Can we put the heart back into things?
All too often, people seem to look at things through a very clinical and unemotional lens – and that bugs me hugely because when it comes to human beings, you simply can’t remove the context a person found themselves in and the emotions they felt in the lead-up to an action.
See, quite recently, an ex-lecturer of mine who has since become a friend, came out to his family and friends. His wife passed away some five years ago, and I could foreshadow that the news would come as a shock to his children… Not because they are homophobic or because there is anything wrong with being gay, but for the reason that – in the eyes of his children – changes something fundamental about their father and his relationship with their mother. What I couldn’t have imagined, however, was the way other mutual friends of ours reacted.
One acquaintance, for example, said that she couldn’t believe this man had betrayed his wife in such a way and had made a fool of her after her death. Another said that it was disgusting for a man in his late 60s to reveal something that is part of his ‘sexual nature’. Another, more tellingly, argued that while she ‘doesn’t mind homosexuals’ she feels as if this man has lied to her because he was leading a double life.
Now let me start by saying that I don’t know if this man ever led a double life or if he cheated on his wife with other men. Doing so would have, obviously, been wrong – but that is not what I want to discuss here.
When I was younger, gay life in Malta wasn’t as vibrant or as out-in-the-open as it is today. Few people would reveal their sexual orientation outside of their immediate group of friends – and that was only done if they felt comfortable and safe enough to do so. Many of my gay friends, in fact, moved abroad and set up a life for themselves that existed only outside of Malta. When they came back home, their boyfriends didn’t exist, their memories had to be erased, and their desires subdued.
Now I am not saying that everyone had the same experience. I do remember some people being out and proud back in my youth, but from my experience and that of my close friends, that was always done with the knowledge that they would be shunned at best.
Things weren’t always as easy as they are now for gay men. People didn’t always feel like they had the right to come out and be happy because most of the society viewed them as abominations, sinners, and sodomites.
That also meant that many gay men never came out or explored their sexuality, and went along with the convention most of us followed too: find someone you like, get married, have kids, and grow old together. In doing that – and I’d like to reiterate that this is not a blanket statement, but rather an observation – many men (and, of course, women) silenced their desires and lived a life with someone else that may have, sometimes, never felt fulfilling but was, nonetheless, a normal and happy one.
It is difficult to imagine the emotions these people went through but that doesn’t mean they were frauds. Many of them grew to love and respect their partners, and many of them view their children as the best thing that has ever happened to them.
The point I want to make here is this: of course, if I had a husband who came out as gay after decades of marriage, I would be upset. In that situation, I would have invested a lot of emotions, hopes, and dreams – his coming out affects my emotions directly. Nevertheless, as a third party in a situation, I should also understand that 50, 40, 30 or even 20 years ago, things weren’t as they are now. And just as it’s not right to punish someone who steals food to feed his children, so you cannot punish someone who did what he or she thought they had to do to feel safe.