“I don’t think he wants to be found,” I said.
October 28, 2018 7:47 PM   Subscribe

I knew that our problems were similar. Not because being gay and being trans are so alike in nature: they’re not. But because George seemed to want something impossible, too.
posted by Elementary Penguin (21 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for sharing this. It gave me a lot to think about.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:35 PM on October 28, 2018

Seconded. A really interesting piece. Thank you for posting this.
posted by great_radio at 9:47 PM on October 28, 2018

Thanks for sharing this. <3
posted by ethical_caligula at 11:45 PM on October 28, 2018

Thanks for sharing this.

I hurt for how many of us suffer simply because we are who we are and our culture has our judgement already embedded, and those around us end up conduits for this unthinking rejection.

When you're not "normal", feeling at home, comfortable, unselfconsciously relaxed is a very rare experience.

Even if you're accepted, it can still feel like you've just been granted a place in the grudgingly tolerated freak bucket.

And so much sometimes you can want to go away and not be anywhere you have to pay attention to the "special" you people who see themselves as different from you will always know you as. You don't want to be reminded of the strain by the other seen reflected in their faces.
posted by allium cepa at 12:23 AM on October 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

This is really lovely, thank you.

One of the parts that hit especially hard:
"I didn’t technically lose anyone to the AIDS crisis, and yet I did. I lost people who, had they lived, might have loved me. Whom I might have loved. When I think about AIDS, I can’t help thinking—selfishly, to say the least—that I might have had more fathers."

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much the straight perception of a huge boom lately in queer and trans folks owes to the AIDS crisis. That it seems now like there's tons of queers because we forgot how many we lost, that this is actually just the right and normal amount of queers for there to be. How much easier it might have been to grow up in a world where many, many more of my elders had survived, where queer and trans folks a decade or several older than me weren't so often bitter and deeply traumatized.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:08 AM on October 29, 2018 [33 favorites]

Thanks very much for posting this, as the bi father of a trans and gay son it really hits home.
posted by mikelynch at 5:34 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


We have words for people who track people who don't want to be found and shout at those people in their workplaces, and those words aren't "friend." It doesn't seem like the author quite wants to acknowledge his dad's creepiness.

If I am sick and dying, anyone who tries to help stalkery assholes reconcile with me can go eat a bag of dicks.

I'm so tired of queer tragedy, of isolated queers and their feelings about parents who don't support them. Enough. Sing if you're glad to be trans, like the speech goes. Leave your bad feelings about people who don't like you but feel entitled to your affection at the bottom of a lake.
posted by bagel at 6:02 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't know, this article is projecting all over a person and a situation the author did not know well at all, and I'm not really a fan of treating real people as props in a journey of self-discovery.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:56 AM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think its not fair to say the author didn't know George well enough to write this piece. Clearly he was a formative part of their youth, and the author's prediction of George's reasons for staying away show that their understanding wasn't just projection. Beyond that the larger conclusions about queerness and secretiveness, about feeling nominally supported but also pushed away, maybe by latent discomfort, ring true to me in a way that I'm still digesting.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Certainly there's a lot here that resonates, tho I think I'd be reckless to say too much about a subject I only know of by second- and third-hand reports. I am struck by the degree to which—if the author is reporting accuractely—the author's father's relationship with his friend suggests something unresolved, not necessarily sexual, but some need for validation. That's interesting because it feels like the author's father, the author Anthony Giardina, worked much of this into his 2001 novel, Recent History, (NYT review; Advocate review) a novel about a child whose father leaves his family for another man and the effect that has on the straight?/bi? man the child grows up to be. Robert Birnbaum interviewed Anthony Giardina on the topic of Recent History here. Some of it's interesting; some of it feels like a straight guy opining on gay and women's sexuality. Like Richard Ford, who he most reminds me of, his concerns seem to be with mapping and probing the boundaries and barriers of cis-heterosexual male intimacy.

Might be fruitful to read Henry Giardina's piece in conjunction with Thomas Page McBee's "The Problem With the Wrong Kind of Trans Visibility" in yesterday's Times.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:59 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

From that interview with Anthony, the father: "It’s just a guy who feels, as anyone would feel, who could not say, “Maybe there is something unexplored in me? Maybe there is a road I just never took. And that would have taken me to the truth?” This is a damn mess. octobersurprise, your links solidified the uncomfortable impression I got from Henry's piece, that George was an unacknowledged third partner in Henry's father's marriage. It seems like Henry was feeling his way around wondering if George and Anthony had a sexual relationship, if George was a totem of Anthony's unresolved/closeted queerness, what was really going on between these men that made Anthony feel so entitled to stalk George at hospitals or his workplace-- I kind of feel like we're going to get another essay from Henry about this in a few years when one or both of his parents tells him more about what was going on with their relationship with George.

Gossip aside, Henry's piece is really haunting-- the echoes of the dead potential fathers, that feeling of being the ghost haunting your family-- and I think he's the better writer in his family, and I'm hoping to see more from him.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm also so reminded of Alison Bechdel's autobiographical work-- that collecting of clues and signals to a mystery you need to solve, that desperation for something solid when an out, LGBT child is exploring their youth in the home of a gay or bi or trans parent-- you don't really know which it is, and maybe never will-- who is clearly queer but refuses to come out of the closet. What it does to someone to have this vital, central piece of your own living identity be something that's been something like the family ghost, a presence that is evident but can't be named, during the entirety of your childhood? Alison never got the chance to resolve that haunting with her father; I really hope Henry gets the opportunity to do it with Anthony. From that interview: "About the autobiographical nature…it’s always struck me that this is the last taboo for men. That women can sit around at a dinner party and talk about what they did in childhood and adolescence and whatever their lives are now. It’s something we accept, but for men they cannot talk about it." I'm really pulling for Anthony to get it together and talk about it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:35 PM on October 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

IDK I hate to derail but I get the same frustration reading that Anthony Giardina interview I get with Michael Chabon or any of these extremely campy bi guy authors who make a big deal out of obsessing over masculinity and not wanting to integrate their bi experiences as young men into an adult identity, and who now have extremely queer children who they support while simultaneously alienating them by refusing to own their own queerness. Come on, Boomer/Gen X married bi writers, it isn't a dirty word, get it together, you're giving your children a complex.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Inspired by the links from octobersurprise I checked out Recent History from the library and read it and I am not going to be that person who mistakes a novel for autobiography, but I do think life in the Giardina household may have been complicated. Autres temps, autres mœurs.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:46 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just for the record, a couple of peeps have mentioned hospital stalking. But according to the article George reached out to Anthony when he was dying. Anthony stalked him at work, not the hospital. Not justifying or anything! Just clarifying what is the correct scope of the stalking charge.
posted by great_radio at 8:32 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

"--my wife tells me not to use the word the ‘specter’ of homosexuality — but I do think homosexuality is frightening to those of us who are living essentially heterosexual lives. Like anything is a threat. Like having an affair with a woman. It hovers." I'm sorry, this is just not the thought process of a straight person. It's impossible for me to not read Anthony as bisexual, or queer in some way. I'm sorry to keep coming back to this thread, I promise this is the last.

It seems to me like the trauma of the AIDS crisis robbed Henry not just of potential other fathers and queer elders, but some crucial part of his own father, who retreated from the queer tragedies and losses of his generation into a place his son could not find him. Not just retreated from queerness into a marriage with a woman, but into heteronormativity, into what Henry described as "perfect, textbook heterosexuality [...] one intolerant, blind heart"-- a heteronormativity so locked down that it that it pushed away both George, a man he literally begged and raged at God to return to him, and his own son. Into unconsciously framing queerness as tragedy, loss, "kinship, closeness, the beginning of building a world all their own—and then death." If I try to imagine that moment Henry describes in Provincetown from Anthony's point of view, being someone who could disappear at will into a straight life, sitting on the steps of your dead gay friend's bookstore, in silence with your very young and very obviously queer child, I can't even imagine the heartbreak and fear. It's a wound that I really hope this family manages to heal, even after one key member of it has passed away.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:26 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

This spoke to me:

George was someone who simply didn’t want to be seen if he couldn’t be seen as perfect, or upstanding, or successful. This is the opposite of a textbook fair-weather friend. Rather than being a friend who leaves at the first sign of your trouble, George left at the first sign of his own. The idea of asking the people who loved him to bear witness to what he saw as his failure or weakness was, it seemed, too much.
posted by rory at 4:46 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Just chiming in to say how much the comments here are enriching my experience of having read Henry Giardina's piece. Especially as heteronormative baby talk ensues on the commuter rail I'm sitting on. Thank you.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

George's central problem, as narrated by Henry reminds me of my own. I knew I was gay when I was 5, with absolute certainty despite not knowing what gay was, in 1979. I "gathered clues" throughout my childhood and adolescence- I remember a Love Boat episode where Doc has an old college buddy come on board to visit only to discover his womanizing old pal is a "homosexual". I actually looked the word up in the dictionary, laser focused on the idea that this was finally what I was. I remember laying in bed so many nights at age 8, 9, 10, wracked with anxiety, certain that in a minute, I would get up, calmly wake up my mother and tell her I thought about girls the way I was supposed to think about boys. But I never did. Instead, I learned something else. To shove it away, to hid it, to lie- to myself and to everyone else, to prophylactically lie, to pave the road with lies. And so I had a boyfriend in high school and a boyfriend in college, and my roommates thought I would be the first to get married only deep inside I knew I never would, never could. Eventually, certain that I would explode if I didn't, I crept out of the closet at 24 and never looked back. Except...that I kept that habit of lying, to myself and to everyone around me. I didn't have to lie about being gay anymore, but I lied about everything else. It was a shit coping mechanism to learn as a kid, and I just honed it and honed it into my adulthood. I'm in therapy, dear god am I in therapy, trying to desperately unwind this horrible manipulative habit that has helped me destroy relationships with two good people, distanced me from most or many of my friends and left me uncertain as to who I really am. Thank god for therapy and sobriety, I'm learning and growing finally at 44, and it actually doesn't feel too late, but its a lesson I certainly wish I'd never had to learn. And George acted it out differently but I feel certain it was the same. He disappeared. I did that too, rather than disappoint, you just make off like a ghost, I've done it over and over again. Whatever the reason was staying is the hard thing to do, its the honest thing to do, and I'm learning it takes a whole new set of emotional muscles. Great writing.
posted by turtleturtle at 10:15 AM on October 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

I remember a Love Boat episode where Doc has an old college buddy come on board to visit only to discover his womanizing old pal is a "homosexual".

I haven't thought of that episode in years but I saw it too. I had heard kids at school talking about the Village People being gay and kind of knew what it meant. But I used this as an opportunity to confirm the meaning with my mom. After she defined it, I casually and shamelessly said "That's what I am." I was 8 years old!

I'd have to come out again 8 years later. I'd be much more ashamed that time. Ugh.
posted by great_radio at 8:47 PM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

turtleturtle thank you for that story. I appreciate its intimacy and honesty.
posted by bendy at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

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