You're Gay? I'm
Not Surprised. But Thanks For Telling Me
by Roz Warren
When I was
young, my mother told me that J. Edgar Hoover was
a homosexual. I dont remember exactly when
or why she shared this tidbit with me. This was,
after all, fifty years ago. But Mom wasnt a
homophobe, so Im guessing that what
intrigued her about Hoovers sexual
orientation was how obsessed he was with policing
others, given what a closet case he was himself.
Mom also told
me that both Rock Hudson and Cary Grant were gay,
which I also accepted without question.
occurred to me to wonder exactly how a 1960s
Detroit housewife came to know these factoids.
And now that I do wonder, I cant ask her.
She died in 1979.
Mom might have
learned about Hudson and Grant from gossip
magazines, although I never saw her reading one.
And her brother, an army Colonel who lived and
worked in elite Washington circles during World
War II, could have told her about Hoover.
Or it could
just be that Mom had great gaydar.
according to Merriam-Webster, is the
ability to recognize homosexuals, through
observation or intuition.
Why would a
straight Jewish housewife possess great gaydar?
Well, why not?
terrific gaydar myself, and Im straight.
When Ellen, and then Rosie, came out, I was
surprised -- not that they were gay, but that
their sexual orientation hadnt been obvious
to everyone. It couldnt have been clearer
When we were
freshman at the University of Chicago, I was the
first person to whom my friend Sam came out. It
took him months to muster the courage. When he
finally said, Im gay, he
expected me to flip out.
replied, Im not surprised. But thanks
for telling me.
floored. This was 1972, just three years after
Stonewall. Hed been afraid he might lose me
as a friend. At the very least, hed
expected more drama.
if its going to be this easy coming out to
everyone, Sam said. (It wasnt.)
When my son
was growing up, I ran a small press that
published humor by women. As a result, Tom, at
eight, knew more lesbian cartoonists than most
grade, he was placed in the class of Ms. Summer,
who was controversial because she believed that
teaching kids to treat each other with respect
and to communicate honestly was just as important
as teaching them to ace standardized tests. I
wasnt among the parents who disapproved. I
was thrilled that Tom was in her class.
On the first
day, as her students sat around the sharing
circle, Ms Summer said, You may have
heard your parents or friends talk about me or
about this class. Would you like to share what
youve heard so that we can discuss it?
The kids went
around the circle. My older brother says
you dont allow bullying.
heard that youre an easy grader.
When they got
to my son, Tom said, My mom says
youre a lesbian.
It was, as
they say, a teachable moment.
as if my son outted his third grade
teacher. Her being out was one of the things some
some parents disapproved of. But her sexual
orientation wasnt a topic shed
addressed in her classroom. Until my son reached
what it is, I often knew that the children of my
friends were gay before their parents did. I kept
this information to myself. When Valerie confided,
Billy is a junior in college and hes
never had a girlfriend. Maybe hes just
waiting for the right girl? I didnt
say, Open your eyes, Val. There will
never be a right girl for Billy.
I often wonder
about my grandmother. After her husband died when
she was in her forties, she never remarried.
Instead, she moved in with a woman we all called
Elsie Z, an energetic, chain-smoking,
deep-voiced single gal.
was Elsie Z? And what exactly was the nature of
her relationship with my grandmother? Could my
Orthodox Jewish grandma possibly have been a
If Grandma was
a secret dyke, had she always been that way? A
married but deeply closeted Jewish housewife,
raising four kids within a traditional Orthodox
community? That would have been quite a trip.
was arrow straight all her life, and Elsie Z was
just a good pal.
grandmother switched teams late in
never know. But this could explain my own gaydar.
Maybe Im not as straight as I think I am.
Perhaps I too am a latent lesbian. It could be
that one day Im going to wake up and find
that Im gay myself.
If so, it
wont take me long to figure it out.
Ill know the minute I look in the mirror.