After dedicating my post to Mary Tyler Moore yesterday, I walked two miles from my office to home, listened to the theme song from her show’s opening sequence, watched her toss her Tam o’ Shanter, and sang, “You’re gonna make it after all” about five times to my daughter and husband before they begged me to stop.
This morning, I wondered why I was still thinking about Mary. There had been more surprises from the new occupants of the White House. Federer had beaten Wawrinka at the Australian Open! By the time I finished my shower, though, I knew why.
I began watching reruns of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” reruns in the ’90s after my divorce from a woman. In my early 30s, I had summoned enough courage to come out of the closet to my family. In the next years thereafter, I was told not to get too close to my nieces because I would probably die from AIDS in a few years.
For the record, I’ve always been extremely careful about my health. Suffice it to say, I’ve played it very safe. My doctors tell me I’m a boring patient. They usually tell me, “Great, see you in one year. No follow-up needed.” I’ve never taken any medications. I do have a pretty indented sternum, but with doctors’ blessings, have played tennis all my life and run 18 marathons.
Another family member once came to my home in the ’90s and stared at my piano. “You still play,” he said. “Yes, isn’t it a great piano,” I replied. “Well,” he said, “when you don’t want it, my kids would really like it.” I looked puzzled and asked, “What if I have kids?” The response: “Well, that won’t happen now that you’re gay.”
When I was growing up, I wanted to fit in. I twisted myself into many pretzels to make that happen. In the rare moments when I let down my guard and let myself be myself, I was told I was embarrassing. Years later, it was noted by someone very close to me in family that I perhaps had been “pushing a gay agenda.”
Really? A boy growing into a man in the ’70s and ’80s terrified that he might be gay pushing an agenda? I did everything I could to avoid being beat up, mocked, even spat on when I would walk home from school rather than take the bus.
I had three major escapes back then: playing and watching tennis, practicing the bassoon, writing poetry. Occasionally, I also watched Mary Tyler Moore.
Mary gave me the courage to stand up for myself. To this day, I sometimes struggle doing so. I can be a wonderful cheerleader and coach for others, but I have to take several deep breaths and rehearse my words when it comes to me. I question whether I’m pushing an agenda or just being strong and politely holding my ground.
All these thoughts came washing over me in the shower this morning. I had to wait several meetings and hours later before I could sort them through in sentences and paragraphs.
Life is pretty funny. People are sometimes missed a lot more after they are gone. Until yesterday, I hadn’t realized how much Mary Tyler Moore inspired me. Now I know she has always been an angel for me and I’m sure millions of gay and straight men and women.