I separated from my wife a year and a half ago so that I could begin my life as a gay man. We were determined to still spend important holidays together, mostly for the sake of our son. Yesterday was the second Thanksgiving since our separation that we celebrated as a family, in the home we own. My parents came to Washington, DC and stayed overnight, at the invitation of my wife, in our home. My wife’s family: parents, sister, brother and his family and in-laws, along with a few other invited guests attended the event in our house. A house I have not lived in for a year and a half.
For me this year felt different than last year. Last year I had only been separated five months and it was new. Last year I was just happy that people were friendly to me. This year my life has progressed significantly and yet all of the components of my new life were absent. Not one person asked me anything about my life. Other than, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’, there was not a single question about anything in my new life other than questions about my job. The silence felt claustrophobic and at a certain point, when I had put in a full appearance, left to be with friends.
The coming together of family can be strained in the best of circumstances. My wife’s family had always been warm to me, but this Thanksgiving I had not seen her brother or sister for a year. Both were cool to me and slowly warmed up as the evening went on. While I still love my in-laws and enjoy being with them, the entire extended family scene is no longer my world.
My world has become very active in the gay community, both through my job and outside of work. The silence of the crowd about my life inferred a kind of shame within me. Is my world so bad that no one dares to discuss it with me? Are they too uncomfortable with the topic of my life and what it has become? Have I entered the world of the leper in their eyes, and they tolerate me only because of my wife? For me Thanksgiving had the discomfort of the unspoken. A merriment that was so disconnected from my new life.
Today I went over to my house to have breakfast with my wife and parents. My son was still asleep while we ate breakfast. It was easy and comfortable, but no difficult topics were discussed. Later I took my parents to the train for their return home. My parents commented on how both my brother and sister in law had been very cool to them in the early part of the evening, and only warmed up slowly.
As I pulled out of Union station after dropping off my parents, a wave of anxiety hit me. Rather than run from the anxiety as I might have done in the past, I tried to just sit with it and see what it was about. I was led back to the question of shame and the deep anxiety it can bring. Now to be fair, I am re-listening to the book, The Velvet Rage, which has shame in gay men as it central tenant. So shame is very much on my mind, but I still wondered. Was the way my life was ignored over Thanksgiving bringing up all the old feelings of shame about being gay? I think so.
And yet I am proud of my life today. I am proud of the life I have created. I am grateful for the friends I have made and for all that I have learned in the last year. I do think that the deep shame gay men often can feel from a very young age is often not too far from the surface, and can be triggered by old subliminal messages, particularly from family. But I have no reason to feel ashamed about my life or my choices. I am proud of who I am today and the honesty I have tried to have about my life.