When Your Parents Figure Out That You're Gay...

Michael Musto

I’m notorious for long having screamed about how everyone should be out and proud, but there’s a fly splashing around in my gay ointment. I never actually had that key conversation with my parents—the one where I sat them down and told them the truth about myself. Mind you, I never hid my sexuality from them or pretended to have girlfriends, but I didn’t make the move to break the gay ice and go there with them either. And there were reasons. First of all, my parents cared about me a lot, but there wasn’t a whole lot of speaking in our household. We were Italian Americans, but we were inadvertently aping the WASP stereotype by keeping things in check and not addressing situations, feelings, and problems through something as silly as words. So why would I suddenly talk about my gay crushes? We didn’t talk about anything.

Furthermore, at the time, my gayness happened to be a shocking occasion that might not have gone over all that grandly in the Musto residence. My first clue was when I was a thriving teen and had a subscription to New York magazine, which happened to do a ground breaking cover story about gay people one fateful week. Well, before I had even gotten to see that issue, my father saw fit to scribble his own bitter take in ballpoint on the cover: “A bunch of sick perverts who should be exterminated!!!” Charming, no? How do you think that made me feel as I came home one evening and reached for the issue I had paid for? I certainly didn’t have the strength to argue with my father, against whom I was powerless, and his irrational fury also set back any thought I might have had regarding being open with them about my own sexuality. I was quaking so hard as I looked at that magazine cover, it’s amazing I still had the strength to be gay in any environment and to forge an out, proud life elsewhere. It’s sad that what could have been a glorious step forward for me—a major magazine covering gays with respect—became a moment laced with all sorts of shame, but it came to define me as I sweatily marched ahead and yearned for acceptance and peace.

Stoically, I even made sure to include my parents in that life—taking them to gay events and introducing them to my LGBTQ friends—with a lack of apologia or explanation that ultimately left them disarmed. My tack, while a tad cowardly in its lack of complete disclosure, proved to be triumphant. It turned out that exposure to the gay world brought out nothing but positivity from my parents. They loved the people they’d met through me—and they loved me too, of course—and totally came around to the point where my mother made sure to tell me she totally approved of gays and wanted all the best for them. It was her coded way of saying she was A-OK about me being gay. Yes, she actually said something before I did—and I never did! (Dad also got in a comment about his and ma’s personal fears about AIDS, which not only made it clear they knew I was gay, but that they were concerned about my future. What’s more, neither of them ever asked me if I had a girlfriend—not onc—-so I quickly came to realize they knew the score). And that’s all that was said on the subject. We’d had the conversation without even having it, and all was fine—I’d stuck to my guns, lived my life, and brought my parents along with my out-ness, which wasn’t ever going to retract itself, even if I couldn’t seem to fully articulate it in front of them. I also had stayed openly gay in all the media (including my own writings), knowing they were observing that and being forced to grow as a result.

My parents had figured out I was gay before I had to say anything about it, and as the world has progressed, that’s something that’s happened more and more to people. With increasing rights and visibility in the air, “Hey, folks, I’m gay,” becomes way less of a land mine (and some of the parents are gay themselves, anyway), so the folks might see nothing wrong in moving things forward before you even get to that point. Parents see you up close and figure stuff out about you—they’re not dumb and are confronted with a lot of information, even if it isn’t always spelled out in brush strokes. Faced with a bunch of puzzle pieces, they often make the leap to assembling them, and then you’ve got to decide how to proceed about this.

I feel you should just flash a big smile and be unequivocal about it. Applaud the completed puzzle. I know this is case-by-case and some people have to worry about repercussions, but generally, you should be braver than I was and simply say, “Yep,” and carry on. Tell them your sexuality isn’t a choice against them—in fact, it isn’t a choice at all. It’s just who you are and you hope they’ll still love you—otherwise, they’re not very Christian (or fill in the blank). This might be a good chance to start talking rather than going back to the pretending and ignoring. And sometimes parents actually say something about your gayness in order to spare you the potential awkwardness of coming out to them—in fact, they’re doing you a favor.

My particular case was very bizarre—and certainly complicated, for someone who always wants to end closets—but to my credit, I let my parents see I was gay, I didn’t back down on my life, and then, when they commented on it, I was proud of them for having advanced. We talked things out through visuals, actions, and codes. There was serious wussiness on my part, but also some tenacity, and the result was spectacular, so I don’t regret the road to get there that much. Each person has their own trek to pride. Please forge your own (while learning whatever you can from me) and say as much as you can.

AND THE BAND PLAYS ON

Let me harken back to the gay dark ages once again: Recent reports had it that Ryan Murphy wants to produce a Broadway revival of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, which is stimulating news indeed. The landmark play—which premiered not long before Stonewall, the movie opening shortly afterwards—involves a catty group of gay friends at a party where they are forced to bare their souls and confront some harsh realities in between alternately licking their wounds and dancing a conga. Some members of the community have long been embarrassed by the play—because it equates gay with unhappy, for one thing—but I find it hilarious, searing, and deeply against the closet in all of its various plot machinations. (And I’m in the documentary Making The Boys, which analyzes its enduring legend). Fresh direction and a crackerjack cast will be needed to underline the show’s relevance, along with the rimming-a-snowman jokes and other birthday party hjinks. So far, names like Jim Parsons and Neil Patrick Harris have been jostled around, expectedly enough. They’re older than the characters were written, but if they did end up doing the show, I’d love to see Harris take on the sharky, self-loathing role of Harold. Having a pretty boy like NPH dig into a whole new hide and dive into ick would be enthralling, in addition to the fact that I’m sure NPH is smart enough to know Harold is a way juicier part than party host Michael, whom he’s been suggested for. As quick witted as Michael is, no one never leaves a Boys in the Band production humming his character.

The other key role—besides Harold—is Emory, the flaming queen, played in the original BITB by the straight Cliff Gorman, who explored a whole other side of himself with his indelible performance. Parsons has been mentioned for the role, and he’d be terrific in anything, but the surprise element just wouldn’t be there. I’d say go with a respected but far from obvious theater type like Michael Aronov or Nick Cordero. And please invite me to the opening.

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