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Popular Topics in Literature
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James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.
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Frank Bruni's Beautiful Essay
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/23/12
Last updated on: 12/23/12
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Frank Bruni.

On December 23, 2012, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni published a beautiful essay about his father's coming to accept his son's homosexuality. The essay is deeply personal and provides a poignant portrait of the dynamics of a particular family, but the father's growth is placed within the context of the nation's movement toward acceptance of homosexuality, and the essay has universal application, especially for gay men and lesbians who have had problematic relationships with their fathers.

Bruni's "A Father's Journey" begins with this telling paragraph: "FOR a long while, my father's way of coping was to walk quietly from the room. He doesn't remember this. I do. I can still see it, still feel the pinch in my chest when the word 'gay' came up--perhaps in reference to some event in the news, or perhaps in reference to me--and he'd wordlessly take his leave of whatever conversation my mother and my siblings and I were having. He'd drift away, not in disgust but in discomfort, not in a huff but in a whisper. I saw a lot of his back."

Like most young men of his generation, Bruni came out first to his mother, the "freer spirit" who insisted that she would tell his father, who was emotionally taciturn. His father seemed unable to discuss his son's homosexuality. "I was sure that he'd resolved simply to put what he'd learned about me out of his mind and pretend it didn't exist." But Bruni now knows, "I was wrong. He was mulling it over, trying to figure it out."

Indeed, Bruni's father made the same journey that the country has been making.

Bruni writes, "at some point Dad, like America, changed. I don't mean he grew weepy, huggy. I mean he traveled from what seemed to me a pained acquiescence to a different, happier, better place. He found peace enough with who I am to insist on introducing my partner, Tom, to his friends at the golf club. Peace enough to compliment me on articles of mine that use the same three-letter word that once chased him off. Peace enough to sit down with me over lunch last week and chart his journey, which I'd never summoned the courage to ask him about before."

On the one hand, the journey simply confirms the truism that when straight people know openly gay people, the less intolerant they become. But Bruni renders the evolution with sensitivity and in telling detail.

I was struck by the fact that while Bruni does not express any shame for his homosexuality, he does admit that he "had long felt a measure of guilt about the extra burden I'd confronted [my father] with, the added struggle." By the end of the essay, however, that measure of unfairly imposed guilt is beautifully assuaged by the father's simple and revealing statement of acceptance.

Bruni's essay is must reading because the relationship between gay and lesbian children and their parents is so frequently fraught with all sorts of anxieties.

Coming out to parents is one of the primary sources of stress among glbtq youth. Many young people fear negative reactions from their parents, including losing financial support and and even being disowned. Even when they are not utterly rejected, they are often made aware that they have deeply disappointed their parents.

Until recently, most gay and lesbian adults conducted their relationships with their parents in the spirit of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The child's homosexuality was something known but not acknowledged or at least not discussed.

That reticence may have avoided some painful discussions and the revelation of some home truths, but it also compounded the guilt and shame felt by the child and, to some extent, by the parents.

It has frequently been noted that sexual minorities differ from racial, ethnic, and national minorities, who may face discrimination and disdain, but who develop within their families important systems of support and nurturance. In contrast, glbtq individuals generally grow up in families in which their minority sexual orientation or gender identity is concealed, ignored, or condemned. Hence, they often receive little or no support from their families, especially during the crucial and often traumatic coming out process.

Moreover, since most parents are heterosexual and may have imbibed the larger culture's misinformation about sexual minorities, they are frequently ill prepared to understand and accept their glbtq children.

However, one of the most positive consequences of the national conversation about the movement for equal rights is that parents have become more knowledgable about homosexuality and many have openly embraced their glbtq children. Hence, the journey made by Bruni's father is by no means an isolated event.

Indeed, the support of parents and siblings has played an important role in the recent social and political gains achieved by the glbtq community.

In the clip below, Bruni comments about the country's march toward equal rights in an appearance on MSNBC's Alex Wagner show.

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