Whenever I tell my coming-out story, I think about Cher’s response to her transgender son Chaz when he came out. In an interview, she said, “I had a very un-Cher-like reaction.”
That was the case with my mom and dad as well. They were both highly progressive and liberal, but still, for their only son to be a gay teen in Calgary, Alberta, in 1998, it was understandably difficult for them.
I remember waking up unusually early on that quiet Saturday (February 7, 1998, to be exact) a bundle of nerves. I rolled down to my den to have a spirit-boosting screening of my Rocky Horror Picture Show VHS before my parents woke up. During the closing credits, almost as if on cue, my dad came downstairs, and I told him the news.
My parents’ reactions progressed through the typical stages surprisingly rapidly. Emotional moments that take some families years took us all of a few hours.
“No! You can’t be that way!” was followed by, “But, I don’t like those people!” and then, “It’s a dangerous lifestyle!” and finally, “If you are that way, we want you to be safe. And we want you to be happy. And we’re worried about you.”
It all happened in what felt like a matter of moments. And then, like life does when you’re busy making other plans, we had to continue our day to day.
Our family was damaged, and repairs needed to happen. The healing tonic turned out to be a simple, lesser known song written by an iconic songwriter to his son. Paul McCartney’s “Young Boy” slowed everything down and eventually started fixing our little, three-person unit.
The single from McCartney’s 1997 album Flaming Pie, the song was written from dad Paul to his heterosexual son, James (who also plays guitar on the track). Being a family of Beatles nuts, Flaming Pie made the rounds in our household at the time. The lyrics to this gentle and driving track are about love and apply to a myriad of different sexualities and experiences.
Flashback to a few years earlier: I was 11 years old and have no discernable taste in music. The local oldies radio station, 66 CFR, had a contest in which they played an audio collage of about 100 Beatles songs. If you could successfully identify all of them, your entry was entered into a drawing to win their entire discography on CD!
My mom, Katie, and I made it our mission to win. We dug out her old vinyl and just listened to clips from songs over and over, and my love affair with the Beatles had begun. We assembled a pretty comprehensive list, but we got some of the answers wrong and didn’t win. What we gained, however, was a mutual love of the Fab Four that exists to this very day.
Cut to two years later when ABC aired the groundbreaking Anthology. I learned the story of the band and became pretty obsessed. Luckily, my mom fanned the flames by bringing out her old teenage scrapbook when Beatlemania was at its peak.
There, she had pictures she had snapped of her TV when the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show, newspaper and magazine clippings, even some old pendants and pins. I helped her “restore” her Beatles scrapbook, retaping clippings into their rightful place where they had fallen out over many years. I relished every moment of that time with my mom.
So it’s not a shock that when my family was most fragmented, it was The Beatles (and, more specifically, good old Paul, my mom’s favorite Beatle) that brought us back together.
As my mom, herself, explains, “I didn’t want to go to work that day…. I was listening to [“Young Boy”], and it just hit me what a beautiful song it was. It was so pertinent; it’s like it was karma that I should hear this song when my son has just come out to me.
“[The lyrics,] ‘He’s just a young boy looking for a way to find love’ [I took that to mean] find love in the world, to be accepted for who you were…. The lyric is a universal theme for people finding their way in the world. And no matter who they are, their experience or orientation, everybody wants to be loved. That’s really what we [all] want is just to feel loved…. All you need is love.
“[When I was a teenager,] the Beatles were me, I was the Beatles. That’s how I felt. Everything they wrote spoke to me. Everything. I think [“Young Boy”] comforted me.
“I never had any doubts that [my family] would be okay. We all loved each other so much. The song was like a nice big blanket being wrapped around my shoulders…. The love was there, and it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Constants and guarantees in life are few. My time as an openly gay man over the last 20 years has certainly had its share of heartbreak, but also small triumphs, too. Like McCartney sings, “He’s gotta do it for himself, and it can take so long,” and he’s so, so right with that one.
Being happy and open with myself is indeed an ongoing process that takes a long time. But something that has given me a lot of hope for almost two decades is that my parents — and the Beatles’ music — all have my back.