TO ANY LGBT PERSON who isn’t accepted enough in their formative years, here’s the drill: you simply wait it out, and eventually find some real family—in the community, in the nightlife, or simply in the world of like-minded adults. That’s when you’ll emerge into your complete acceptance, leading to a worry-free rest of your life spent being validated by your loving peers. So says the fairy tale. But what happens when the new family you enter into turns out to be as flawed as your old one? These are people, after all, in all their beautiful, fabulous fallibility, and just because they say they accept you for being queer doesn’t necessarily mean they really do—not when you’re a particular type of queer person.
Self-made “families” provide support and comfort for their members, but they can also be riddled with inequalities, since oppressed groups have been known to mirror the outside world and oppress you from within. Your new “family by choice” can prove to be nearly as dysfunctional as the folks you had no say in selecting, the ones who did a well-intentioned job of raising you because the responsibility landed in their laps, so they muddled through the whole process.
My parents loved me a great deal, but way back in residential Brooklyn in the 1960s, having a gay son was not exactly what they’d bargained for. Dad thought gays were perverts, and I’m pretty sure my devout Mom said a lot of silent prayers wishing I wouldn’t turn out the way I appeared to be heading. Both ended up coming around beautifully, but until then I sought acceptance from other families that I was sure would sweep me into their midst and make me feel whole.
Wrong! Going to gay bars in the 1970s—when those places were primarily meccas for sex pickups—was a rude awakening, because I proved to be as invisible as a facemask at Mar-a-Lago. I was young and nubile, but since I was awkward-looking and not exactly built for show, I wasn’t anyone’s idea of a dream date, and I found it hard to find someone to talk to that would even talk back. Some family! As comedian-actor Guy Branum tweeted this past March: “The gay community is full of civil rights advocates who would not speak to me in a club.”
Michael Musto is a longtime columnist and commentator who has written four books, includingDowntown (1986) andFork on the Left, Knife in the Back (2014).