Back around the time of the dinosaurs (or the 70’s), when I was in eighth grade and learning from the school’s perspective how sex worked, we were told homosexuality was a perversion.
I was clueless, but it got me thinking…
I had a great-uncle at the time we called “Ding.” It was a nickname he was given when he worked as a soda jerk, which was even before the dinosaurs. (These were the folks that pulled the handles that caused soda to dispense into cups from a fountain. Hence, they were called “jerks,” which was not derogatory.)
Ding had a companion named Harold. Both men were creative, kind and together for years, having met sometime around WW II. They lived separately in Allentown, PA. Ding lived with his sister, my grandmother.
When I would visit, Ding would jump up and offer, “Can I get you a soda? How about a Tasty cake?”
My grandmother would offer me a cigarette and light one up for herself.
I joke that Ding made a better grandmother.
As I thought about Ding and Harold, it came to me. They were homosexuals. As an eighth-grader, this was new-found knowledge I needed to share. How could I make sense of this? Perverts!
I raced into the kitchen after school and announced to my mother, “Ding is HOMOSEXUAL!” as if I had found the Holy Grail.
“So?” she asked nonchalantly.
“My teacher said that is a type of perversion!” I was horrified by her confirmation and worried she did not quite understand the gravity of the situation.
“And what if he is? Does that change anything?” she inquired back, barely glancing up from her work at the sink.
It made me think.
Would my newfound “knowledge” change the way I treated Ding? or the way I felt about him? What had changed in my relationship with him? What would? I thought for a full minute and decided, my mother was right. So what? That hot news flash I brought home from sex education in a small Pennsylvania farming town really meant nothing in the scheme of things.
I loved Ding. So did my family. His sexuality had nothing to do with our loving relationships.
The Sex Ed curriculum taught me to question “truths” espoused by education going forward. Maybe, the school and my family did not believe the same things. Maybe I should learn to think for myself, not just swallow “truths” put out by institutions.
Ding and Harold were kind. Harold composed music. They shared our holidays for years and Harold was part of our lives even after 1983 when Ding died in the front living room of the family row house.
Ding loved having his photo taken and would have enjoyed it being published on the Internet. He would have relished the liberties now afforded to homosexuals. I wish he could have witnessed it.
He and Harold were together as long as they both lived; marriage was not an option, but their commitment was obvious and longer-lasting than many traditional marriages.
I am so grateful to have had an uncle like Ding, gay.
My family taught by their love what was important and it was not that.
Portions of this blog are reproduced in Medium.com