I was brought up in a Jewish household, and my grandmother was the youth director for the regional reform Jewish youth group. If it wasn’t explicitly stated that I would participate in the regional youth group when I became of age, which was 8th grade, I felt compelled. Besides, my grandmother was a youth director…that was pretty cool in and of itself. My grandmother could hold it down with a few hundred teenagers…and everybody respected her.
I’ll never forget my first regional event. It was in Raleigh, North Carolina, which meant I got to ride a chartered bus for five hours and watch movies on the little TVs on the bus and meet different people. When we arrived at the synagogue in Raleigh, I hopped off the bus and went up to as many people as I could, saying to each: “Hey, do you know Harriet? She’s my grandma.” Everybody loved her and it gave me an in to meet people.
As I met more people, I made more friends, but keeping in touch between events was difficult, as this was 1998 and 1999 and we had no email and no mobile phones. To maintain contact, we sent letters and cards to one another and, sometimes if I had a few dollars, I would make a long distance phone call and pay my parents for the bill I racked up.
Jeremy was one of the friends I met, and he and I would be come quite close during these events. We hung around each other, put our arms around each other as we walked from place to place, and sat next to each other in the different activities. He was a genuinely nice guy with a beaming smile, so big in fact that his eyes seemed like they squinted shut when he laughed or smile wide enough. Jeremy was a good looking guy, so girls were definitely into him. But was he into them? I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure because one time Jeremy kissed me on my cheek. Was Jeremy gay? Bisexual? I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter. I enjoyed his company. And whenever I got back from an event I told my parents about what happened, talking about how I had a lot of fun with a boy named Jeremy. (And yes, my grandmother loved him).
Another friend I met was a guy named Kevin, who was from North Carolina. He and I kept in touch on the phone and would talk every few weeks. Kevin was a smart guy and far more mature than me, even though he was less than a year older. One night, as we were talking, Kevin recommended a book to me called Chaos, Gaia, Eros. He said it was a book about philosophy. I didn’t really know what philosophy was, but it sounded interesting enough (or at least something I wanted to be interested in so I could be philosophical like Kevin). So later that night, I went downstairs and talked to my dad.
The thing was, my dad told me that he would buy me any book I wanted, as he wanted me to read more. So I tried to capitalize on this and mentioned Kevin’s recommendation.
“How did you hear about this book?” he asked.
“My friend Kevin told me about it.”
“What’s it about?” he questioned further.
“I don’t know really. Kevin said it’s about philosophy.”
“Is it about gay philosophy?”
Kevin had previously told me that he was gay…and bisexual…and straight. “I find it easier to tell different people different things,” he said to me one night. Like with Jeremy, we were all just trying to figure out who we were, and I suppose Kevin was no different. So when my parents asked, at one point, whom I was talking to, I told them about Kevin and must have mentioned that Kevin was gay.
In this moment, all I knew was that I had a friend who recommended a book, and I suggested it to my dad hoping he would buy it for me so I could talk about it with the friend.
My dad never bought it for me, and I never got a copy of my own.
I don’t know how long it was after this conversation about the book, but I’ll never forget the night that I reference in the title.
My mom called me into the kitchen and asked me to sit down at our kitchen table. I was on the long end, in the middle, and my parents flanked me, my mom to my left and my dad to my right.
My dad broke the silence. “Parker, we need to know.”
“Need to know what?” I asked.
“We need to know,” he repeated himself. “Are you gay?”
This will forever be a flashbulb moment in my life. It’s something I’ll never forget. And I’ll never forget the feelings, emotions, and thoughts that ran through my brain in the instants that followed this question.
Was I gay? I didn’t know. Was I bisexual? I didn’t know. I had thought about it, but I was 14, and I didn’t know much of anything. I did know, however, that my both my grandma and mom had either walked in on me or seen me kissing girls, so I thought that should have been a dead giveaway.
The thing you have to remember is that I grew up in a conservative house, and that was why they phrased it in the way they did: “We need to know.” Did they need to know my sexuality? Did it matter? It must have to them, or it wouldn’t have mattered.
“No,” I responded affirmatively, yet while looking down at the table.
“Parker, we need to know,” they both said, pressing further. It would be years before I would take my first polygraph exam, but this was my first experience with an interrogation.
I continued denying it until they let me go back to my room for the rest of the night. As I grew into my later high school years, I dated a few girls and had some relationships after college, marrying my wonderful bride in 2017. By then, I hope the question was answered for my parents.
For years they actually denied that the situation occurred, insinuating that I was making it up. “Parker, we did not do that,” my mother would say emphatically, laughing it off as if it was a joke. But it wasn’t a joke. It actually happened, and it’s one of the situations I think about today when I see the LGBT community fighting for equal rights. As I have written before, I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, blue, or orange, or if you are tall, short, male, female, non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, or anything in between. I only expect that you make the world a better place by contributing to the betterment of society.
My daughter gets to be whoever she wants to be. And I’ll support her no matter what. If she wants to talk about her sexuality with me and her mother, we’ll listen and provide whatever unconditional love and support she needs. After all, that is the most important thing a parent can do.
And, no I never did end up reading Chaos, Gaia, Eros...