The following was shared earlier today with Tim Seelig, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The moment is too dear to keep so private.
This is going to get a little personal and a bit long; you have been warned.
I came out to my parents when I was 27. It was a difficult decision to make, but there was an attempt by an ex-partner to blackmail me into supporting him after the breakup by threatening to tell my parents the whole lurid story of our relationship. No one threatens me. So, one morning after work (I slaved along in the graveyard shift, working in hotels, in those days), I took a couple Valium, and drove the 65 miles from SF to Tracy. To make this long story a little shorter, let’s just say things didn’t go too well that January morning. But, the situation improved over time, even over my father’s insistence that, had he forced me to go deer hunitng, I wouldn’t have turned out queer. Yes, we do have redneck club in California – my father was Sergeant-at-arms!
My mother died just over 3 years later. But, before the terminal illness fully manifested itself, she asked me to promise never to tell the family that I was gay…not my brothers, not the aunts and uncles and the hoards of cousins. It was a promise she should have never asked me to make and one I should have refused. But I agreed. And even after she died, I kept that promise. I never did anything to directly inform the family about my sexuality. Mind you, I never did anything to hide it, either. I handled the situation by cutting myself off from my family. If who I was had to remain hidden from them, then I had to live my life away from them.
Two years after she died, I joined the chorus. My mother would have been happy that I was singing again, though I don’t know if she would have approved of the association; I will never know. Yet, I was sorry she couldn’t have lived to come to a concert. She had a glorious soprano voice. In another time and place, she could have been on stage; she was that good. So I think pride in her son may well have outweighed her disapproval of his lifestyle. Since I was still keeping that promise, I could never invite my brothers or the extended family to a performance. My father simply wasn’t interested. So, while friends and acquaintances and associates often attended an SFGMC concert with me on stage, my family was never in the audience.
Over time, I began reconnecting with my family, first with my youngest brother, and then with my oldest cousins. My cousin Don, the eldest of the 11 grandchildren and 20 years older than I, found me about 5 years ago. A simple computer search found me on the roster of SFGMC. He called the office and Tony managed to connect us. That Don showed no indication of disapproval or surprise, for that matter, encouraged me to be frank with him in our first phone conversation. The walls began to crumble. The wonder that is Facebook has helped me find other first cousins and 3 nephews and second and third cousins. Since my life is on open book on Facebook, the secret is no longer being kept.
Fast forward to the most recent holidays. Don’s son, Michael, who lives in Las Vegas, informed me that he was coming home to Redwood City for Christmas and extended an invitation for me to join him and the family for the day. It was the first holiday I have spent with my family since 1982. When the subject of SFGMC found its way into the conversation, I was told, in most uncertain terms, that I was to inform them about the next concert because they had every intention of being there.
In July I will celebrate my 30th anniversary singing in the chorus. In March, my family will be in the audience at Davies to hear me sing. I cannot fully express the joy I feel.