Many ways to begin this conversation with you have wheeled through my mind.
Jump in like an ice challenge? Wade in slowly? Paint the picture? Go for the shock value of what’s not shocking anymore?
My son is gay. I am not sure I have ever actually typed that before this day, but he is.
When he came out, first as bi (apparently a gateway to gay, if there could be such a thing), my body began to vibrate, but I managed to keep it together while my son was in the room, urging him to sit on the edge of the bed, holding him and feeling his slight body folded over to hug me. I spied my daughter, standing behind my son, felt the aura coming off my partner from his side of the bed, and knew my love spoke to me telepathically, trying to get reassurance into my mind.
A recorded reel flowed out of my mouth, I was proud of him for being so self aware. I always knew he was special and if this is what gay was…happy, exuberant, engaged in all parts of life, a defender and champion of underdogs. Being human. I was all for it. Looking into his green eyes, I let him know he had done a good thing, then babbled on some more about love and acceptance and how he would always have it, even as my body fought to shake its way out of my skin.
And still, my heart on the other side of the bed, frozen in his own musings, hadn’t spoken. Stunned silent, I thought with a vague awareness as if I were making my way up to the surface of a fathomless lake. Colton kept talking, excited to be free, I thought, to escape the cage he had pretended to like, the one he’d been forced to live in, both a prisoner and his own warden.
My partner finally spoke and promptly sent me spinning into a deeper love than I had ever felt, “So, uh, we’re leaving for school at the same time tomorrow, then? You guys better get to bed.” He smiled and said in so many words it was no big deal, Colton was still Colton, as Colton as he had always been.
Once our bedroom door shut, violent shaking hijacked my body. I shivered on the bed as hot tears came to my eyes and thought, “What the hell do I do now?” The sense of wanting to protect him, an emotion I can now pinpoint, but couldn’t then, overtook me. I have never felt anything like it. Helpless support. A light to the blind. A hand in the darkness stretched out to my son.
Weeks passed, even months and stripping away all pride now, I can say without hating myself, I wished he’d never told me, wished he’d had a choice, wished he wasn’t, he wasn’t, he wasn’t. Not because there’s anything wrong with being gay, because there isn’t, because I didn’t know if I could do anything to help my son for the first time in his life.
He had been born premature, begging to get out of the womb at 25 weeks, and I talked him out of it until 36, the exact gestational period of a hippo, so that’s what I call him, Baby Hippo.
He had been a boy exhibiting the usual boyness, I never noticed anything alerting me to his gayness, expect once. We used to go furniture shopping and get cookies and milk in the snack shop. Colton announced one day he loved going there, and “not for the milk and cookies either, Mom.” In the time it takes to witness a comet streak across the sky, I questioned if he could be gay. Then I snapped that thought shut, chastised myself as ridiculous, and went on with life, until he turned 17.
Being the parent of a gay son was lonely.
Trying to coach him to embrace who he was, was unrewarding because I didn’t know if I did any good, whatever I did. Any time we talked about his coming out I worried I had said something wrong, had done something wrong, would damage him. I fretted about stereotypes, went to bed shaking and woke up feeling wilted and wary. I needed a group, another parent I could talk to, and I kind of found some support, but not really. Not enough. I needed to be accepted.
And since the gloves are off I am ashamed to admit, for another flash I worried what people would think of me for raising a gay son. I doubted whether I had the strength to wield a sword in his fights, to pick up for him when he got tired as he inevitably would do. Because there is one thing I do know, being gay is hard. We’ve all seen the major victories gay people have won over an everyday right like marriage – this was going to be his fight, too. It felt like a baby had been left on my doorstep, a brand new baby I was charged with getting to know all over again, that I had to find the strength and resources to support.
Through this journey, these are the five things I needed that at first I didn’t know I needed, and these are the things Colton needed too.
Have an ongoing conversation
Are more choices a good thing? In high school nowadays, I say, sounding like an old person, everyone identifies with some sort of label regarding their sexuality. Bi, straight, gay, transsexual (my daughter explained that one to me, I had it confused with cross dressing), pansexual, lesbian. These kids must all be assigned a nametag on the first day of school. I picture a stout administrator rising up over the sea of teenagers flooding through the door, yelling “All you gays line up here, lesbians in the next lane over, straights, you’re there…” she would gesture to an area in front of a neighboring table as her voice trailed off.
It’s wonderful to see forward momentum and our young people fighting for equality and to bring these important rights into the light, but with more choices comes more confusion, and some children wind up questioning their sexuality when they might never have done so in the first place were this atmosphere of gender discussion not supported or encouraged.
You can disagree with me, but this is a chat I had with my kiddo, because I needed to make sure he wasn’t bandwagon gay, he wasn’t looking for attention, that he didn’t feel neglected, or was just trying to belong. Well, of course he was all those things. He is also truly gay. I know that now. I know because he talked to me about his attraction to men, confided that he understood living this life is a challenging road, commiserated about mutual fears and rumors often spread about the gay community.
But the point is, he talked because I asked. I needed to know, no matter what, no matter how many times we had to talk about it, he would be okay. That he understood being gay wasn’t about standing on a stadium seat in the cafetorium, yelling in concert with fellow high schoolers as they all exploded from adjoining closets. This was real and did he know what this road meant? He assured me he did. He assured me he would never have sex without a condom, maybe in large part because I said I would hunt him down like a dog if I ever found out he had. But I like to think he has that great of a head on his shoulders. He will be a young gay man and he is ready.
Allow yourself to feel – honestly
I felt bad wishing he was not gay for many days. I felt bad for wanting to forget his announcement that took all his courage to muster. I felt like a hypocrite, and a silly, prior, Christian-gangbanged part of my mind worried he might go to hell. Quickly, I silenced that fool. To get through the haze of your child’s announcement, allow yourself to feel, allow yourself to kindly say what you need.
For me that meant one day asking if being gay was all we were ever going to talk about. Couldn’t we have a debate on ethics, on why Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion, if the handle would break off the snow shovel when the next blizzard hit? Anything but being gay? Yes, I asked him that because I needed space to process and to be kind about it, and probably because I was mad. He did not ask for this. And it should be joyful, but so many times, dammit, it’s not.
Colton listened to it all, okay with it because every message was cushioned by the bumpers of love and reassurance. And in a memory I can’t forget, he whispered to me that he had prayed to God not to be gay. I was mad, alright. Not mad at him, mad at the dirt, as Joan Crawford states in Mommie Dearest when scrubbing plant soil off the floor, addressing the maid. It’s the saying Colton and I have, to indicate frustration at life, not at each other.
Know that loving and accepting a friend who is gay, is not the same as loving and accepting your child who is gay
Why? Distance. The need to reach out and protect your child from the airbag when you slam on the brakes and your hand shoots out like the stop sign on a school bus. Because you teach them how to swallow pills and explain how the monster in the dark isn’t real, you leave Tooth Fairy money, sometimes searching the couch cushions so you will not disappoint them. You take them to the orthodontist, and you dream. Of future Thanksgivings with a larger family settled around the table, a daughter, now married, her hair pulled back, feeding turkey pieces to her toddler as she smiles, and a son with the luckiest wife in the world seated beside him. Poof! There goes your dream, until you conjure a new one. The point is, if you wear your heart on your sleeve for all walks of life, for all people, for compassion, for love, for the struggles and fair treatment of others, you better damn well guarantee you live the same message for your kiddo, and make that a double.
Find your child a mentor
Learning your child is gay when you are straight is like wandering into a strange land. It’s like Land of The Lost, when you get onto an amusement park ride and find yourself in a different time you know nothing about. You’ve heard of dinosaurs, seen the Sleestacks, but have never lived with them.
This is the same if you are somewhat sheltered, as I guess my partner and I have been. But you better be willing to learn the ropes, my friend, and you need a gay guide to help you. Colton is not yet ready to talk to anyone something so personal with someone he doesn’t know that well, but I have two men lined up when he picks up the phone to seek some real honesty. Men who have lived as gay men and are, really, just men. Men who have wanted nothing but to have a simple and natural life with all the fixings, as we all want, who just so happen to be gay. I have these men in my back pocket because there are questions I will never be able to answer for Colton. Never. And as his mother, there are things he won’t want to inquire of me. I think that’s fine. I think that’s boundaries. It’s my job to provide answers, and if I don’t know what to say, then it’s my job to hand him resources and role models as I would with sports, or hobbies, or anything else for my children.
When you are ready to unleash your heart and live your word, a rainbow emblazoned on your sleeve, when you are ready to shed your fear, then you will welcome in a beautiful spectrum of love. It’s just waiting for you. In the form of teenagers whose other parents don’t understand. In the form of children who can’t confide anything to anyone, or who deny their true selves.
There illuminates a purpose to your love and you may be surprised to find it has a lion’s strength when it comes to other teens you have never met. When you embrace your gay child and the sad state of acceptance constantly encircling their world, your walls will melt away you will fall apart inside as you begin to feel even a glimmer of their pain. “Does it make you sad to know you could not marry in any state right now, Colton?” I had never thought to ask that of him before until I fully accepted him. “Yes,” he answered, eyes downcast, and a frown softening his young face. “Very sad,” he stated with an expression that suddenly looked too old and too pained to be his.
If your child is brave enough to come out to you and you are fortunate enough to have them confide in you about a subject possessing knee-breaking vulnerability, feel honored. And be that parent you have always been, protective, teaching, loving. Then put your armor on and battle right alongside them.