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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SL Letter of the Day: The Wicked Grandmother

Posted by Dan Savage on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 at 9:58 AM

In 2001 my 24-year old cousin committed suicide after it was discovered that he was gay. The bully that drove him to this fate was not a high school friend or a peer or even an intolerant stranger. The bully at fault was ultimately... our grandmother.

He was discovered having sexual relations with a male in a public place. He was arrested for indecency and in fear of having to face our conservative grandmother with this news, he shot himself.

Our grandmother was born in 1912, and is still alive—which makes her 98 years old. She lived through the Great Depression, in the middle of which she married a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic, she divorced in the 40s when NO ONE got divorced and raised her three children, one of whom was deaf, on welfare—all on a 3rd grade education. Her life was hard. Now she has outlived all of her children and, with the exception of five grandchildren left who really don't speak to her, she has no one.

My upbringing was quite different. Being a very active bisexual from a VERY accepting home, I am torn by the moral obligation I have to society and to my cousin—and to my grandmother's heritage of which I appreciate in spite of its intolerance.

Is bigotry just plain bigotry no matter its age or heritage or is there a point when you look at an old lady and say "you just wouldn't understand, so I guess I'll be ok with it" ??

I feel badly for my grandmother because she is lonely and just a postcard saying "hi how are you" will brighten her day - but i am often conflicted by a moral obligation to my community and my cousin to call her out on her ignorance. But at 98, would that really solve anything? Would it change her or would it just make her feel bad about herself? her hardships have been deep and long. Do i respect that and let it go or do i say "hey granny... you fucked up" ???

I don't necessarily believe that bigotry has exceptions. But I might believe that it has acceptances. Or is that ignorant and blind?

I have her journals and pictures and history in my home and don't want to disrespect her hardships, but i also don't want to support a woman that was (even unknowingly) an accomplice in yet another gay suicide.

What are your thoughts?

Loose Family Ties

My response—and LFT's response to my response, and my response to LFT's response—after the jump.

What the hell could your then-89-year-old grandmother have done to your cousin to cause him to kill himself? Could he really have been so afraid of facing her that he had no choice but to kill himself? I find that hard to believe. More details, please.—Dan


Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. I can't fathom how busy you must be.

I actually feel sort of embarrassed now—because I have no more details regarding the actual suicide of my cousin. I wish I did. Maybe i shouldn't be asking you any questions when i really wouldn't know the answer to so many of yours.

From what i was told by his brother, yes, he was afraid of her disappointment so he thought it would be easier for her to end his life. I didn't hear this from my cousin directly and he didn't leave it in a note. This is only what I was told, so I guess I don't even really know if she is the reason or just someone for his hurt brother to blame. I don't know if she was an outright bully to him and I imagine she alone didn't drive him to do anything. All I know is that she wouldn't let any of his gay friends carry his coffin at his funeral, so i believed after a public gesture of intolerance like that she might have been capable of being held responsible for his death, but your response to my email has made me second guess that theory a little. What the hell could my grandmother have done to my cousin? I don't know—contributed to his insecurities by not accepting him? But that alone is maybe not enough to cast all blame on her for his choices.—LFT

Perhaps your cousin was so traumatized by being arrested in a public sex sting that he killed himself. Suicides are not uncommon among closeted or semi-closeted men who've been arrested in public sex stings, particularly when their names wind up in newspapers or on television. But if it was a fear of grandma—an irrational, overblown fear of grandma—that prompted your cousin to kill himself... well, then it sounds to me like he bullied himself to death. Your cousin didn't give your grandmother a chance: a chance to find out, freak out, and come around.

Either way, this doesn't strike me as a suicide that can be pinned on your grandmother and/or your grandmother alone—even if she is a bigot (and it sounds like she is), even if he had cause to believe that she might react badly. Your cousin wasn't a helpless child, he wasn't dependent on her for a place to live or emotional support. She was just his batty, bigoted old grandma.

So send the odd bitch the odd postcard now and then. At 98, she gets a pass. She's a product of her times. People who are 50 now—people who will be your grandmother's age 48 years from now—won't get the same pass.—Dan</blockquote>

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