The Day I Realized My Uncle Hung Around With Gay Guys

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My Uncle Tommy did volunteer work in Greenwich Village back in the early 1980s, when I was a teenager. He brought me along to help, which made me feel very grown up; I was eleven, and yet here I was stamping envelopes, doing data entry, working in an office.

I loved my co-workers.

They were all really funny guys, flamboyant, and they treated me like a grownup – which was to say they made jokes I didn’t get, and didn’t footnote. After the volunteering shift we’d all go out to a bar, and they’d sneak me into the corner – very grown up – and they’d drink beers and tell theatrical stories while my uncle gave me a roll of quarters and I played Donkey Kong Junior.

I loved them. They were bold, unashamed of their lisps – which was critical to a kid who’d been to vocal therapy to lower his squeaky voice – and they all dressed super-well.

I did not realize they were probably gay until I was almost thirty. That’s when someone said, “Man, the AIDS epidemic totally destroyed the gays in Greenwich Village,” and I thought, “Man, I hope all of my Uncle’s old buddies from Greenwich Village are okay WAIT WHAT”

I had all the pieces. But nobody had specifically called them gay. And I didn’t think that I was the sort of kid who hung around with gay dudes while I was eleven, so even though I had all these facts – a pretty much all-male volunteer squad in Greenwich Village, the stereotypical gay voice, flamboyance, great dressers all – they never coalesced into “Teenaged Ferrett hung around with gay dudes.”

(I called up my Uncle Tommy to confirm they were gay. They were. My Uncle was not, but he apparently did very well with the few women who volunteered with the organization.)

Yet that’s how life happens sometimes: you can have all the pieces, and not put them together because nobody gave you the word. I’ve had friends who took years to realize their Grampaw wasn’t allowed to be alone with them because he was a pederast. I’ve known folks who didn’t realize their parents were swingers despite copious evidence because it never occurred to them their parents could be swingers.

Sometimes you can be bathed in evidence of a plain fact and not recognize it because you don’t believe you’re the sort of person that fact applies to. I was just an ordinary kid from the suburbs, and at the time “gay people” were this wild minority – I didn’t think of myself as the sort of kid who had wild adventures with Greenwich Village Queens, let alone of myself as the sort of kid who’d idolize them. Likewise, my friends had ordinary childhoods with loving parents and the concept that their mom and dad were those swinger people just didn’t fit the mold.

You can have all these pieces lying about, unassembled. Until someone gives you a name. Until someone tells you that yes, you are that sort of person, you just didn’t think of yourself as that person until now.

So.

Does anyone who had a good upbringing think of themselves as “the sort of person who gets raped”?

I see people confused by delayed accusations: Yes, they were raped, but how could it take them time to recognize what happened to them? And much like my gay buddies as a kid, they had all the evidence but it didn’t seem, somehow, to apply to them. This wasn’t a Hollywood rape where a stranger barged into their house – this was a friend, someone they loved, and maybe they said very nice and kind things before and after the assault. Maybe they still like their rapist, or want to like them.

They had all these pieces of evidence – mainly, the fact that they didn’t want to have sex, and yet someone did things to them against their will – but that doesn’t make sense because they’re not the sort of person who’s a rape victim, and they feel terrible a lot but this hasn’t destroyed every last happiness in their life like everyone tells them it should, and so they know something bad has happened but that word “rape” doesn’t seem to apply because they’re not that sort of person.

Until all the evidences finally click into place and they realize that, sadly, they are.

Which is not to say that every person who gets raped is unaware; some are. The most toxic misunderstanding of rape is that there can be only one “accepted” reaction to it, and anything else indicates that the rape didn’t really take place.

Alas, people have all sorts of different reactions to life-changing trauma; look at any funeral, where some people withdraw into silence, and others need all their friends to party with them, and still others need to vent angrily about the injustice. There’s no singular script to grief, which means there’s no “right” way to do it.

But some rape victims get slammed by people because they should have known what happened right away. “Why didn’t they know?” And the answer is, for those people, that their vision of themselves did not encapsulate the sad concept of “I can get raped,” and as such they had all of these pieces of evidence lying around unassembled, waiting for that one key that would tie them all together.

It could be argued that they should have known. And they probably would have known, if it was someone else this happened to. But some times you’re blind to the events of your life simply because the evidence contradicts who you think you know who you are, and waking up to the person you actually are takes some time.

Especially when that person isn’t someone you ultimately want to identify yourself as.

1 Comment

  1. ccr1138
    Dec 8, 2016

    I’ve known women who, when assaulted, simply froze and didn’t object. Silence being taken as consent, sex or groping happened. Afterward, the self-loathing for NOT reacting is bad enough, but it’s compounded by the reactions from everyone who hears the story. “Why didn’t you stop him? Is it fair to blame him when you didn’t say no?” From what I can see, the self-recrimination is far worse than the physical violation. It’s easy to understand how denial could emerge as a coping mechanism. Only later, with the healing balm of time, would one hear of another person being assaulted (especially by the same perpetrator) and realize, Hey, that happened to me, too.

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