“I Love Carson Kressley!” How LGBTQ Visibility Helped Bridge A Family’s Divide.

by atu darko

My name is Atu Darko and I’m from the Bronx, New York.

I grew up in an immigrant family, in an immigrant community. So my parents are immigrants from Ghana, a small country in West Africa. The environment that I grew up in was really great and loving and I had friends from all over, but it was also very conservative. So I grew up in a household that went to church regularly.

I was also in the choir, and I did notice that the choir director, who was a person I admired greatly, acted a little bit differently from the other members of the church and the church community. My father, who was also in the choir, one day was at home speaking to my mother in the kitchen. I came in and I mentioned the name of the choir director and looking forward to seeing him at the next practice.

I remember my mother say to him and to me, “Oh, I think he’s a gay.”

And my father saying, “Yeah, I think so, too. He behaves a little bit like a woman and that’s terrible.” I remember feeling really shocked about that. So though my parents didn’t speak in a homophobic way often, that was the first occasion where they really gave a sense that they disapprove of homosexuality or that was something aberrant, or something that definitely is not for them or their children.

Fast-forward a few years, I’m in my early twenties and I finally met the first love of my life. His name was Gregory. Gregory was doing an MBA at Wharton. I thought, you know, living in Philadelphia – I actually was living with Gregory in Philadelphia at the time.

I said, “You know, Gregory, I think our relationship is serious and you can really help me with something. I think it’s time to let my parents know that I’m gay.” I chose Thanksgiving as the perfect time to do so and I brought him home. My parents were used to me bringing friends home of different races and backgrounds, so bringing a white man home with me about my age was not strange to them. But during the meal, they could see signs that Gregory and I had a relationship. They are very polite people so during the meal, they definitely asked no questions and made no comments.

But towards the end of the meal when I had a moment with my mother alone in the kitchen, she asked me very directly, “Is Gregory your boyfriend?”

I said, “Indeed, he is my boyfriend. We’re very much in love.” My mother said nothing there. We went on with our weekend together. Everything was fine.

The fact that I did reveal that I was gay never came up again until several days later when my mother called me and gave a very negative reaction and so worried and the first thing she said was, “I don’t want you to die of AIDS.”

Over time, I did bring other boyfriends home and they were always welcoming to whomever I brought home. However, they wouldn’t ask, “Is that your boyfriend? Are you in love? What does your future look like romantically?” Those questions disappeared.

I did move to Europe subsequently and I was in Europe for many years. One day, I was home for a family visit in New York City. I was just sitting in the living room with my parents and they were watching television. They were watching Dancing with the Stars. The moment that I sat down, a man named Carson Kressley, who back in the day was the host of a breakthrough show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, was the star of Dancing with the Stars and he was about to do his great dance.

My mother jumped up and said, “I love Carson Kressley!”

I said, “You do, Mom?”

She’s like, “Yes! I love watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

I go, “Mom, are you okay? You’ve seen Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?”

“Yes. I wish Carson would go shopping with me! He’s got just as good taste as I do.” I was shocked. I stood shocked and I said nothing. When I saw her react to Carson Kressley and I saw how much she admired him, I knew that that was sort of a turning point for her as well, seeing that Carson Kressley is not only the coolest guy on the planet, but he’s also a gay man and that’s not a problem.

We watched the rest of the program and my mother and father were cheering for Carson. I don’t remember if he won that day, but I just remember thinking, “Oh my God, have they totally turned around about me being gay?” However, I didn’t bring it up directly.

I remember when I first brought my now-husband home to my parents and I gave them some warning. They did know that I had married but my parents did not attend the wedding.

I said, “Mom, Dad, I’m coming for a visit and I’m bringing my husband. Would you like to meet him?”

My mother said, “Yes, of course. We’d like to meet anyone that’s important to you in your life.” This was about a year ago. I brought him home and I could see a major change in how they were acting with him. Perhaps because we wore rings, because we had the label of marriage – I’m not sure what it was – but they definitely treated him like a more integral part of our family.

Since then, my husband has attended lots of family gatherings. Mind you, he’s white – a white Belgian man. And he’s been at gatherings where there are four hundred Black African people and he’s the only white man and every woman on the dance floor wants to have a dance with him.

Watching my family sort of evolve as being more accepting towards gays – and perhaps they actually always were accepting to gays, so the first point is perhaps my realization that they are actually more open than I thought – helped me want to spend more time with my family, help me understand that family can be part of a gay relationship. Now with that transition that I’ve seen in myself and in my parents, it makes me want to be around family more.

People do change, people can change. I think an important element was the fact that they had exposure to gay media that was not there when I was a kid. But over time, the visibility of gay people as normal people, professional people and happy people has affected how they treat gay people.

And just seeing me as a fairly stable, normal person who’s had quite a nice, adventurous life, I think that really put them at ease about gay life. And finally, them seeing me in a happy marriage with a good person that they themselves admire, I think that was the icing on the cake.

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