There are a bunch of weighty subjects I never had the opportunity to discuss with my grandpa, just because they didn’t come up in the normal course of a grandfather-grandson relationship.
And I never asked about them, ’cause I never thought I’d find myself 40 years old, sitting rye-soaked in front of a computer screen, wondering what my grandpa thought on such-and-such subject.
One of those subjects, I suppose, is homosexuality.
I imagine that my grandfather was the product of an era when LGBT recognition was not what it is today, and we are all, for better or worse, the product of the times when we grew up.
The typical social attitude toward gays and lesbians was none too progressive even in the ’80s and early ’90s, when I was growing up. I still remember the popular schoolyard game “Kill the Carrier,” which was commonly known in my schoolyard by its alternate name, “Smear the Queer.” My children claim not to recognize the name “Kill the Carrier,” which gives me hope that they do not know its homophobic cousin.
If I did not grow up in bastions of acceptance, I suspect my grandpa’s attitude toward gays and lesbians was even less enlightened. Again, I’d like to think that he was open-minded enough at his core, but that he was simply touched by the world in which he grew up.
It’s never easy to confront the potential biases of your ancestors.
I’ve written in other forums about my Great-Uncle Jimmy, who served on the Detroit police at the time of the 1967 riots. I’ve read that those riots were caused, in part, by the chronic abuse of Detroit’s black community by the city’s police force.
So where does that leave my Great-Uncle Jimmy (a sunny, amiable, fair-minded sort, by all family accounts)? Did he look on and say nothing while his colleagues wielded their swagger sticks?
Was he blind that day?
All of this reflection comes about as a result of a calendar item in which my grandpa’s path crossed that of a prominent person who was homosexual — or, more accurately, bisexual.
The new arrival is U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney, who represented Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District from January 1971 until his death in May 1987 from complications of AIDS.
At the time of McKinney’s death, his physician (according to Wiki) suggested he had contracted AIDS as a result of a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery.
Two days later, the New York Times reported that McKinney had taken part in homosexual encounters, while downplaying the chances of his having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
McKinney didn’t come out during his lifetime. But I imagine that rumors about him almost certainly circulated, as they always do about people who don’t seem to follow social norms to the letter. (McKinney was married with children, so perhaps he was not talked about. But, like I said, rumors do tend to spread.)
I wonder whether my grandpa gave two thoughts to the gay Congressman, or whether he simply queued up for a handshake with all the other congregants afterward.
I know what I’d like to think, but reality might have been different.
Conveniently, there is no historical record.
So I will assume the best; and forget the ensuing decades of social contempt and stigma; and go to bed content in the thought that my grandpa treated everyone the same way, and that he managed — in the language of later generations — to be straight, but not narrow.
I may be lying to myself.