Thursday, May 25, 2006

Coming and Being out...for me.

I have been thinking about the phenomenon of coming out and being out for a while. I have been thinking about writing a post about it. I have a post started about my observations of my boys' experiences, but I thought first I would be honest about my own.

I am out as a heterosexual married woman. I flaunt it. I openly wear a wedding ring. I have a family photo in my office. I start stories with sentences like, "My husband and I..." all the time. I pay absolutely no attention at all to whether my lifestyle makes anybody uncomfortable. I don't bring up the details of my sex life in a committee meeting at work, but I don't first consider the feelings and attitudes of co-workers before saying, "Sorry I have to leave early. My husband is feeling ill and I have to take the kids to their lessons."

I hold his hand in public. I ask people I don't know on airplanes to trade seats with me so I can sit with him. I have even been known to rest my head on his shoulder around people I don't even know.

Yep. If anyone can be said to "flaunt" their sexuality, it would have to be me.

I never had to come out as a heterosexual. I have never had to announce it to anyone. Being out is also easy. I do not have to think about it.

I am also out as the mother of gay kids. I did not take out an ad in the newspaper*, but I was at one point quite deliberate about telling a few people. I told my mother, sister, and mother-in-law. At work I made a point of saying something like, "My son and his boyfriend..." Given that I am one of those people who twist words around all the time, many of my colleagues smiled and tried to correct me, "you said boyfriend."

Coming out was scary. There were a list of people to whom I was close and it turned out that most of them were cool. A few though were not. It also turned out that I was really bad at predicting who was going to be in which group. Still, I told the people, got my feelings hurt a few times, lost a couple of friends who were never really friends to begin with, and moved on with my life.

Being out as the mother of gay kids makes me think about things in a way that I do not think about anything else. I am sitting here in my office surrounded by pictures of my kids, all of them. I have a picture that I took of David and his prom date. It is my absolute favorite picture of him. He looks so good in his tux; he and his date are positively adorable in their co-ordinating tuxes. I had it as my computer wall-paper for awhile. It is the ONLY picture I have that I think about displaying. Any other picture of my kids that I like...I put it up. THIS picture though is different.

I don't want it to be different. I want it to be like all the other pictures: just another photo of one of my beautiful children. It isn't though. It is a political statement.

When I talk about Carl, David, and Evan I think in ways that I do not think when I talk about the rest of my life. I remember a couple of years ago going to lunch with colleagues. We are joined by a couple of new folks. Someone asks me how my kids are. "Fine. Brian has another girl friend." My colleagues laugh. The new people look confused and say, "How old is Brian?" "Six. This is his third girlfriend." They smile. Isn't that cute?

"So how is Carl?" someone asks. I start to say, "He is trying to get up the courage to ask a boy to a dance at the community center." I stumble though. I look at the new people. I wonder how they will react. Maybe I should say that he is just nervous about asking someone out on a date? How would I word that? If I say that my colleagues will know that I have decided not to "come out" to these new people. If I say what I wanted to say then I will have made a political statement. The new people may think that I am testing or challenging them. They will pause before they speak. They will consider what different responses say about them. They may be annoyed that I put them in this position. It's supposed just to be a friendly lunch and there I go, making it tense and political.

It has been 5 and a half years since I first started coming out as the parent of gay sons. I still find that when I talk about my straight kids the words just fall out of my face, and when I talk about my gay kids an internal editor pops up to assess the audience and review my words before I speak them. That internal editor is getting faster though, or lazier. I have become more relaxed. I don't put nearly as much energy into it.

But as relaxed as I am, I still know that some of the things I say and some of the pictures I display will be considered political statements, however I intend them.

How much more intense would all this be if I were the one who was gay?

*I have though submitted letters to the editor which have been published in which I identified myself as the mother of gay sons.

Another post on coming out: David


  1. I'll get back to you later.

  2. Beth, I found your blog recently and have spent some time reading the archives (I'm reading a few posts each day).

    I'm the oldest of four kids and as far as we know, the only gay one (my brother is 15, there's still time). I do think that even though I had my first girlfriend 12 years ago and even though my partner and I have been together for nearly 8 years, my mom talks about me and my partner differently than she talks about my sister and her husband.

    Coming out as a parent must be hard. You're doing a tremendous job. Being aware of issues like being "out" as a heterosexual married woman is an incredible self-realization that lots of straight people never take the simple moments to realize.

    So thanks. You seem like an amazing mom.

  3. Great post. I notice myself stumbling sometimes with foster daughter vs. daughter... I never know how to introduce BeBe and I'm trying to respect both her and her mom.

    Anyway, just trying to say that I find talking to others about the situation v. effortful, and I don't even have to consider sexual preference.

  4. I don't know if this helps or not but as a gay person I have that same editor. Most of the time I chose to ignore it but it is still there like a pencil behind your ear.

    After I came out in college I thought I had lost the editor but after living in the south for five years I realised it had followed me around.

    Now as a gay man who is also a father I deal with it again.

    Many people have editors for other things as well. Living in San Francisco I have to think about how I present my political beliefs or talking about my family in the military.

    Like a pencil behind the ear you don't notice it until you either need it or it starts to fall.

  5. Hey, Yondalla, long time no comment :) I just found this post after falling behind on a LOT of blogs while sick via "Foster Abba's" post in which she jokingly mentioned you "flaunting your heterosexuality." This post was especially interesting to me...

    I have an internal editor of a different husband is one of four siblings. The other three are gay. HE is homophobobic (why yes, he DOES have issues!), and we have three biological children of our own. I am (was? I always wonder about the tense since I'm in a committed heterosexual relationship NOW but am still the same person I was when I dated girls) bisexual. I'm not 100% convinced that sexuality is genetic, but families like my husband's make it hard not to at least consider that possibility, aaaaaaand I think our oldest kid *might* be gay when thon (I don't identify my kids' genders because I blog about controversial issues and want to stay VERY anon, so I use the gender-neutral pronoun "thon" when referring to my kids on the blog and call them the Large, Medium, and Very Small Animals) grows up (the kid just turned seven but has asked lots of interesting questions about whether two insert-kid's-gender-heres can get married, and does thon HAVE to marry a insert-opposite-gender-here when thon grows up, etc.). So MY internal editor is trying to compensate for my husband's insensitivity toward gender and sexuality by always saying "the PERSON you marry when you grow up" or what-have-you rather than using gendered terms.

    As far as the gay marriage question, I have told the kid (the other two are almost-four and almost-three, and the almost-four-year-old is autistic so we're still working on getting that one get the DIFFERENCE between men and women and learn which pronouns apply) that currently it is not legal in our country (but is in lots of others), and that doesn't mean it's wrong, just that a lot of people don't like the idea because it's different, and compared it to interracial marriage, which was illegal not-too-long-ago in our state (their father is biracial but would be considered "black" under the one-sixteenth rule that used to apply to such situations and I am as white as it gets) for the same reason--different from what most people do, so it used to be illegal and still makes some people uncomfortable but if both parties are grown-ups and it makes them happy to have that kind of family then I think it's a-okay and sooner or later the law will catch up. Yes, we have to obey laws because they are there to keep us all safe, but who you marry has nothing to do with keeping anybody safe if both parties are old enough and willing.

    I deliberately try not to steer my kids toward gender-typical activities and just let them pursue whatever they are personally interested in. I am constantly aware of how I frame anything to do with dating, relationships, marriage, etc. around them because *if* one or more of them are gay I want to make sure they can intuit that *I* at least would be okay with that (their father I can hopefully wear down on the matter by the time the seven-year-old starts dating to the point that if anybody "comes out" he can avoid saying anything hurtful or damaging; at my therapist's suggestion I bring up the possibility once in a while but it's not a popular idea with him) and our relationship wouldn't change in any way. Against their father's wishes I did tell them when one of his gay siblings moved in with their SO and started talking about a committment ceremony; we would not attend because my MIL is Evil incarnate and actually physically attacks me every time she sees me, but I would encourage the children to make cards congratulating the happy couple and my husband could like that or lump it. One of the siblings has defied their mother (they all live in the same city faaaaar away from us) and came to visit, and the children had a wonderful time (strangely even the autistic one immediately took to thons uncle and was happily climbing into his lap to share thons blankie, which the kid won't even do with ME--thon strongly prefers thons father, which I try not to take personally since I did up and have number three when the poor kid was only fourteen months old. In fact I have NEVER seen that one bond with anyone outside our nuclear family that quickly or strongly; my brother-in-law is a very gentle man and works with mentally-disabled adults so maybe he just has "the touch" but it was nice to see that "The Medium Animal" is CAPABLE of that kind of bonding) playing with their uncle--they had him down on the floor crawling around and chasing frisbees and dressing stuffed animals and generally obeying their every whim. I am an only child and have no close family (emotionally OR geographically) so I do my best to balance encouraging contact with annoying my husband (who sort of "tolerates" but "agrees to disagree with" his siblings' "lifestyles") because I want my kids to feel like they have family members, and if my BIL who came to visit ends up adopting or having a child through a gestational surrogate then I would want them to have a relationship with their cousin/s (I kind of think he might have the "baby bug" judging by the level of abuse he tolerated from my three--he spent more time with them than with us, not that I can blame him given his brother's obvious discomfort and the fact that he doesn't really know me and I was direly ill at the time of his visit).

    I don't HOPE my kids turn out to be of ANY particular orientation (except for when the little devil on my shoulder starts giggling over how it would serve my husband right if at least ONE of them was gay). I know it would be easier for them in a lot of ways to be heterosexual, and nobody wants to think about their children being the victims of any kind of discrimination, judgment, or bigotry. But if they're gay I want them to feel comfortable with their sexuality and not be afraid to tell us about it. Needless to say my husband rolls his eyes when I say "person" as opposed to man or woman, but I still do it.

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