Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anticipating Rejection

Close to seven years ago, I became Carl's mom.

In doing so many things changed for me. One of those things was my relationship to the GLBT community. I don't know if I was really an ally before then. Oh, I voted against anti-gay propositions, and I didn't allow my students to use "gay" as an insult. My politics were pretty much what they were now. But it was different. It was about political views; it was about relatively abstract principles of justice.

Now it is about my family. It's not merely political; it's personal.

So 10 years ago I had a neighbor who happened to be a member of a church that actually excommunicates members for being openly gay. I probably knew that they had anti-gay views, but I could put it aside. My neighbor and I slowly developed a friendship. She came over to my house periodically. I would make us tea (herb tea only!) and we would chat. It became clear that she felt she had a religious duty to invite me to join her church and every six months or so she would get uncomfortable and ask if I had thought any more about learning more about her church. I would smile and tell her that I was still very happy in my church. She would relax and we would move on. I understood that she felt obliged to ask. I imagine she would have been very excited if I had said that I had wanted to know more, but I never once thought that her visits to my kitchen were part of plan to convert me.

I don't know that it would be like that anymore.

The people who live in their house now are very nice. They have a potluck every Tuesday to which they have invited us several times. It is just "wholesome Christian fun." Sometimes they talk about the Bible or religion, but mostly it is just a time to fellowship.

I turned down the invitation. I probably would anyway for a variety of reasons (one is that I have anxiety attacks thinking about going to a party were I don't know anyone), but this time I was turning her down for one reason: I'm a PFLAG mom and I figured sooner or later that would be an issue and I didn't want to deal with it. Either they would say something that would p*ss me off, or they would be carefully polite and worried for my soul and my children's souls, which would also p*ss me off.

In other words, I now have a defensive posture with respect to certain groups of people that I did not used to have. Before I might know that I and some other person would disagree on various issues, but now I am nervous that they will think my children are going to hell and then I would want to hit them over the head with a big stick, and so why don't we just call the whole thing off?

I still have friends who belong to all sorts of religious groups. The difference is that they got to know me before announcing their religious commitments. They did not lead with Jesus, so to speak. They know me; they know that I march in the Pride Parade (literally and figuratively) and it doesn't have anything to do with our relationship.

But when I meet people and it is very important to them to tell me right away that they are Christian and want to know if I have a church home, I figure we are not going to get along. I want to just get it all over with. Some times I do. When I was looking for a sponsor in Al-Anon that was exactly what I did. I talked to someone and said, "I was wondering if you would be interested in talking to me about being my sponsor. I want to tell you right off that I have gay sons, the addict in my life is gay, and I sometimes talk about them and their boyfriends. If you aren't comfortable with that you should just tell me."

But that is pretty rare. Maybe I should do it more often, but the truth is that I just tend to back away from people who I suspect are going to have a problem accepting my boys.

I wanted to do it on the phone last night. I was talking to the mother of this girl Brian has a crush on and I wanted to say, "Brian has gay brothers he loves very much. If your daughter visits us she is going to see prom pictures of two boys on the wall and copies of The Advocate on the table. She might even meet real, live gay boys along with their boyfriends. If you are going to forbid her from coming over, will you just tell me now?" No, that's not true; saying something that careful did not really occur to me.

It was just so clear that she was making certain that we were the right sort of people.

I wanted to tell her that we are not the right sort of people. I wanted to tell her that I was pro-choice, pro-gay, Democrat, and believed in separation of church and state. I wanted to tell her that I often have lesbians, gay men and trannies for dinner guests. I wanted to tell her that I thought evolution belonged in school and organized prayer did not. I wanted tell her that she would probably think that my house was a den of iniquity and why didn't we just save ourselves a lot of grief and not talk to each other?

Maybe I should have. I was torn between wanting to "get it over with" and feeling like I should let Brian walk his own path. He likes this girl. He wants to hang out with her. Who knows what might happen? Maybe he will have a positive effect on her.

But it is different than how it would have been before, and I don't know that the mother would understand. I used to be able to be friends with people who thought gay people were going to hell. We just wouldn't talk about that particular issue. I can't do that anymore.

It's not just abstract politics.

It's personal.


  1. I cannot even count how many times I have felt like this in my life--probably every time I am meeting new people I don't know ahead of time are gay. And I live in a liberal state, where educated informed people are expected not to be homophobic. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if I were meeting "Christians" on a daily basis.

    The problem is, I think the only way we can ever change people is to have it become personal for them, too. And this happens only when they get a chance to know one of us, and like us, BEFORE we come out to them. Then it becomes dissonant for them, and cause them to consider change.

  2. I am queer. I am Jewish. I have little tolerance for people who come at me talking about Jee-jus as the first thing out of their mouths. When they invite me to their church, I always tell them that me and my wife are Jewish.

    Most of the time, they are too fish-mouthed to say much more except scurry away. The only ones who are really persistent are the door-knockers, and I can usually chase them away with a copy of my Hebrew bible. I read a couple of sentences of the Hebrew and ask them what it means. They'll usually pale, gulp and run off.

    But I definitely feel the same way. If someone has to tell me, before we've even started to be friends, that they are Christian, I usually pass them by.

  3. I too would just pass by anyone who started talking about how they are Christian prior to actually getting to know them. I want friends who will understand and support me, not try to convert me or condemn me. And unfortunately, while it's a generalization, most of the people who start conversations that way are trying to convert or condemn.

  4. As a gay man this is my everyday experience when meeting new people. Even here in SF I always wonder how it will be welcomed.

    Now our coming out is a whole different experience when we meet people. We aren't just gay men any more, we are also parents. One of the reasons we stay here is because our son will know other children of LGBT families and we have a better chance of finding supportive teachers, etc.

    It is a tough choice on how to balance letting your children lead their own lives and wanting to protect them from being hurt by the ignorance of others.


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