There was something oddly helpful, strengthening even, in already knowing ostracism, in already feeling different and outside that made it easier for Harlan Greene to accept and reveal that he was gay.
In a 1992 essay, the Charleston author and historian writes of his beloved mother, Regina, a Holocaust survivor who never quite melded into Charleston’s Jewish circles.
He, too, had few friends and scant social interaction beyond his family.
In some ways, that made it easier, or at least diminished the angst of suddenly not fitting in, as was the experience of gay peers at his Jewish day school.
“In the long run I suppose it was good for me, for when I realized I was gay, coming out was easy. I was used to being alien and different, outside of the mainstream. And from Momma I had gotten the message to believe in myself and to do what I thought right no matter what others said or thought about me,” writes Greene, archivist of special collections at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library.
He contributed the essay to the book “A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families.”
Greene will join a free panel discussion Wednesday to discuss growing up LGBT in Charleston.
The panel, open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. in the Charleston Jewish Community Center auditorium, 1645 Raoul Wallenberg Blvd. in West Ashley.
In a predominantly Christian area, are the experiences of LGBT youths and their families here unique? What issues arise in Jewish families and in the community?
Panelists will include: Greene; Max Blachman, a former College of Charleston student who grew up in Columbia; and Janet Fox, whose son came out in college. Lisha Kievit, a local clinical psychologist, will facilitate the discussion and field questions from the audience.
In his essay, Greene describes the horror of learning his partner, Olin Jolley, had contracted AIDS. He soon saw parallels between the AIDS epidemic and people in his mother’s native Poland who turned their heads to the death and suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.
“We are a lower form of life most folks see dying,” writes Greene, who also has penned historical novels about being gay in Charleston.
Yet when friends and family withdrew as they heard the news, his mother stayed close and shared a bond with Jolley. They were peers, “each a victim of cruelty,” Greene writes.
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