Issue February 9, 2011

Not asking and not telling

I did a lot of gay stuff on my recent trip to San Francisco. And probably not in the way you might be thinking. I visited a huge shared studio space for queer artists called The Big Gay Warehouse, where painters, street artists, clothes makers and writers create their work in an intentionally inclusive environment.

I filmed a local musical duo, the Troubadours of Divine Bliss — who also happen to be lesbian sweethearts of more than 15 years — on their U.S. tour. And I promoted a screenplay I have been working on, which features a gay central character. So, I may not have attended a drag queen march or San Francisco’s famous Gay Pride Parade, but, overall, there was a lot of gayness going on for me in the Bay Area.

Looking back on it now, there were only about five hours of my trip when the idea of homosexuality did not somehow present itself as even mildly relevant, and that was on the plane. On my flight out to the West Coast, between Minneapolis and San Francisco, I sat next to a sweet little old lady, who I will call Marge. She was a 75-year-old on her way to Honolulu with her grandson, on a trip she would normally have taken with her husband, who passed away three years ago. She never wanted to be anything but a housewife until she turned 40, when she decided to go to nursing school. She has four sons, one daughter and a slew of grandchildren sprinkled across the United States. They call her Grandma Honey, because she always calls everyone honey. And how do I know all of this? Because we talked during the whole flight.

Somewhere over Nebraska, I looked into Marge’s eyes and felt something special. I’ll go ahead and say it: I got a grandma crush on her. The way she filled out her crossword puzzle and kept a conversation going at the same time, the way the lines on her face changed when she laughed, the way she wore her watch over her sleeve, filled some kind of grandmotherly void I had only dreamed of filling with years of “Golden Girls” marathons.

We didn’t talk about me being gay, but not because I was scared she would stop talking to me and cease to be my surrogate grandmother figure. And not because I was ashamed or felt like it was something I needed to hide. The real reason I didn’t come out to Marge was because it didn’t matter. When you talk to someone about your sexuality, you are actually talking about what kind of sex you prefer, and that seemed irrelevant when talking to my brand new five-hour grandmother.

Sure, if she had asked me point blank if I was gay, I would have said yes, opening the floodgates of gay-centric conversation. But Marge was too cool for that. It probably didn’t even cross her mind. We were too busy talking about how the Internet works and how much she likes all of her daughters-in-law, even the one in Alaska. She loved to talk about her husband (he never liked those flower leis they put on you when you land in Hawaii). I told her about the snowy weather in Louisville and that I grew up with a Schnauzer. We shared cooking secrets, opinions on comfortable shoes and funny-sounding phrases like “Jesus’ eyes” and “I edited it.”

She did ask me if I was married, and I said no, because I’m not. “Well, you are too good lookin’ not to be married,” she told me. “Oh Marge,” I blushed (and I am not the blushing type). What I wanted to say was something like, “You should talk to Mitch McConnell about that” or “My people have very little legal opportunity to do that,” but I didn’t. Because in her little old lady way, she was giving me a compliment. And also because I have a genetic disposition to not being able to simultaneously blush and say “Mitch McConnell.” So instead I said, “And so are you.”

Hours of conversation turned the otherwise mundane flight into a witty and effortless exchange of wisdom, grandmotherly advice and anecdotes, surely only obtainable from living as long as Marge has. So big gay me genuinely listened to little old Marge while she didn’t ask and I didn’t tell.