Sunday, January 21, 2007

The parent's closet

It's my turn with our PFLAG chapter's cell phone. Actually, it is almost always my turn. I'm more comfortable with it than most of the other folks are. I get tired and need a break every now and then, but mostly it is at my house. We can go months without getting any real calls. (Calls from students doing research projects don't count as real calls in my book. I talk to them, but it is not what I prepare myself for when I hear that cell phone ring.)

Recently though I've had a couple of conversations with a mom. It's the sort of call we don't get very much anymore. She doesn't have anyone to talk to. The son who just came out is about 20 and in college. She is not ready for him to come out to the rest of the family. She believes that he is not ready, and that may be true, but somehow I get the feeling that it is more her than him. In any case, her husband and other children don't know. No one in her church knows. She doesn't have access to the Internet and so the only people that she has to talk to are me and a cousin who lives far away.

I said we don't get these sorts of calls very much anymore. Usually the calls are from people who mostly want some information. They call once. They ask me if their child can really know that they are gay when they are seven or twelve. They ask me for some book recommendations, and I never hear from them again. I don't hear from them because they are talking to their friends. They are not closeted. They travel their journey with their friends, spouse and siblings.

When I talk to GLBT teens and adults about their parents they tend to see their parents along a simple continuum with condemnation on one end and acceptance on the other. They want their parents to accept them, support them, be happy for them. Many of them, especially the younger ones, think that the only issue their parents have to deal with is homosexuality. They just have to accept that. The teenagers have no idea how complex their parents' journey is.

Right now this mother who is calling me is not ready to tell people. She adores her son and she is afraid that others will condemn him, and right now she is not strong enough to face that possibility. He is, she tells me, the boy that everyone loves. So many people in the family have had so many problems, but he was the one, the golden boy, the first to go to college. She cannot bear the thought that people will no longer love him. She will get there; I know that she will. Most of us find that the majority of people in our lives still recognize our children's worth, and that we no longer give a flip about the ones who don't, but it takes a while. I think she knows that. She also knows though that some people who now love her son will turn their backs on him, and there is nothing she can do about it.

She is re-remembering his entire childhood. When did the awareness start for him? How much pain did he feel? How alone was he? Did she say things did she say that made it worse for him? How many times had someone said something negative about homosexuality around her son in her presence while she stood by saying nothing, doing nothing? It was her job to protect him and to help him, and she thought she was doing it, but she wasn't. She thought she was a good mother to him, but now she is not sure she was. She says she just wants to put a bandage on the pain and she knows that is ridiculous. His childhood was what it was, and there is nothing she can do to change that now.

Suddenly she is the mother of a son whom people condemn. Two weeks ago she was the mother of a boy whom everyone adored. Two weeks ago she was the mother of a son who was safe. Now she is the mother of a boy who could be the victim of a hate crime, and there is nothing she can do about it.

"I'm just so angry" she tells me. "That is the strongest emotion I have been having about all this. I'm angry. Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes," I tell her. "It makes perfect sense to me."


  1. That is so sad. I am so glad she has you to talk to.

  2. It is funny that so many families are so different yet their stories are so much the same. This story sounded a lot like my mother's own coming out.

    I liked the reference you made to her not being strong enough to deal with some of the negatives. My mom has talked about having to build up her strenght to deal with bigotry. It was easier to defend others than to defend her own child. The attacks on me were very personal attacks on her.

    It was by building up her own belief that I was ok, her acceptance of her own limits in being able to protect me in the big world, and her knowledge of the LGBT community that she started coming out herself.

    It was a long time in happening but now she is comfortable with her son, his family, and his place in the world. I'm glad there are people like you out there for families. People forget that it is more than just the gay person who comes out.

  3. For me, thinking about one of mine being gay - really my first reaction is just fear.
    That there are people who would hurt them for that reason.
    It is scary.
    Just such a good post.


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