How the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus reconnected me to gay culture.

A Christmas Connection With Gay Culture Thanks to a Gay Men’s Chorus

A Christmas Connection With Gay Culture Thanks to a Gay Men’s Chorus

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Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 22 2017 7:59 PM

A Christmas Connection With Gay Culture Thanks to a Gay Men’s Chorus

Debbie-Reynolds-And-Carrie-Fisher-Memorial
The Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus performs onstage at Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher Memorial at Forest Lawn Cemetery on March 25, 2017.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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Hey, Daddy! is a monthly column exploring the joys and struggles of parenting from a gay father’s perspective. Got a topic idea or question for Daddy? Send your letter along to johnculhane19104@gmail.com.

Within just a few minutes, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus almost managed to redeem 2017.

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Looking back over my columns since the 2016 election, I’ve been struck by how relentlessly despairing, or at least solemn, many of them are: concern about the sexual mistreatment of women and how to discuss the issue with teenaged daughters; the efforts at clawing back of LGBTQ rights we’d thought secured by marriage equality; the challenges faced by parents raising disabled kids; and, for good measure, the searing reminder of how we’d been forced to give up our beloved family dog.

Then, during our annual visit to that monolith of warm and fuzzy holiday cheer, Philly’s Comcast Center for the hologram-heavy Christmas show, our wait for the next performance was relieved by the sudden swell of male voices from a few yards to the west. David and I shepherded the kids toward the sound, and almost immediately figured out who was providing the stout, melodic cheer. About forty strong, the choristers tore through a bunch of holiday favorites, and closed with the feel-good chestnut, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” At some point, I found myself fighting back tears.

Maybe I was just tired, and less able to resist the emotional pull of music. And it certainly helped that the songs were issuing from actual people, working communally, rather than set among the exhausting, non-stop sludge of Christmas music blasting from every third radio station, and in every shopping center, that now begins its annual aural assault before Thanksgiving.

But whatever the reason, the event caused a rush of complicated emotions as I stood there with my family. A feeling of being connected to a gay community that provided me so much strength for so long, but that I now seldom engage with. The pride in hearing those beautiful voices with my daughters, who got to experience a moment of joy that perhaps deepened their appreciation for gay culture, or at least enkindled it. A familiar frisson of sadness as I surveyed the landscape of survivor-peers of the AIDS cataclysm. And then, unexpectedly, a memory of the post-Orlando massacre vigil we’d attended with the kids more than a year-and-a-half ago (and the subject of my first column.)

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That Orlando recollection became Point Zero on a mental timeline, which then fast-forwarded through a jumbled, internal montage. I thought about the fear, anger, and resolve I carried forth from that event, through the dismal Fall 2016 campaign, its crescendo, and the ugly, crashing reality that has followed the election. I flipped through the Twitter train wreck of news and end times commentary that fills my time and my head every day, without pause or mercy. I cringed at the memory of all the fruitless Facebook arguments I’d had over issues ranging from gun control, to the Obamacare and tax bills to, most absurdly and most recently, whether “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is date-rape adjacent. It’s all too much.

Then, at least for a little while, I let it all go.

We were at the event with another (straight) family, and they didn’t even move closer to the singers. There was a practical reason for that—they have a much younger kid, and they wanted to make sure they held their ground where they’d have the best view of where the Christmas show was going to project. But it wasn’t just that: They could hear the music well enough from where we’d all been standing, and they didn’t feel any special connection to the chorus. It was a weighty moment for us, but not particularly significant to them.

Did our daughters have any of the same feeling we did? I don’t know. I recently did a few media things on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, and was curious to see how they felt about the issues. I was surprised when one of them kind of shrugged off the discriminatory treatment that the gay couple had experienced: “I’d just go to another bakery!” she announced. “If they don’t want my business, too bad for them.” (For the record, her twin sister disagreed: “Why should they have to? And what if there are no other bakeries nearby?”) Probably because we’re so snugly ensconced in Straightville, they’re not generally too woke about the issues the LGBTQ community still faces. We do try to educate them, but they’re really not living any challenges because of their gay dads.

But maybe hearing the soaring voices of the gay chorus, and perhaps sensing how it affected their two dads, is the kind of thing that will seep into them. To what long-term result, I can’t now say. But given the challenges that these and other communities face with renewed urgency in 2017, we need to hope for the best—and to encourage them in actions that improve others’ lives and prospects.

Whatever our kids thought, David and I had a shared moment of pride in our people, reminding ourselves of something that’s become too easy to forget in our straight-seeming, mostly assimilated lives: The world would be a much less interesting or beautiful place without us.

John Culhane is the H. Albert Young Fellow in Constitutional Law at Delaware Law School, and Co-Director of the Family Health Law & Policy Institute. He is a frequent contributor to Slate, and is working on a book about the legal recognition of relationships other than marriage. Following him on Twitter is possible, but not necessarily wise.