In the late 1980s, I was involved in a New York City-based philosophy that stated through the study of their philosophy that men could change from homosexuality to heterosexuality. I studied this philosophy for a few years and as one might guess, I did not change.
As part of studying this philosophy, I was encouraged to tell my family about ‘my change’ and to tell family, about my ‘unbounded respect’ for the founder of the philosophy who was bringing on this momentous change in my life. This intro gets me to the point of this essay, telling my aunt, my mother’s sister, about the philosophy and my change.
My aunt was an interesting character. As a small child less than two years of age she contracted polio. My grandmother found a woman who used the Sister Kenny treatment. Sister Kenny’s treatment was unorthodox at the time and considered controversial. Treatment involved hot packs on the muscles and exercise of the affected limbs. My aunt recalled screaming in pain as she received what sounded like the equivalent of deep tissue massage as a small child. From an article about Sister Kenny, her “method involved using moist, hot compresses to ease muscle spasm pain, eliminating immobilization during the acute phase of the disease, and gently exercising the paralyzed muscles.”
My aunt always walked with a very slight limp that left her embarrassed and ashamed. She never married and lived with her mother, my grandmother for her entire life. We always found her eccentric, never quite seeming to hold down a paying job, but living frugally and elegantly.
As I studied the philosophy, described earlier, I began to come out to my family. I remember sitting with my aunt, I think, in my parent’s house. I had barely said the word ‘homosexual’ when my aunt said, “Oh my dear, mother [my grandmother] and I always knew. I was in the theatre you know and knew many homosexual men.” Well, there it was. I couldn’t hide the gay. My aunt was always someone who felt you needed to do what made you happy and never was negative about my attraction to men.
I’ve always wondered what my parents knew and if my aunt and grandmother had ever discussed this topic with my mother. A few days ago on a visit with my mother, I asked her the. I recounted the story of the conversation with my aunt and then said to mom, “And did you always know too?” She paused for a second, looked thoughtful, and replied, “No I….well, yes I did. I guess I always knew.” I asked her if she ever discussed it with my father. “Your father! He was oblivious. He was only interested in business and world events.” I pressed on, “But did you ever discuss it with him?” At 91 years of age, mom could not remember. She said she assumed she probably had talked to my father but had no memory of it.
I suspect in the world of the 1960s mom never did talk to my father. Telling your husband that you suspect your child was going to be homosexual was not something one did. You held your breath and waited. We think we are doing so well at hiding the gay within but often family and friends seem to know.