Editor's Letter: Modern Families

1.31.2011

By Aaron Hicklin

Way back in the mists of the last century I moved to Edinburgh to come out. I was 23 and anxious and exhilarated in the same breath. Edinburgh is a small city, and the gay community there was concentrated in a brief strip of caf's and bars, known locally as the pink triangle. At its heart was the Blue Moon (it's still there), and I remember the immense courage I had to summon to walk through the caf's doors'straight into the arms of David, an extroverted, confident linguistics major newly returned from a semester in San Francisco. He was the first gay friend I made, and the fact that he was partnered (as were all the friends he would introduce me to), challenged my own wretched stereotype of gay men as commitmentphobes. I recall, with shame now, how I would find myself reinforcing popular misconceptions by telling friends that while I was attracted to men, I could be 'romantic' only with women. This was nonsense, of course, but years of conditioning had taken their toll. It took many more years and several failed relationships to reverse its pernicious effects. (As I write this, my boyfriend and I are days away from celebrating our 10th anniversary.) The fact is that every straight person grows up surrounded by examples of functioning relationships; few gay people do. Although it's changing (thank you, Modern Family), we still don't have enough love stories in our culture. The absence is misleading. Of the 1,000 people polled for our
first annual sex and relationships survey, a little over half are in a relationship. So why is it the other half that gets all the attention? Because for a long time our relationships were covert, when they were possible at all, driven underground by stigma and hostility. Oscar Wilde was a brilliant man, but a poor role model. His dismal trial and lonely demise have haunted generations of gay men, a cautionary tale with a repulsive message: The penalty for your kind of love is rejection and death. Given the circumstances, it's extraordinary that gay men and women were able to develop healthy relationships at all; the fact that they always have is a testament to our perseverance.

It's not often you get to talk to people about love, but when you do, the experience can be humbling. As we put this issue together there were moments when I felt profoundly grateful to be gay, for it seemed that in the struggle for legitimacy we have truly learned to value our relationships and families as the miracles they are. To quote Rodney Hill, father of Catherine Opie's 9-year-old son, Oliver ('The Opie Bunch'), 'the idea that I could become a grandparent someday was just flabbergasting.' Like many others, Hill grew up in the 1980s when 'family values' was a code for exclusion and our relationships were conducted in the shadow of AIDS. No one in this issue summons that era more eloquently than our cover stars Tom Ford and Richard Buckley ('Tom and Richard Forever') whose first few dates were squeezed in between hospital visits to dying friends. And yet AIDS was also the catalyst for marriage equality, spurring a new generation of activists determined to make sure that we reach a day when people like Edie Windsor ('When Edie Met Thea') will never again have to go through the pain and distress of nursing a partner through ill health and death only to suffer the ignominy and financial hardship of having a 44-year relationship invalidated by the law. This issue emerged as a response to a series of gay teen suicides last fall that galvanized Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, but if there's one thing we learned from the results of our survey, it's that the youngest respondents were likely to be the most liberated when it comes to marriage (some 80% desire it) and having children. It may, in fact, be the first generation that doesn't find the concept of being grandparents 'flabbergasting.' If we are not quite there yet, we get closer every year. Happy Valentine's Day.

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