Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gay Genealogists

Today, October 11th, has been designated as National Coming Out Day here in the United States and I thought it would be appropriate to have a "coming out" post for my readers and the genealogy community. For many of you, my being gay is not news. I haven't exactly tried hard to hide it - all the information is there on social media if you look for it. So why the big deal?

While I was on a recent cruise with almost 200 genealogists, dinner conversation would often migrate beyond dead ancestors to living family members. I participated in conversations about spouses, children and grand children. Sometimes the conversation would never get around to me and no one would ask if I had a spouse or children. Other times, the questions were a bit too direct and I just felt more comfortable stating that I had a family back home in Chicago and quickly changed the subject.

The fact is that I am gay and that I have a family. I've been with my partner George for over 11 years, the most fulfilling and sometimes difficult years of my life. We are very involved in each other's families, both being the oldest sons who take care of our parents. We don't have children and this is a deliberate choice we've made. George and I deal with the same issues that confront any other couple, any other person - making a living, building a career, caring for parents, loving our families, and trying to leave this earth a little bit better with both our words and our actions.

I've pretty much known about my homosexuality since I was in my mid-teens.  I didn't come out to my family until I was 23. But from then on it was more of a non-issue than an issue with my large family. I fully participate in life's events including celebrations as well as memorials.

I am not defined by my sexuality, so as I age, being gay is less a "big deal" and more of just who I am. What I do know is that there are many lesbians and gays involved with genealogy and family history. For many, this doesn't make sense since many LGBT folk don't have descendants. However, to me it makes perfect sense: gays and lesbians often have more time to devote to researching their ancestors as well as more disposable income to devote to resources for research.

So where am I going with this post? Simply stated, I'm gay and I have a family history, going both backwards and forwards in time.

I also believe that there are individuals on my family tree who were also gay, but at this time I'm divided about whether or not I should bring them "out of the closet." I strongly believe in self-identification of one's persona, whether it is beliefs, sexuality or other matters. I don't believe in "outting" someone - a person can and should speak for themselves. Yet the dead can't speak except through the records left behind. How do you, as a genealogist, handle documenting the lives of ancestors who may have been homosexuals?

So on National Coming Out Day, there's lots to ponder. But one truth rings true for me: I am who I am and with purpose and reason. There is a reason I am on this journey and the route that is laid out in front of me. And I wouldn't change that route for the world.

© 2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

10 comments:

Lynn Palermo said...

You continue to be an inspiration in more ways then one.

Kathryn Smith Lockhard said...

Homosexuality is something that I never thought much about until genealogy entered my life. I have found gays and lesbians on my family tree and have met a cousin I never knew I had who just happens to be gay, has found true love and recently celebrated their 7th anniversary. I do know that people are so much happier once they come "out of the closet" and learn that their family and friends still love them, how could you not. Thank you for your wonderful article.

Kathryn said...

Homosexuality is something that I never thought much about until genealogy entered my life. I have found gays and lesbians on my family tree and have met a cousin I never knew I had who just happens to be gay, has found true love and recently celebrated their 7th anniversary. I do know that people are so much happier once they come "out of the closet" and learn that their family and friends still love them, how could you not. Thank you for your wonderful article.

Teresa "Terri" Fraser said...

Thomas,

What a great post. Especially ...

"But one truth rings true for me: I am who I am and with purpose and reason. There is a reason I am on this journey and the route that is laid out in front of me. And I wouldn't change that route for the world."

You are such an inspiration.

Regards, Teresa Fraser

Deborah Andrew said...

Thomas,

GREAT post. If there were more people with your mindset in the world, there would be far happier people and less hatred in this old world.

Now to answer your question about how do I document them. Like every other person on whom I do research....let them and the documents that they created speak for themselves.

I have often said that I don't pass judgements on my ancestors for things that they did because I know there are things that I have done in my life that they would not have approved of, so I don't do it to them.

Again, great post.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Thanks for the great post. Keep being who you are and what you do. We all appreciate it, very much. ;-)

DianaR said...

Great post as always, Thomas! It always surprises me that people find it in any way odd for LGBT people to be genealogists. I mean genealogy has often been the purview of the maiden aunt and no one questioned her! The aunt I had who was so involved, while married, did not have any children. But I am SO grateful for all she did.

Janice M. Sellers said...

You asked how do I document the gay members of my family. So far I have only living members that I know of, and I include them with their partners as I do everyone else. One of my cousins was surprised but very happy to learn that I was going to include his partner. I told him I wouldn't consider doing anything else.

Denise Hibsch Richmond said...

Bravo for this post Thomas. When the conversation at our dinner table on the cruise turned to how spouses met and number of years married, it seemed natural to me to ask you if you had a sweetheart. You are a leading advocate for all-inclusive genealogy, for LGBT individuals to be identified as such in genealogy software programs and for individuals with disabilities to access the software and webinars.

Jennifer said...

Great post Thomas!!!