Monday, January 29, 2007

Coming out and being out...parental fears

As I don't have any foster kids in the house, I have given myself a challenge. Every day that I don't have something else to write about I will attempt to finish a draft post that I started, saved, and never got back to.

Here is one from May 28, 2006. It was part of the series of posts on coming out.


We live our lives entwined in a web. If you are my mother or my child, what you do affects my life.

If you are my parent or my child and you are gay and out or gay and closeted, you affect my life in ways I may not like and do not know how to deal with.

When Carl moved in he was out to only a few friends. Most kids at school did not know. His previous foster parents knew and we had just learned. He did not want us to tell any of our friends or even the younger boys.

What a nightmare.

We took him weekly to a youth group for gay kids in a town 25 miles away on Sunday afternoons. I am a terrible liar and found it very difficult to figure out what exactly to tell my friends about why I was busy every Sunday. It was even more difficult with Andrew who knew I was taking him to a youth group. He kept asking what was so special about this group and I could not give him an answer.

One day my best friend was at the house when Carl left with a girl friend to watch movies at her house "because it was quiet there." My friend asked, "Are her parents home?" "No." "Do you think that's wise?"

I stopped calling my mother altogether. At the point my kids sexuality is not something that I think about all the time, but there in the beginning it was on my mind a lot. I had to make up things to tell my mother.

So we went to PFLAG meetings, which was really helpful except that Carl did not want us to tell the younger boys or even the babysitter where we were going.

That was what made me call the counselor he was seeing (the counselor was also gay) and say, "We have GOT to have a family session." The counselor made Carl understand that we needed to be able to tell our friends and family too.

Once we were all out though, the situation reversed itself. Now the degree to which the kids were out affected me.

Oh I know, it is not supposed to. I am not supposed to care. But it does.

The first "crisis" for us was when Carl decided to wear make-up to school. As I think I have mentioned before, it was not good make-up. It wasn't even good Goth make-up. It really seemed designed to announce to people that he was gay. In retrospect, I get it. I think he was telling people that he was out and he wasn't afraid of them. He stopped after a couple of weeks.

Still, it made me, Hubby and his social worker all have to face our own fears. We all had our own ideas of how out it was safe for Carl to be. There was some line, different for each of us, which of course WE did not mind if he crossed, but which we thought it was unsafe for him to cross. When a gay college student was assaulted I went more than a little crazy.

The student came to me to talk. He just felt safest with me. He had no idea that I was parenting a gay son. He had no idea that his story was making me terrified.

All parents of gay kids have to deal with these sorts of fears. I have seen GAY parents of gay kids struggle with these fears. We all want our kids to be safe.

And then there is HIV. Parent who call PFLAG never said "HIV" or "AIDS." They almost always say, "I'm afraid he will get sick."

I fear this. I think about it fairly often. Every time I take in yet another gay youth I am increasing the chances that I will one day have a son with HIV. The disease is entirely preventable. My boys all assure me they only have safe sex, but my boys are liars. They are not only having safe sex. They take risks.

And so that is a fear that sits at the back of my mind and in the pit of my stomach. I go months without thinking about it. I lecture the boys. I buy them condoms. I remind myself that there is nothing I can do to control it. I remind myself that it is possible that they will stay healthy; that they will be lucky. But the fear never really goes away. It sits, and I tell it to shut up.

When Carl moved in I thought I was completely okay with him being gay. I expected to deal with awkwardness and the prejudices of others. I had no idea how much of my journey would be about fear.

1 comment:

  1. I think I can relate to Carl's initial paranoia about other people being told. This is probably the case with many people in the early coming out phases where one hyperventilates at the prospect of telling even people one knows would be cool with it. One really has to be ready and comfortable, and stop caring. It also seems very important at that stage to be the sole decision-maker about who should be told. Later on of course one wonders why one made such a huge fuss about the whole thing.
    I think a similar thing also goes for many parents, who take time to digest the idea, are very secretive in the beginning and then may (if at all) gradually become more comfortable with it.

    Wearing makeup as a way to come out does indeed sound like a challenge to his peers. For me to coming out to my friends gradually became a challenge to them (their friendship) and to myself (as in my ability to gather together a great bunch friends).


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