When I was 20, half my life ago, my mother said to me, “I wish we would have known. We would have tried to have another son.” I had just come out to her as we spoke over the phone. I stood behind the counter at the frame shop I managed, anticipating that a customer would suddenly walk in, at once wanting but not wanting an excuse to get off the phone.
The conversation certainly hadn’t started there, but the confrontation had been coming for years. In high school, I felt very close to my mother, even as my classmates pushed their mothers away. I was as honest with her as I was with myself. I didn’t have language to say who I was until after high school, and by then I knew that the sentence “I am gay” was less a declaration than the introduction to a painful conversation. I couldn’t tell her about that. I barely understood what it meant, so how could she?
About a year before I came out to my mother, I shared the revelation for the first time with my friend Karen. In the moment between telling Karen and hearing her response, I feared the worst and assumed I would deserve it, as if such news would justify any horrible result.
But Karen affirmed me. The moment she put her arms around me, I knew she was setting me free and that I’d given her the power to do it. I chose her because somehow I knew she would not reject me. My self-esteem didn’t blossom quickly. I had to remind myself every day that Karen had accepted me and that I was a good person who deserved to be happy. I gave Karen my trust so she could give it back to me, and I repeated that process until her acceptance became ingrained in me. Some days, that mental game took all of my energy. Before I could thrive, I had to survive.
By the time I came out to my mother, I had dropped out of community college and moved in with someone who was a stranger to her, so her impulse was to protect me from him and from myself. She saw me as a pioneer exploring unfamiliar, unhospitable territory. I couldn’t have guessed my mother’s exact words but her response really didn’t surprise me. All my life, Mom had told me that it was my responsibility to pass on the family name. Her lament for unborn sons pointed elsewhere, as if she were throwing a collective, cultural voice. The family name would surely die with me.
Mom grieved for approximately one week, then decided what so many parents of queer children do: to keep me in her life by accepting me, thus giving me a damn good reason to keep her in mine. I had come to realize I wouldn’t accept less than that, especially from my own mother.
j3black publishes the excellent blog, Quota