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Inside the notebook: Coming out to Mom and Dad

,DanaInfo=merlin.washpost.com+M1X00036_9.JPG(Bill O'Leary/TWP)

For any story, there is only so much space in the newspaper, which means writers inevitably ditch great material. I recently wrote a profile of Lou Chibbaro Jr., who, when I was working on the piece, was the longest serving staffer at the Washington Blade, a paper devoted to covering the gay community. Since the story was published, the paper has folded and Lou is working with his former colleagues to start up another weekly, titled, for now, DC Agenda.

Chibbaro is a walking encyclopedia of the gay rights movement in Washington, having begun writing for The Blade over 30 years ago. In the profile, I referred to a letter Lou wrote to his parents in 1975 announcing that he was gay, a document that, all these years later, is a kind of time capsule of attitudes towards homosexuality during that period.

In journalism, as in historical research, nothing beats a primary document. So here are expanded excerpts from Lou’s letter to his folks, which he delivered after verbally informing them that he was gay:

Dear Mom and Dad:

By the time you read this, I will have told you that I’m a homosexual.

I know this must be a difficult situation for you. Undoubtedly, all kinds of negative thoughts are running through your minds. Will our son be happy? Why is he “different?” What will the relatives and neighbors think?

,DanaInfo=merlin.washpost.com+M1X00182_9.JPG
(Courtesy of the Washington Blade)

There are many who have advised me never to tell my parents I’m gay. “Why create problems and tensions, and maybe even lose the love of your parents forever?” they ask. “Why not just tell them you’re having a romping good time as a bachelor, chasing the girls?”

I think it’s to your credit that I can’t do this. I just can’t and won’t live a lie! What’s more, I deeply believe it would be an insult to you had I concluded that you are incapable of looking beyond the generations of erroneous information, slanders, and down-right silliness that has molded the prevailing opinions of homosexuals, especially when they have been perpetuated by “experts.”

But I truly believe that, once you have made an honest and sincere attempt to examine the situation objectively, you will come to view homosexuality as being just as healthy and natural as heterosexuality, and just another variation in human sexuality and love.

In the meantime, how will we relate to each other?

I wish I can honestly answer that question. I can only say that I’m through pretending. The cat is out of the bag. When you ask me over the phone what I’ve been doing, or what’s new, I’m going to tell you. (That is, if you decide to ask. And I hope you do.)

Of course, I’m not talking about giving you a synopsis of my sex life. The biggest myth society has of gay people is that their total existence centers around sex. This, of course, is ridiculous.

What I’m saying is that, for the first time in quite a while, I feel free to tell you who I’m associating with, what I’m doing, and what activities I’m involved with.

On the other hand, there can be no apologies. I consider the words “sickness” or “cure” vulgar, ad inapplicable in this situation. There can be no cure when there is no illness. And, as I’m sure you know, your son is not sick!...

To a degree, I consider myself lucky. I did not come to the full realization that I was gay until shortly before my 25th birthday. As a result, I feel I was able to cope with the situation much better than I would have, had I come to this realization (referred to as “coming out”) at an earlier age. On the other hand, I’ve now realized that I sure as hell missed a lot, and have often asked myself, “What took me so long?...

Before investigating the matter, my only conception of gay people was what society had instilled in me (and which I’m afraid may be instilled in you). This was the image of the stereotype “faggot” with limp wrists, flamboyant clothing, and lisp. This stereotyped gay person, I believed, was mostly confined to the fields of theater, interior decorating, and hair dressing. He certainly hated sports, and invariably was effeminate and “bitchy.”

I’m about as close to that description as a tiger is to tadpole.

After finishing school and starting on a job with regular working hours, I finally began to explore the part of me I ignored and suppressed for so long. The fact that I’m in journalism and am constantly exposed to new articles and publications, brought the newer thoughts on homosexuality -- the fact that it isn’t an illness -- right into my lap, so to speak. I began reading up on the subject. Finally, it was time to act.

Not really knowing a (gay) soul in Washington, or anywhere, I made an appointment with a gay counseling center in Manhattan, from an announcement in the Village Voice. On the Friday night I took the train home for the Labor Day weekend, I made a short detour to the counselling session. The counselling put me on the right track, told me where to meet people, and warned me of some of the pitfalls (related to “society’s reaction”).

I’ve come a long way since then. Yet I’m still in a period of adjustment. But if you understand the expression, “It fits like a glove,” you will understand how I feel today.

This must be quite a bit to digest in one reading. I plan to send you more information over the next few weeks on what I’ve been doing with myself since September 3rd, 1974.

I only ask you to keep an open mind.

Love,
Louis

By Paul Schwartzman  | December 8, 2009; 9:36 AM ET
Categories:  Journalism , The inside story  
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Comments

I am always fascinated by "coming out" stories. For those of us who have come out to our parents, there is a bond built upon that shared experience. What's even more interesting to me about Mr. Chibbaro's letter is how it mirrors the discussions I had with my parents in coming out to them nearly 30 years after he wrote that letter.

I am quite fortunate to have parents who are thoughtful, open-minded, accepting and loving, but coming out was still an occasion fraught with uncertainty for me--for exactly the reasons laid out in the letter above. The thing my parents have struggled with the most since my coming out is "society's reaction." They, like many parents, want both of their sons (the gay one and the straight one) to lead happy, healthy and productive lives--a course on which I've thankfully found myself!

I think this letter very elegantly summarizes the feelings so many of us have had in coming out to our parents. Thank you for printing it.

Posted by: DavidMNDC | December 8, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm not really sure why it matters what the prevailing sociatal thought was in the 70's...we're in the 2000's now, and hopefully society has grown up a little since then.

However, I'm glad to see Mr. Chibbaro was such a eloquent and thoughtful person, and I am curious to see how his parents actually reacted (I'll have to read the main article, I suppose). If other's can continue to express themselves so sensibily, there's hope for the movement, and the growth of society in general.

Good luck on the new venture, Mr. Chibbaro.

Posted by: akchild | December 8, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

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