‘Children confiscate your mask, leaving you far more exposed than lovers can’
Life Magazine, May 1983. Photograph by J. Ross Baughman.
From The Threepenny Review:
A few months ago, I had to go through all of my photo albums, starting from early childhood, in conjunction with a film project with which I am involved. The photos taken before I turned eighteen felt as though they were of someone I knew only vaguely; images of other people in those albums conjured more emotion than those of me. The photos taken between the time I left for university and the time I met John filled me with paralyzing nostalgia for the exhilarating, difficult times in which I became myself. The ones from the past fifteen years, since John and I found each other, felt so recent that it was hard to credit them with being documents of the past at all.
Though my meeting John was the beginning of an authentic claim on happiness, our early years together found me still only an intermittent champion of gay pride. Then we had children. Children confiscate your mask, leaving you far more exposed than lovers can. You can manipulate the valences of your own concealment, but once you have children, you have to bear in mind how your point of view becomes theirs and you are morally obligated to become an exemplar of self-esteem. No one much wants to be belittled, but we tolerate slurs surprisingly often for ourselves; for our lionized children, we demand freedom from insult. I’d had a facile answer when people asked me whether I had a wife but had to summon a more vigorous one when they now asked whether my son had a mother, because while the first question sometimes seemed patronizing, the second often seemed accusatory.
Gay parents are habitually made to feel that we must somehow love our children twice as much as anyone else to prove we have the right to be parents at all.
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