When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly face…
Some years ago I found myself in a weird conversation, trying to explain what it was about a certain kind of holiday movie that my Mom loves—she records dozens of them off of certain cable channels and likes to re-watch them. They make my skin crawl, and when I was trying to explain why, the friend kept pointing to a lot of Christmas movies I love that, to them, induced the same sort of eye-rolling they experienced when I described the ones I don’t like.
There were a couple of reasons for the communication mismatch, but I’ve since realized that the biggest one was that I hadn’t correctly identified what was fundamentally common to all these movies that bugged me: most of them are built around some variation of the premise that the only place where people who truly love and understand you is the community in which you grew up.
And for a whole lot of us—especially queer people—that is the absolute opposite of truth.
The real truth is that, here in the big city far away from any of the small towns I grew up in, I am far less likely to have a stranger react with obvious disgust if I introduce my husband as my husband—let alone have them immediately correct me that Michael is my friend. But that’s the reaction I often get not from strangers, but from people who claim to be friends back home.
So, I want to be clear: I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood. There are many people I knew back that that I genuinely loved and admired at the time, and many for which I still feel fondness. But for too many of them it is at best a bittersweet fondness. Because when a person who formed a big part of my life refuses to accept that the person I love and have committed my life to is my spouse—when they claim to still love me yet disapprove of the person I love (not because of who he is, but because of his gender), when they vote for politicians who want to take away what legal rights I have, when they openly talk about how legalizing my relationship is going to result in hellfire raining down on the land—it’s more than a little difficult to believe in their love.
I love my mother. I love my sister. I love my aunts and many other relatives. But I also know that to varying degrees they don’t support my right to live my life openly as a queer person. When I visit the small town where many of them live—the place where I graduated from high school and attended the first part of college—I feel on edge and defensive. And it’s not me being paranoid. From the anti-gay bumperstickers to the casual political comments, it is very clear that some of them only tolerate my presence so long as they don’t realize what I am.
For many of us, our families of origin remain what we might generously call a demilitarized zone—a place where a kind of cease-fire is enforced, though a cold war continues, and unmarked minefields abound.
So that’s why certain holiday movies and songs don’t quite resonate with me the way they do to some. The towns where I grew up aren’t where I’m most likely to find the sunshine of a friendly face. Our blood relatives are not where the light of unconditional love gleams.
So for many of us, the home sweet home is the place we went to when we escaped those communities. The people with whom we are happy in a million ways are the friends and found family we have assembled since growing up and leaving behind the narrow-minded denizens of our communities of origin.
I can get as sentimental and schmaltzy as can be about the family I have found and built since learning to be my true self and live openly. And that might induce eye-rolling for some, but it is not, by any means, something that makes one’s skin crawl.