rearing (or to be honest, in humanity). Not psychology, love, comfort, education, support. When they say they’re fighting for the children, that’s what they’re doing. No nuance, no mention that each case is an individual case. That a gay couple could, in many cases, fulfill the needs of a specific child better than a heterosexual couple.
It all depends on the individual cases and by opposing gay adoption (or marriage) in a generalized manner they unfairly and misguidedly reduce our identities to sex- and in doing so create limitations for millions of children in the world who live in poverty and hunger, without anyone to care for them. And I say that with no horse in the race. I’m not a parental type, I’ve never wanted children.
All these years later, I feel we’ve accomplished something. I say that personally and as a community. Since ‘our scandalous arrival’ other openly gay couples (including of the flamboyant variety) have arrived and just blended. None of the gossip, none of the wild rumours. In fact, most are now welcomed with open arms on the assumption they’re probably fun, like a drink and throw a good party. That’s because knowledge is everything.
For years we’ve been the house on the street where children come play with the (many) dogs, where they’re welcomed to use the heated pool- where we work from home so if they need something their parents tell them to come to us. A far cry from the stereotypes that were attributed to gay men in the past. Yesterday we were sitting with a friend in the pergola as her eight year old daughter threw the kong toy in the garden. We saw her being brought home from the hospital. We watched her start speaking. First French, then Spanish and English, now Swedish. When her brother died, they all came here to not be alone after hearing the news. One day we’ll probably see her get married.
No trauma has been had by her growing up in the vicinity of an openly gay couple. I think all concerned would agree it’s been quite the opposite. The little girl told us yesterday we’re her favourite neighbours anywhere and I make the best sandwiches. None of the parents we know have ever had any qualms regarding their children being in our company- and that’s because they know something that the bigots don’t want to know. That we’re people, we’re human. That sexual orientation isn’t the be all and end all of ANYTHING, except of sexual orientation itself.
And it’s not just because we’ve arrived at this point that we should sit back and enjoy and leave everyone else hanging. I feel a personal responsibility to keep going, to keep pushing, to make it so others in our community, far and wide, are able to live in a less hostile world. Something we’ll only be able to accomplish if we fight back against the nefarious efforts of the anti-gay brigade.