In the post below, I originally used the entire quote, as I found it on Goodreads. That full quote is here:
“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
I came back later and stripped out the first sentence, because as I thought about it I realized the sentence bothered me. It struck me as wrong. I initially read it as Vonnegut making the joke that becoming an artist is as shocking as being gay, to an ordinary family. I suppose he was making that joke, and back when he made the joke it was probably a fairly mild one, not particularly homophobic but more playing on the social expectations of the time.
Given that “A Man Without a Country” was published in 2005 (a collection of essays that was Vonnegut’s last book), it’s telling that already the line feels wrong to me. These days most of us agree that a gay child is, or should be, far less shocking than an artist. I love that we as a culture are becoming less homophobic and more loving towards our gay and transgendered compatriots. I didn’t like the implication that a gay child is somehow wrong, or that it’s “nervy” to come out, or that you will hurt your family if you are gay and let them know.
So I came back and stripped that sentence away, but I didn’t want to do it without noting why.
Families of the world, embrace your gay children! And your artistic children too, whether or not they overlap.