Thirty-six years later, the first 10 seconds of the theme song to the 1970’s television show “Family” stirs a sweet medley of emotions and evokes so many of my most vivid memories. I’m transported back to those Tuesday nights when I’d sit on the living room floor, anxious and eager to see myself on TV.

Buddy Lawrence, brilliantly portrayed by Kristy McNichol, was my teenage doppelganger.

Buddy was 14. I was 14. Buddy was an All-American tomboy. I was an All-American tomboy. We both wore boys’ clothes — overalls and sports T-shirts with numbers were our favorites. When we dressed up, we wore the girls’ department equivalent of the leisure suit.

We were two gay girls just trying to sort it all out.

What’s that you say? Buddy wasn’t gay? As far as I was concerned, she was every bit as gay as I was. Sitting there on that shag carpet, my back against the sofa, arms crossed and draped over my knees with a pack of David brand sunflower seeds and a cherry Slurpee between my feet, I held my breath, hoping no one else in my family felt like watching TV.

This was my hour. My only hour. The only time that I got to see a girl who looked, talked, behaved and dressed like me. Buddy Lawrence, and therefore Kristy McNichol, let me know that I wasn’t alone. We three were kindred spirits, learning to navigate the straight world as Lesbian teenagers.

Would it have been fantastic, out of sight and groovy if Kristy McNichol had announced to the world decades ago that she’s a Lesbian? Of course it would have been. Just as it would have been far-out, man, if I had come out to my parents before I was 20. I could have breathed a little easier and carried less guilt about hiding and lying. But I didn’t. I just couldn’t.

I’m guessing Kristy, had she, for whatever reason, come out years ago, could have breathed a little easier, too. But she didn’t. Clearly, for her own personal reasons, she just couldn’t either.

In the land of shag carpet and leisure suits, of unspoken everything, that place where little gay boys and little gay girls rarely, if ever, saw themselves on television, up on the big screen, in magazines or newspapers or at concerts, there was virtually no one “out there” assuring us that It Gets Better.

But for one wonderful, comforting, perfect hour each Tuesday night, Buddy Lawrence and Kristy McNichol assured me that it would get better, that I wasn’t alone and that, in fact, I was special.

Thank you, Buddy. Thank you, Kristy. And welcome to the Family.

Emmy Award Winner Kristy McNichol

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