I was supposed to go on a long walk with Lidia last Saturday, but I ended up spending a good part of the day in urgent care with my son Carver instead. He’d hurt his thumb at a wrestling meet. By late afternoon, after consultations at two different clinics, we found ourselves in our car in a suburban parking lot, eating lunch from the Panda Express drive-through.
“You know what happened not far from here?” I asked him.
“You were born.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, and looked around the improbable strip mall landscape. We were miles from home, having driven to the suburbs because the clinic near our house in Portland that we’d first gone to couldn’t do an X-ray on the weekend.
“It’s strange to me that you weren’t born in Portland,” I said. “That you were born out here instead.”
“It is strange,” he agreed.
“It’s because this is where the birth center was. And so here we were.”
“And here we are again,” he said.
I looked at him, his seventeen-year-old injured thumb in a splint. The thumb that I’d birthed. I reached over and put my hand on his shoulder and he let me.
A few hours before, I’d been grumpy about my day being derailed—about how a walk I’d planned with a friend had suddenly turned into a trip to two clinics—but now I felt lucky. The unexpected turn of the day had taken something from me, but it gave me something back too, as unexpected turns often do.
I’m answering two letters in this month’s Dear Sugar Letters instead of one. Both are about weddings and in particular about when things don’t go as we expect them to. It was difficult to pare down my selection to only two letters because I receive so many letters about weddings, though the truth is, almost none of them are really about weddings. They’re about the expectations we bring to weddings. In the two letters I’ll be answering—one from a soon-to-be groom and one from a friend of the bride who didn’t make the cut to be a bridesmaid—both writers ask if they’re being selfish to expect what they do.
As always, the Dear Sugar Letter will go out to subscribers by the end of the month (if you’ve not yet subscribed and want to, you can do it here). Have I said thank you lately to those of you who subscribe and comment and send me interesting and sweet emails? If not, here it is: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
There’s one new addition to my events calendar since I wrote to you last month: on June 28th I’ll be interviewed by Joel Ferrell, who is directing the upcoming play production of Tiny Beautiful Things at the Dallas Theater Center. The play was adapted from the book by the fabulous Nia Vardalos and it’s been pretty wonderful to see it coming back onto real, live stages after theaters were all shut down last year. My conversation with Joel is virtual, hosted by the Dallas Art Museum as a part of their Arts & Letters Live program. We’ll discuss all things Sugar, stage adaptations, and the letters that people write to me. If you’d like to join us, you can get your ticket here.
I won’t repeat the other announcements about upcoming events, which I made in the newsletter I sent out last month, but you can always find a listing of the things I’m up to on my website.
It’s Pride Month and I’m sending an extra shot of love and respect to all of you in the LGBTQ+ community. In honor of this glorious month, I’m including below a Dear Sugar column from the archives called “That Ecstatic Parade,” in which I answer a letter from a young man whose parents believe it’s a sin to be gay. I’ve often thought of him over the eleven years since he wrote to me and wondered how was doing. I wish I could say I don’t receive letters like his any longer, but it wouldn’t be true. I’ve often thought of his parents too and wondered if they ever found their way back to their son. To the unexpected beauty he is.
I'm a twenty-one year old guy. I'm in college right now. Though I work full-time to pay for some of my bills, I'm still dependent on my parents for room and board. I also use their car. I have no problem with living with my parents—at least I wouldn't if I wasn't gay. My parents are fundamentalist Christians. They believe that being a homosexual is a "sin" that someone struggles with similar to alcoholism or drug addiction and that gays should repent and see Jesus.
My parents know I'm gay but they don't acknowledge it. They believe I've repented and found Jesus. When I was seventeen, my mom threatened to kick me out of the house because she didn't want "my diseased behavior under her roof.” In order for me to stay at my parents’ house I had to go to Christian counseling to undo my gay-ness. I went, but it did absolutely nothing for me. It only confused me more. I don’t hate my parents, but I strongly dislike them for their treatment of me. They think I'm straight, but they don't trust me. My mom constantly checks on me, often barging into my room seemingly in hopes of catching me doing something. If I go out, I have to tell my parents exactly who I'm with or I won't be able to use their car. They refuse to leave the internet connected if I'm at home alone and they hide the modem when they go to bed because they are afraid that I'll look at "sinful" material that will pull me back into the “gay lifestyle.”
Though I act straight around my parents and sister, I am out to friends and co-workers and also to my brother (who accepts me unconditionally). It's a huge strain to live a double life. I’ve had two gay relationships. My parents know my current boyfriend is gay and they treat him like he's going to re-infect me with his gay-ness.
I would move out, but I can't find any available rooms within my budget. One option that has arisen recently is that a good friend asked if I wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest with her—I live on the East Coast—and I'm seriously considering it. The thing is, I don't want to run away from my problems and I really like the guy I'm in a relationship with, but right now I feel like I'm stuck in a situation that is hopeless. I feel suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides of my double-life. One side would damn me to hell if they found out I was gay. The other side wants me to cut myself off from my family.
Is there any advice you could offer that could help?
Yes. There is something I can offer that will help. I can tell you to get yourself out of that house. You mustn’t live with people who wish to annihilate you. Even if you love them. Even if they are your mom and dad. You’re an adult now. Figure out how to pay the rent. Your psychological well-being is more important than free access to a car.
It’s miserable that your parents are ill-informed bigots. I’m sorry they’ve made you suffer so, sweet pea. There is nothing correct about their ideas regarding homosexuality (or alcoholism or drug addiction, for that matter). We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people. This is what your parents are doing to you. And by choosing to pretend you’re straight in order to placate them, you’re also doing it to yourself.
You must stop. Stopping is not running away from your problems. It’s solving them. In your question you write that you feel “suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides,” but there are not two sides. There is only one and you’re it. The real you. The authentic you. The gay you.
Even if you aren’t ready to come out to your parents yet, I implore you to remove yourself from their company. Pack up your things and go. To the Pacific Northwest, across town, to your wacky cousin’s basement in Tuscaloosa, it doesn’t matter. Just stop living with the people who sent you to re-education camp because they equate your (normal, healthy) sexuality with a disease.
This doesn’t mean you have to break all ties with them. There is a middle path, but it goes in only one direction: toward the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.
Your lunatic parents are going to figure out you’re gay whether you tell them or not. In fact, they know already. They aren’t banishing you from the internet so you won’t watch Scooby Doo, doll. I encourage you to leave your parents’ home not so you can make some giant I’m gay! pronouncement to them, but so you can live your life with dignity among people who accept you while you sort out your relationship with them from an emotionally safe distance. Sooner or later—whether they learn it from you or discern it on their own—your folks are going to have to grapple with the reality that you are a homo beyond (their) God’s reach. It seems that the best-case scenario when this happens is that you will lose their approval. The worst-case scenario is that they will disown you. Perhaps permanently. Which would mean that their love for you hinges entirely on:
· A. Nothing. Because you are their beloved son and their primary obligation to you as your parents is to nurture you and foster your growth, even if you turned out to be someone they didn’t precisely imagine.
· B. Your agreement to refrain from touching other’s men’s man parts.
Wow. Really? Isn’t it so sad and crazy that their answer would be B? I know I’m being a bit glib about it, but only because if I look at it stone cold serious it smashes my heart into smithereens. More importantly, I’m trying to make a point: love based on conditions such as those set forth by your parents is ugly, skimpy, diseased love. Yes, diseased. And it’s a kind of love that will kill you if you let it.
So don’t. There is a world of people out here who will love you for who you are. A whole, vibrant, fucked-up, happy, conflicted, joyous and depressed mass of people who will say, You’re gay? So the fuck what? We want you to be among us. That’s the message of the It Gets Better project. Hold on, it says, and stick it out, because guess what? It gets better.
And true as that is and moved as I’ve been by many of the videos made by gay, lesbian, bi and trans people telling their stories about how exactly it gets better, I think there’s an important piece missing in that message. All those people in the wonderful videos? It didn’t just get better for them. They made it better. Each and every one of those people rose at a moment in their lives—one that is very much like this moment in your life, Suffocated—and at that moment they chose to tell the truth about themselves instead of staying “safe” inside the lie. They realized that, in fact, the lie wasn’t safe. They understood that it threatened their existence more profoundly than the truth did.
That’s when it started to get better for those folks. When they had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.
Some of those people lost jobs because they said that. Some lost family and friends. Some even lost their lives. But in saying that, they gained themselves. It’s a sentence that lives in each one of us, I believe—the one in which we assert that we will be who it is we are, regardless—but sadly it has to live especially strong in you, Suffocated. I hope you’ll find it within you. Not just the sentence, but also all the beauty and nerve that has gotten you this far, so that when you say it, you’ll say it loud and true.
Have you ever been to a LGBTQ Pride parade? Every year I take the baby Sugars to the one in our city and every year I cry while watching it. There are the drag queens riding in Corvettes. There are the queer cops and firefighters all spiffed out in their uniforms. There are the lesbians on bicycles pulling their kids on tag-alongs and trailers. There are the gay samba dancers in thongs and feathers. There are the drummers and politicians and the odd people who are really into retro automobiles. There are choirs and brass bands and battalions of people riding horses. There are real estate agents and clowns, schoolteachers, and Republicans. And they all go marching by us while my kids laugh and I weep.
My kids never understand why I’m crying. The parade seems like a party to them and when I try to explain that the party is an explosion of love that began as a response to hatred, I only confuse them more, so together we just stand on the sidelines, laughing and crying, watching that ecstatic parade.
I think I cry because it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by. People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn’t simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.
Just like Jesus did.