America is decades past the Very Special Episode phase, when a prime-time discussion of gayness had public-service overtones. Back then, most televised gays were camouflaged as witty warlocks or fastidious professors.
Fast forward to last week, when CBS dumped one gay-themed sitcom (there are several) called “Partners.” The series died because of a business decision not as a zeitgeist correction.
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Thanksgiving coaxes gays to visit their families, but also to revisit who they once were, the kid who tried to be like everyone else at the table. In my past, I was always a faulty heterosexual. Some in my family saw it early, some late.
I could be amusing: When I was barely 3, they used to put on marching music just to watch me stomp around. And I could be solemn: A babysitter swears she came to get me from a nap, and I was standing up in my crib, looking out the window, singing “Mrs. Robinson.” My brothers were captains of every sport, while I was classified as “something else,” stated with a smile and a head shake.
Outsiders tend to see what’s what and who’s who. My sister-in-law wore a knowing expression, back when I would get into some cooking flurry around the holidays. Everything I made was en croute. I was distracting myself and others from the fact that I wasn’t doing what my Irish Catholic family has long done: going forth and multiplying.
At our Thanksgiving table, being solo was not that unusual. There are Irish bachelors and unmarried aunts in my family tree; there was a priest and a few nuns. Not one of them was gay or lesbian. I was noticeably different.
My father had an uncle who was a boisterous police clerk. As a child, he had polio, and it made him devout. One holiday, at my grandmother’s house in West Baltimore, he congratulated me on getting into the Jesuit high school that every male relative had attended. Then he offered me an inducement: Enter the priesthood, and he’d put $1,800 in my bank account.
For my great-uncle, that sum was a generous gesture, meant to protect his cherished nephew’s youngest son. Back then, the diocese rarely mentioned homosexuality with today’s echoing intensity. But as a news-obsessed kid, I was transfixed by the men protesting Cardinal John O’Connor in the middle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the peak of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s. Without having acted on my impulses, I felt I was down to two options: I could be a priest or a protester.