By: Laurenne Sala
“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” That’s what they say. I think they should amend this to “What you don’t know won’t hurt you until you find out what it is that you haven’t been knowing.”
Because sometimes it can be really embarrassing when you find out you’ve been believing the wrong truth.
The first time I learned this was in fourth grade on a bus full of Girl Scouts. Singing Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ at the top of our lungs, I realized that their truth was that the lyrics were: We are a part of a Rhythm Nation. My truth was that the lyrics were: We are a part of a big erection.
I’d seen the cassette cover (it said Rhythm Nation) but my ears heard what they heard. I knew my truth. I didn’t actually understand everything about erections at that point. I thought they grew out of rocks because I accidentaly snuck in a porn movie once and saw some lady bent over a rock with a penis growing out of it. Just as she put it in her mouth, which I thought was weird, my mom heard the familiar ‘bom chicka bom bom’ and ran so fast she slid into the VCR like it was home plate. For YEARS after that, I would have died on my sword to persuade you that erections grow from rocks. And that Janet Jackson had something to do with it.
At that time, I also thought that everyone got divorced. I couldn’t wait to grow up, have a big wedding, and then enjoy a pretty amicable separation while I raised my daughter alone. It’s what was normal and true for me.
Even though it went against my divorceé dreams, I was pretty excited when my dad got me a brand new family: A whole big one, complete with Victorian house, a new brother AND a sister! At my mom’s house, I was an only child. My friends were my fingers, my black Cabbage Patch Kid, Ralph, who I rescued from the sale bin because nobody in my racist town wanted the black Cabbage Patch Kid (I was the Harriet Tubman of that K-Mart), and the carpet. I sat behind the couch and talked to the carpet while I gave it haircuts. So, when I got this new brother and sister, I ran to tell the carpet all about them. They were so cool. And they were older. And they had puzzles. And we ate the best best dinners because my dad’s new roommate was so much better of a cook than my mom.
I made sure to tell my mom this every time I came home from the big new Victorian house. Mom! Bruce makes the best grilled cheeses! Mom! They’re so much better than the ones you make.
And my mom just smiled and nodded, surely devastated that her husband had just left her for another man. Bruce. Bruce with the grilled cheeses.
My dad left my mom for another man when I was three. And I had no idea until I was ten. Even though I saw my father and Bruce living together, it never entered my mind that they were gay. Even though his name was Bruce, I still had no idea. I didn’t know what gay was, so to me it wasn’t a possibility.Yes, they shared a bedroom. Yes, they cooked together. Yes, their hands occasionally brushed over one another at the dinner table. But they were just friends because I was little and had NO idea that the truth I learned about love wasn’t the only one. And that there wasn’t a cock growing out of a rock in the backyard.
Many say that gay people shouldn’t raise families because ‘What will it do to the children?’ But I never felt more part of a loving group than I did at Bruce’s house. We broke gourmet bread together. On a tablecloth. It was like Leave it to Beaver (If June Cleaver peed standing up). Bruce even wore an apron. And when I went home to my straight, hardworking mother, I hung out with the carpet.
It was with my gay dads that I shared conversation over dinner. It was with my gay dads that I saw how siblings can be such a calming presence. It was with my gay dads and the whole family that I lazed around the living room, drinking glasses of milk and taking turns playing the piano. It was with my gay dads that I truly felt part of a family.
Unfortunately, Bruce eventually kicked my pops to the curb. And for the next few years, my dad introduced me to boyfriend after boyfriend. And I still had no idea he was gay.
One day when I was ten, my mom took me to a Holiday Inn. I should have known something was up because it wasn’t every day I got to swim in such beauteous waters as were those at the indoor Holiday Inn pavilion. As soon as we put on dresses that evening and ordered Shirley Temples at the fancy hotel restaurant, she laid it on me:
Your dad is gay.
She explained that, for seven years, all the men I had seen my dad with were most likely his boyfriends. I was pissed. And hurt. I knew that my dad was my dad. And I loved him. And I’d loved Bruce and all the other dudes who had given me stuffed animals along the way.
But I could not believe my own parents had perpetuated this fake truth for me all those years. They could have just told me, and I would have been fine. Just like my mom might have corrected me when she heard me singing about erections at the top of my lungs.
I got back at them by being accepting and offering to be my father’s wing man. And I was. I got him a few numbers.
But I think if there’s a lesson here to learn, it’s that gay men make the best grilled cheeses.