“Chad, I hope you don’t mind terribly, but may I ask you a personal question?”
Art, my Airbnb houseguest, looked uncomfortable as stood near the kitchen table. He was wearing a white button down shirt, blue and red patriotic suspenders, black pants, a stringy western tie, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. He took his hat off and held it in one hand, avoiding eye contact. His hair was wispy, stringy, combed over from one side to the other to make it look as if he had more hair than he did, and it was a bright startling white. His face was wrinkled, his hands knobby and covered in liver spots. But he was surprisingly spry for 85, here in town to compete in a square dancing competition. I had immediately liked him when I met him a few days before.
“Sure, Art, go ahead. I’m a pretty open book.” I was sitting at the table writing, with soft music playing, an apple ale cracked open as my fingers clacked on the keyboard. I was in a tanktop and sweatpants, and had the windows open behind me to let in the fresh rainy summer air.
“Well, it’s just, well, you’re single, right?”
“Mm-hmm.” I nodded once taking a sip of the ale.
“And–well, I don’t think you told me this, so I hope it isn’t intrusive, but your profile said you are gay, right?”
I smiled. He still hadn’t made eye contact. “Yes, I’m gay.”
“So you date men. But you aren’t in a relationship.”
“That’s correct.” I wondered why he was so nervous, and I wondered briefly if he was flirting. He was a perfectly nice man, but 85 was a little past my dating age range.
“Well, uh–“, he finally looked up at me. “Well, when I was using the kitchen earlier, I noticed that you had some drawings on your fridge by, uh, they look to be done by kids. And then I saw that you have some children’s toys over in the corner there, like a doll and some dinosaurs and such. I just wondered, uh, why you have those things here.”
I smiled again. “Well, Art, that’s because I have children. Two sons, ages 7 and almost 5.”
His eyes widened in genuine surprise.”You’re gay and you have children?” His voice was shocked and his face went a little pale.
“Yes, that’s correct. They live here part of the time.”
He held his cowboy hat in his hands. “Well, my goodness. Worlds collide.”
I tilted my head curiously. “What do you mean, worlds collide?”
He looked up, thinking before he spoke. “You just have to understand, I grew up in a different age. Back then, it’s just–well, you didn’t get to be gay and have kids both. Gay people hid. Or they moved to big cities to be around other gay people, where they wouldn’t be harassed. Seeing a man say he’s gay who also has kids, that’s what I mean. Two worlds colliding.”
I thought a moment. “I bet you knew a lot more gay parents than you thought you did. A lot of gay men and women married the opposite sex in order to have families, or to hide, or because they didn’t think they had any other choice.”
He seemed a bit frustrated and clutched his hat tighter. “Well, yes, but those ones might have liked men, but they weren’t gay. They weren’t walking around talking about being gay.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s fair. It is different now, though. A lot of people still hide being gay. But gay people can get married now. I have a sister who has a wife. And I have gay friends who adopt kids and are foster parents, all of that. The world is changing.”
Art looked at the floor, sad for a moment, then looked back up to me. “Well, you are a lucky man. Thank you for answering my questions. I thought maybe you just liked playing with children’s toys. I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning. Good night, Chad.”
He turned to head back down to his rented space downstairs. “Good night, Art.”
Worlds collide, I thought. Such a dramatic turn of phrase. And I turned back to my keyboard.