For Pride month 2022, I was asked by Chief Petty Officer Ronald Mejia, Commander of Mine Division 12, San Diego, to speak to a group of Navy sailors about “the history of the struggle of gay people and the hope of an inclusive, tolerant future in our country.” That’s quite a topic to cover in 45 minutes! But I like a challenge, so I said,” Sure”.
Of course, no one person can represent millions of LGBTQ+ folks. What can I, one gay man, say to this group of military men and women about being gay, and, more importantly, what do they want to know? What would be useful for me to share with them? This is the real question. What do (assumedly) heterosexual people need to know about us, the LGBTQ+ people of the world?
I was born in 1953 in a small town in Ohio. Most of you weren’t around then, so imagine LGBTQ+ life almost 70 years’ ago: back then, the word “gay” meant “happy”. Same-sex loving men were “homos”, “queers” or “fruits” as I remember hearing from the adults around me. I wasn’t a very macho boy: I didn’t like hunting and killing animals, but I did like fishing. I didn’t like playing sports, but I did like automobiles. I liked art, reading, animals (dogs, cats, horses, snakes, turtles, fish, etc.) and riding my bicycle all over the county’s back roads.
There were no healthy LGBTQ+ role models that I can remember. The few books I found that mentioned us “homos” described us as pitiful deviants whose future was abysmal. We had no chance at normalhappiness and were expected to slink away from decent, God-fearing heterosexual society and not bring our dirty minds anywhere near their white picket fenced lives.
I told the Navy some of my personal history as an LGBTQ+ young person, but I didn’t stop there.
I wanted to give them a bit of my own background so that I’d get their attention, but I also wanted to give them something practical that they could use to better understand the LGBTQ+ people on their ship and in their families, schools and communities.
First off, I asked them how many of them knew an LGBTQ+ person. Almost everyone raised their hands. This was a good sign. Next, I asked if anyone had an LGBTQ+ person in their family. About a third of them raised their hands. Wow, this may be easier than I thought. Then I asked them: “What’s the difference between LGBTQ+ people and all other ‘minority’ groups?”
This stumped them (it might stump you too). The answer: unlike most minority groups, LGBTQ+ people are usually raised by non-LGBTQ+ people. Most racial, ethnic and religious “minority” children are raised by parents who are similar to them. African American children usually have African American parents. Children who are Jewish or Muslim or Baptist are typically raised by parents who share their religion. Think about it: most people are raised by parents who understand their struggles.
As LGBTQ+ kids, few of us had parents who were just like us. Most of us had heterosexual parents who had no clue who we were. We were raised by people who could not help us prepare for an LGBTQ+ adulthood in a predominantly heteronormative world.
This insight was an “aha” moment for my Navy sailor audience: it hit them like a big ole whump upside the head. They’d never thought about how hard it would be to be raised by people who have no idea who you are and few ideas about how to help you thrive as an LGBTQ+ child, teenager and young adult.
LGBTQ+ kids born now have many more resources to help them. Even if you’re from a rural area, as I was, now you can Google all the information you need and join online chat and support groups. In 1953, you were pretty much on your own.
I told the Navy sailors a lot more, but I’ll talk about that at another time.
If you are an LGBTQ+ person with heterosexual parents, what was it like to be raised by people who had no clue about who you were or how to help you? And what can you do about that today?
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.