It's a pretty standard coming-out story, with a couple of wrinkles (like it's a U.S. senator's son)
Rob and Jane Portman's son does his parents proud.
(No, the photo isn't from the YDN. It's from Twitter.)
"It gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me. . . .
"I hope that my dad's announcement and our family's story will have a positive impact on anyone who is closeted and afraid, and questioning whether there's something wrong with them. I've been there. If you're there now, please know that things really do get better, and they will for you too."
guest column today, "Coming out"
It's a pretty familiar coming-out story, with perhaps two side notes. First, the storyteller is Will Portman, the now-famously gay son of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is probably now the most famously gay college junior in the country.
I made some good friends that first semester, took a couple of interesting classes and got involved in a few rewarding activities. My dad won his election. On the surface, things looked like they were going well. But the truth was, I wasn't happy.
I'd make stuff up when my suitemates and I would talk about our personal lives. I remember going to a dance in the Trumbull dining hall with a girl in my class and feeling guilty about pretending to be somebody I wasn't. One night, I snuck up to the stacks in Sterling Library and did some research on coming out. The thought of telling people I was gay was pretty terrifying, but I was beginning to realize that coming out, however difficult it seemed, was a lot better than the alternative: staying in, all alone.
I worried about how my friends back home would react when I told them I was gay. Would they stop hanging out with me? Would they tell me they were supportive, but then slowly distance themselves? And what about my friends at Yale, the "Gay Ivy"? Would they criticize me for not having come out earlier? Would they be able to understand my anxiety about all of this? I felt like I didn't quite fit in with Yale or Cincinnati, or with gay or straight culture. . . .
They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.
For which you have to give a hat tip at least to Rob and Jane. The takeaway line here is Will's statement that his parents' absolutely rock-solid support "was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was."
Parenting is supposed to be about helping your kids be the best version of themselves they can, and the Portmans rose to this challenge. I imagine this is becoming more common these days, and happily so. But while there were always cases where this happened, it has hardly been the norm. The coming-out-to-the-parents has more often occasioned some measure of trauma and heartache not all that different from what the out-comer dreaded all along, with one if not both parents.
"By the end of freshman year," Will writes, "I'd only come out to my parents, my brother and sister, and two friends." He tells a charming story -- again, absolutely typical for the coming-out genre, but no less charming for that -- about coming out that summer to his best friend from high school.
I was surprised. At first it was funny, and we made jokes about our lack of gaydar. Then it was kind of sad to realize that we'd been going through the same thing all along but hadn't felt safe enough to confide in each other. But then, it was pretty cool -- we probably understood each other's situation at that moment better than anybody else could.
At this point, that first "special consideration" comes increasingly into play. By this time Will's father was a U.S. senator, and with an increasingly gay son at that hotbed of inconspicuousness, Yale University. He and his family realized that the clock was ticking.
When he ultimately wasn't chosen for the ticket, I was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign. Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.
It has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines. I could certainly do without having my sexual orientation announced on the evening news, or commentators weighing in to tell me things like living my life honestly and fully is "harmful to [me] and society as a whole." But in many ways it's been a privilege to come out so publicly. Now, my friends at Yale and the folks in my dad's political orbit in Ohio are all on the same page. They know two things about me that I'm very proud of, not just one or the other: that I'm gay, and that I'm Rob and Jane Portman's son.
AS I WROTE LAST WEEK, IT'S STILL UP TO THE
SENATOR TO DO AT LEAST ONE MORE THING
Again, I'm not going to dictate what it has to be. It's just that the senator is probably thinking that coming out in favor of marriage equality took huge courage, and I suppose in his world this is true. But his world isn't really the real world. It's just the big Right-Wing Bubble. In the real world, changing your position on marriage equality because you happen to have a gay son doesn't count for all that much.
For that matter, it may not even be all that unwelcome. From Politico's Anna Palmer and Tarini Parti comes a report that "Republicans see cash opportunity in gay marriage shift":
Several Republicans pointed to Sen. Rob Portman's switch in support of gay marriage as a watershed moment for the party. And more than two dozen high-profile Republicans asked the Supreme Court to back gay rights. And even Foster Friess, Rick Santorum's top benefactor, has softened his stance on domestic partnership.
"Republicans' intolerance to marriage equality has been detrimental to winning," said Aaron McLear, a California Republican strategist. “Big donors understand that they don't want to invest in campaigns focused on a losing issue, and I think certainly the fiscal issues for Republicans are much more marketable."
Republican fundraiser Jim McCray agreed. "I think it will open up donors across the board, because it demonstrates Republicans are trying to recreate the big tent they were known for," McCray said.
Still, as I wrote last week, "I want to see [Senator Rob] do, or hear him say, one more thing that indicates he actually understands the issues he's stumbled into, and actutally believes what he seems to be saying."
I did offer a "for instance," though: He could sign on as a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which as it happnes is about to be reintroduced in the Senate. As I wrote earlier, Senator Rob's newfound insight into matters LGBT --
Meanwhile, it appears that you and your wife raised a classy kid. I expect you're both feeling pretty proud.
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