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I’d not ever been to Apaches in the months since my arrival, so it wasn’t altogether outside any expectation, I suppose, when a random man sat down at my table and just started talking. We were all sitting out on the street. It was a warm night. I could tell he was in his mid-50s, and not nearly as primped or as intentionally casual as most everyone else there. He didn’t immediately seem to belong among us all, there at the gay bar. I figured perhaps he’d stumbled over from Andale’s next door, but nobody flinched and so neither did I. (That’s him, above in the photo, second from left, with Apaches’ owner Geoff, along with his wife Kim, and me.)
There were five or six of us seated there and we’d all self-identified as Canadian. We exchanged the inevitable question: “okay, but where EXACTLY are you from?” where I learned he lives somewhere out in Western Canada. “I got a son and he’s gay,” he said at one point. I rested my chin on my open palm, elbow on the table, and I said, “Tell me about that!”
“Well, he’s my stepson and…” he stopped for a moment, and looked around. “And I kind of wish he could be here right now. To see me here.”
At the gay bar.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, you guys are alright.” He looked around, waved his arm. “I like you. I like you all, but he doesn’t know it. We can’t talk about those things. We had this big thing over Christmas and I just couldn’t really…” He stopped again, and then finally added, “I can’t really say it, you know? That I think he’s okay.”
There were more people at the table. And there was alcohol. Across from him, a younger man, maybe in his late 30s, spoke up. The topic suddenly shifted toward coming out. “I’ve had a lot of people in my hometown ask me, people I used to know, and I just tell them it’s none of their business,” he said. That’s when my jaw dropped.
“It’s not!” he said. “It’s nobody’s business who I have sex with.”
“Well, I suppose that part is true,” I said, and then I turned to our new straight friend. “Here’s what I’ve learned. It tends to be easier to come out when you’re in a relationship. People are prone to hearing the words I’m gay and immediately thinking about sex.” We both glanced over. The other guy was stepping away to find the bathroom. “But when you say, Hey dad, this is my partner, so-and-so then straight people seem to relate, because they know what relationships looks like and your life is more similar to theirs then.
“No,” he said. “That’s not the problem. This guy,” he looked over toward the empty chair across from him, “he doesn’t really get it.”
“Oh,” I said. “So your son is out, but he doesn’t know that you’re okay with it.” He nodded, and I had no choice: I turned into Oprah right then and there.
“Listen…” I said. “I grew up on an Indian reservation, and one of the reasons I moved away as a teenager was because I didn’t feel there were any people like me around. We’re all Mohawks, but there wasn’t anybody like me there.”
“My wife’s Native!” he said. He turned toward the inside of the bar, waved his hand, and then she came outside.
“It’s her son,” he said. (Side note: she’s five years OLDER than me, and I’m not terribly young. We should all be so lucky to look that youthful.)
She sat down and we found each other on Facebook. Just a couple mutual friends, but the more we talked—her name is Kim—the more we found points of connection between us, despite all those miles and tribes that separate us geographically at home.
She said her son’s father died years ago and that Wylie, her husband, the man I was talking with, came along when he was young. The son is attending university now in Toronto and, perhaps needless to say, they don’t see each other nearly as often now.
I said, “My story is similar. I had lived away for years when, out of nowhere, my brother said to me one time, he said You can move back home anytime you want. You know that, right? Everybody’s fine with gay people. It’s not an issue here. It’s all good. Then I looked at my new friend, Wylie.
“That’s all you have to say,” I told him. “He’ll know what you mean. He’ll know what you’re trying to say. He’ll get it. You don’t have to suddenly wear your heart on your sleeve, if that’s not the kind of man you are. Just tell him, it’s all good. Everything is fine. It’ll be your words and he knows you, so he’ll know what you’re saying.”
Then that man leaned right in, put his arm around me, and thanked me. I was touched. By the randomness of it all. But it was late at that point, and so when we all stepped out onto the street toward the next place, I stopped to offer my goodbyes and then headed home.
Later I spoke privately with Kim and she was able to articulate the situation a little clearer. “As parents,” she said, “there’s a transition were we have to come out ourselves, as parents of a gay child. It starts out as telling people my child is gay and then wait to see if they’re okay with it, and I think that’s where Wylie’s at. I did the same thing. It’s therapeutic somehow. So now when I tell people my son is gay, it’s not me looking for acceptance but showing pride.”
What I find so delightful about this town, and its endless cycle of visitors, is that every one of us has a story and we bring that story with us wherever we go. Life doesn’t take a break when you go on vacation, and an honest man cannot reinvent himself when a tourist, when any stranger, smiles and says hello.