“One day you’ll celebrate with people who will give thanks for all of you and at that moment, you’ll feel what it’s like to be loved fully”, shared my dear friend Gary. His Mom, sister, partner and the first man I ever fell in love with, Jeffry, gathered around that dinner table. It was my first Thanksgiving as an out gay man.
It took me 30 years to gather around a Thanksgiving dinner table not pretending to be straight. Up until that point in my life, only a part of me showed up for holiday celebrations. At that dinner, as we each took a moment to share what we were most grateful for, while all holding hands, I could feel the love as I stared at each new friend and said, “I give thanks for being gay.” I had come out only a month and a half earlier.
At the heart of this gathering was the absence of Gary’s Father, who was fighting for his life with cancer in a nearby hospital. Gary’s Mom, Audrey, reminded me of the importance of being surrounded by people who really know us, see us and embrace all of who we are. With a gentle, graced filled voice she said, “Let us be your family on this Thanksgiving.”
One of the quirky memories of that day was a turkey figurine that had toothpicks sticking out of its butt. I made some inappropriate joke about butts and everyone laughed giving me some semblance of credit for my attempt at gay humour. After all, I was new to all of this. It was a dinner I would never forget and a figurine I’m stilling tracking down so I can buy it.
What warms my heart still, even as I reflect on a twenty four year old memory, is that those people who gathered on that day, changed my life. They set the bar for authenticity and freedom in my life. Not only did they embrace and love me, they really had no idea who I was. My entire world that I left behind when I shared with them I was gay, just a couple of months before, was gone.
I marvel at how precious life’s moments are when, either by conscious choice or circumstance, they suddenly change. There I was in 1987 married, gathered around my mother in-law’s dining room table with my wife, numerous brother and sister in-laws and remembering now how absent I was. I’m now able to see the energy I expended just to stay unconscious and hope no one asked me what I really wanted to be grateful for.
I remember the sensory, emotional and intellectual overload from the entire dinner. I wanted to sop up every bit of wisdom this new found “family of choice” had to offer me. I was in awe of how everyone present was exactly who they were. For the first time in my life I had a reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Today I am present to joy in my life that has risen from the story I made up that I could never be grateful or express thanks for who I am. It is a dynamic connected to the stigma of being in the closet. Although Thanksgiving is wrapped up in a Christian tradition of giving thanks to God, it is Christianity that has called for the death of gay people for 2500 years. Is that really cause for celebration?
I remember the closet being a cold, dark and lonely place (albeit with the occasional fabulous outfit hung up in it). My sense today even with gay pride, Adam Lambert, The L Word, Ellen and Portia, Glee, Milk and Brokeback Mountain that many of my friends sitting at Thanksgiving dinner tables, still feel stuck inside.
The only way I can help and support them is to be free from my own stuckness. Gary, Momma (as she affectionately allowed me to call her), Stewart, Pat and Jeffry were suddenly on my side. I created the support I needed to fight my fight of inner homophobia and energetically speak up for all the fags, dykes, queens, queers, homos and sinners that could not.
I left one family and found my real family. They had my back. They helped me live out loud. They inspired me not to hide or lie but to live in a way that allows my gay light to shine.
Although Gary, Momma, and Gary’s Dad no longer gather, physically, around the Thanksgiving dining room table, the message delivered to me without muss, fluff or sugar coating was that – “We love you just the way you are.” Thank you Jeffry for inviting me to my first gay Thanksgiving. I love you.