Last night I had a conversation with my daughter. She is 22 years younger than I am. Sometimes the age difference almost disappears, but other times there is an unbridgeable gulf. Not because we are so different, but because our experiences were.
I told her that I had never knowingly met a gay person until I went to grad school. She was, not surprisingly, stunned. Especially since I began studying for my Ph.D. when I was 40. I knew gays existed, of course, but it didn’t occur to me that some of my friends and acquaintances might be in the closet. I was naïve, more so than my daughter can appreciate. Hard as it is to imagine today, when the AIDS epidemic was raging in the early 80s, it was something I knew about, but it had never hit close to home. Not even in the neighborhood.
I told my daughter that in my first year I had taken a class in Medieval Latin with an engaging professor and that I couldn’t understand why he rarely looked at me. It was strange, so I had attributed it to my age. One day after class, I saw him joking with a small group of male students, the same ones that he directed most of his attention to in the classroom.
“And didn’t you realize then that they were gay?” my daughter asked. Actually, I didn’t. They were just guys, joking around. My daughter refused to believe me and became very angry because she thought I didn’t understand her question. I repeated that I had not ever had any contact with gays. She lost it— I think she thought I was being deliberately evasive and provocative. She simply could not accept that someone like me might have such limited experience until the diverse population of a university gave me an even richer education than I had anticipated.
This is not about a mother-daughter relationship that has moments of turbulence and tension— all mother/daughter relationships have their moments— I write this only to illustrate how far society has come in three decades, from gays being invisible to people like me to becoming good friends who love and respect each other. (The professor in my anecdote became my mentor and then a close friend and confidante.)