I was so nervous as I dialed my parents’ number that I could hear my own pulse. Part of my hesitance to tell them lay in the fact that my father had a heart attack in May of the previous year and I was afraid that the news would surprise or upset him so much that he would have another cardiac episode.
“Hello?” Mom answered.
“Hi, Mom. It’s Damien. Is Dad there too?”
“He’s up in Poughkeepsie having burgers and beers with your Uncle Tommy. What’s up?”
“Can I actually call you back in a minute?”
“Sure,” my mom replied, sounding more than a little confused. I immediately paced back and forth in my apartment, calling my sister repeatedly and only stopping at the fifth voicemail. I had planned on telling them both at the same time and his absence that evening threw a wrench in my plans. I called my mom back and, after the initial pleasantries, returned to the purpose of my call.
“So I wanted to talk to you, because I know there’s always been this elephant in the room…” And so began my coming out process. Needless to say, my mother – like every gay son’s mother – already knew.
“I kind of always knew,” she said after I told her, “but I never wanted to make you uncomfortable by asking you, just in the 0.0001 percent chance that you might be straight.” I didn’t think about it at the time, but my mother had just given me one in a million odds that I might be straight. There was a greater chance, apparently, that I would be struck by lightening than end up sleeping with a girl.1 This might explain my natural inclination to run to a gay bar the moment a storm hits New York City.
Since I come from a big family, the remaining sexual orientation disclosures took place over the 24 hours. As expected, they were equally uneventful, perhaps because I come from a family of bleeding heart liberal Democrats. Thankfully, no one expressed or even feigned surprise upon hearing my announcement. Everyone was more surprised that I had finally gotten around to telling them, which is exactly the way that I preferred it: a non-event. At no time was this more case than when I told my retiree father, who was the final person to whom I came out.
“So I spoke with Mom last night,” I told him over the phone from my office.
“Yes, I know.”
“Oh, you do?” I was a bit surprised. My father had spent the night at my uncle’s house upstate, and my mother usually leaves the house by 7:30AM to catch the express bus to her job. His voice sounded strong on the phone, so I concluded that the news of my gayness had not caused him to suffer a heart attack.
“Well, she left me a note.” My mother leaves a note for my father every morning. Usually it contains a request that he pick up something from the supermarket, a reminder that he take his pills, or a warning that he not work too hard around the house because it’s such a hot day. Other times, it’s a simple greeting, wishing him a good day. Seldom do her notes reveal a relative’s predisposition to same-sex intimacy.
“What did it say?” My desire to officially declare my sexual orientation to my father had been put on hold momentarily.
“It said, ‘Dear Bill, What we suspected has been confirmed. Love, Kathryn.’”
I laughed to myself at the formal language used in the letter, as though a great mystery had just been solved. Did my parents once work for the Homosexual Detection Department of the Central Intelligence Agency?
No heart attack, no crying, no surprise. Had I given my family more credit, I could have expected this. What I had built up in my mind was, in truth, a non-event, like walking the dog or picking up groceries.
1 “Lightning Strike Probabilities,” National Lightning Safety Institute, Available at http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/probability.html, Accessed on January 31, 2009.