All you need is love. That song's been in my head lately as we hit February, the season of valentines -- either the most-loved or most-hated month of the year, depending how you feel about love at the moment. I've decided to embrace February and its associations this year, because I've seen--and continue to see -- what love can do.
Twenty-five years ago, at the height of the AIDS crisis, my uncle was succumbing to the virus. We didn't know he was gay and we didn't know he was HIV-positive until he became ill. That was the way in many homes back then; if homosexuality was talked about at all, it was in hushed tones, and certainly not in front of the children.
When my uncle was dying, my father -- a devout Catholic -- suggested he come live with my parents. My uncle declined, but my father's gesture was staggering to me. When I asked what compelled him to make the offer, knowing -- as I'm sure he did -- the implications, as well as the church's stance, he simply shrugged and said, "It's Andy."
His love for my uncle, and respect for my mother -- my uncle's sister -- overwhelmed me, and made me see him a little differently. Still, the subject was not openly discussed.
A year or so later, my brother and I were dancing at a family wedding, and he leaned in and said, "I'm gay." I hugged him, said, "I know," and went right on dancing. I didn't know that I knew, but at that moment, I did. I was at once happy for him that he was comfortable enough to come out, and sad for him that he'd had to be uncomfortable all those years in the first place. And, because of the times, afraid for his health and safety.
It was many more years before he was comfortable enough to share the news with my parents who, once again, responded the way one hopes a loved one would: with a few questions, a few tears that he'd felt unable to come to them, and acceptance of his reassurance that it was simply biology -- and that he knew how to be safe.
The subject didn't come up again until my kids were old enough to learn about sex and love, and I found myself a little stymied: Do I tell them about all types of sexuality at this young age? Is it too much information? Will it be too confusing? And then I remembered the years of anguish and downright torture I went through as a straight teen, and figured that talking about it couldn't be worse than that.
I asked my brother if I could tell the kids about his sexual orientation; I thought if I could put a face on it for them, it might be easier to understand. I was afraid that he might not be comfortable with them knowing, but he said, "Sure. Why not?"
I was actually perpetuating a prejudice by assuming he might want to hide his homosexuality. So when we had our ongoing "talks" with the kids, they always included the concept that romantic love can be with the opposite sex or the same sex. By the time we thought it appropriate to share that their uncle was gay, it was a non-issue.
As my son said, "He's not better or worse because he's gay; he's him, and 'him' is great."
The issue the kids have as they get older is when people use "gay" as an insult, but they work on it when they can. It's a process, I know; in my family, we went from not discussing the horrible disease slowly taking the life of a closeted loved to my kids hoping one of their favorite uncles will find Mr. Right.
Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in my children's lifetime, homosexuality will be like red hair or brown skin or a preference for cheese: not a good thing or a bad thing, just a thing that people won't have to be afraid to share. I'm convinced that if people could just see with their hearts instead of their heads sometimes, this could happen. After all, it's the season of love.
And as the song goes, love is all you need.