I've been asked to tell
of my experiences as the mother of a gay man. I am the
mother of three children, the youngest of whom happens to be gay. Because
John lives in NYC, we don’t see each other frequently as a rule, but the fact
that he is a gay man has brought us together both last weekend and today.
John and I spent last weekend together (April 29-30,2000) in Washington DC attending the national conference of Parents/Families/ Friends of Lesbians and Gays. We also participated in a march on Sunday, the purpose of which was to promote justice and dignity for gay and lesbian persons as well as call attention to hate crimes perpetrated against minorities. Hearing all of this, you might assume that I am very comfortable with John's homosexuality. You might even call me an activist. But it was not always so., and that's where I'll begin my story.
I must go back to the summer of 1992. John was 23 years old that summer. He'd graduated from University of Michigan the previous year, moved to NY, and taken a job in publishing. He was then living with his older sister.
I had gone into NY to visit Anne and John. You know how you can always remember where you were and what you were doing when those once in a lifetime events take place... like when Pres. Kennedy was shot? Well, that is what that weekend was like for me. John and I had spent the day alone together. We
had a beautiful time...an outdoor lunch in Central Park, a visit to the sculpture garden on the roof of the museum. We all went to a show in the evening, then on to dinner at a rather crowded, noisy NY restaurant. I remember that Anne Marie excused herself to go to the restroom, and John turned to me and said, " Mom, you know I'm gay, don't you?" I think my heart stopped beating. It was totally unexpected. Why did he think I knew he was gay? I remember thinking, "What can I say to him?"
So, stalling for time, I said, "Well, I guess we did wonder a bit when you were much younger." That was only partially true. John had always been a sweet sensitive boy. He never seemed interested in the competitive Little League sports we put him in along with his older brother. His best friend till age 7-8 was
the little girl next door, who was definitely not a tomboy. So John had never been the typical "all boy” stereotypical little boy. So we always knew that he was not the rough and tumble type of child.
But I also remember that when he entered high school, he began to date girls. So his father and I breathed a big sigh of relief, and said to ourselves, "Well, he can't be gay...he's dating girls!!" So, back to the restaurant: when John said those words to me, I was truly shocked. I might have said that we had wondered, but, in my heart I was saying, " No, I don't know you're gay, I don't want to know you're gay. I put that fear to rest years ago. But here was the reality staring me in the face, not to be denied.
I don't think I let any of that show that night, because, then and now, I love John more than my life, gay or straight. But I did enter a long period of grieving- a common experience for parents when their children come out to them. I grieved for my losses, the loss of my hopes and expectations for John to marry and
have children...MY Grandchildren.
I also feared for John, for the prejudices and possible physical dangers he might face. I was also full of guilt; sure that something we had done or not done as parents had made John gay. And I didn't want him to be gay!! And, like many parents, when John came "out of the closet", I went in.... who could I talk to about
this? I couldn't imagine telling anyone, and, besides, what would people think...of me...of John...of our family?? My husband had died two years before, so I was pretty much on my own to deal with this.
Well, I realized I had to do something to pull myself out of this mess I was in, so I decided I needed a little knowledge. I decided to learn all I could about homosexuality. John sent me some books that were helpful, and I spent a lot of time in Barnes and Noble hanging about the Gay/Lesbian section, hoping no one I knew would spot me. I learned that My husband and I were not responsible for John's sexual orientation, that God made John just the wonderful way he is, and that homosexuality is one of God's most significant gifts to humanity. God has chosen some to be gay and lesbian as a means of revealing something about God's self which heterosexuals cannot.
One major concern for me was (and still is) the official position of my Church regarding gay/ lesbian persons. My Church says that a homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered" and that homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil". I have always been a very active Catholic. I treasure my Catholic Faith. But the Church's teaching on homosexuality simply does not fit with my experience of gay/lesbian people. And words like disordered" and "evil" are words that justify violence. The hierarchy doesn’t mean to do that, but I live in the real world with real people, and I can sense how harmful those words are.
As a parent of a gay man, I cannot agree with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. To do so would be to deny my son and violate my conscience. I love my son very much, and know that he does not qualify as either disordered or evil.
My journey into the closet ended with the help of PFLAG that gave me the support and information I needed to realize that I had nothing to hide; indeed, I had much to celebrate about my son John. My life has been so enriched by the people I have met through this organization.
I am still coming out to people at work and even strangers when the situation calls for it. But I do so now with much assurance and pride in my son and in my efforts to promote dignity and justice for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
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