My initial reaction was I thought I was having a panic attack. I just couldn't believe it, I had trouble breathing, and it was just all this stress from not knowing anything beforehand, and then being told this. She started by saying "I think..." but I knew she wouldn't be telling me if she just "thought," so I knew that that was the truth. Her first words were, "I have something to tell you that you're not going to want to hear."
It was such disbelief. I was sad for her, I didn't know what her life was like or was going to be like, although I had known what it had been in the past, and I thought she was going to be a totally different person than I knew and I loved.
She told my husband and myself together, at the same time, and we both said that we just felt that it would be such a hard life for her, not really knowing much about what it was like, but we just knew that it was not easy for gays and lesbians being such. The main thing that we conveyed was that we loved her no matter what, and we appreciated her sharing this with us.
The reason she said she did at this point was because she felt we were growing apart because there were parts of her life that she either didn't feel comfortable sharing with us or else she disguised them, and made up other stories about them. She felt she was growing away from us and she didn't want that to happen, so that was her reasoning for telling us at this point.
It was late in the evening when she told us, and she left at 11:00 at night. The next day I did have to go to work, so we went to bed, but I didn't sleep much at all. For about the next five days I was in tears most of the time, and my husband would just try to comfort me, saying, "It'll be okay." And one thing my daughter said that was the most helpful thing, was "If you have any questions at all that you want to ask me, please do." A day and a half later, we talked and I did ask her questions.
The day after she told us there was a notice in the paper for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the only thing I thought was, "They made this group just for me." I mean, I couldn't believe it that I'd found just what I needed. I'd never heard of the group before or anything. Just this little tiny notice, that was like a Godsend for me. I called the hotline, got the information, and the meeting was five days later. At least then I had something I could look forward to, you know, "Maybe everything's going to be better."
I told my daughter I found this little notice, and she said, "Oh, yeah Mom, I know all about it, in fact I went last month to check it out for you to make sure everybody there wasn't weird." So that's kind of been our joke. She said, "Do you want me to go with you?" and I said, "Not this first time, I think I'd rather go alone." So I did. So she knew I was going and she knew about the group and everything, so I went. I still felt like I didn't fit in with these people. Not that I wasn't comfortable going, but I didn't relate to these people, really. It was probably because I didn't want to be one of them. So it wasn't comfortable knowing that I was really a part of this, these people, and I had something in common with them because I really didn't want to have that in common with them. How do I relate to them? My friends aren't these type of people. I don't have any friends with gay children. These are total strangers.
What was especially helpful was the library of books that they have, the pamphlets, and especially books, and because I really didn't know gay people or what they were like. I just picked up all the reading material I could, and I kept reading everything I could get my hands on. And then the joke became, when my daughter would call up and she'd talk to my husband, "How's Mom doing?" "Well, I don't know, but she's reading a lot." And I think I read almost everything as far as initial reading that are helpful to parents. I read all of those books, one after another, just continually.
Another thing that was helpful was the people I met at the meeting, not so much the parents, but the gay young men, who were so nice, and so warm, and so friendly. They seemed to be warmer and more supportive than the mainstream young men I met, and there were several who did come to the meetings with their parents or with family, and these were probably early 20-year-olds. I hadn't been that close with gay people before, and didn't know that they were very outgoing and supportive and accepting of where I was coming from. And then the adults too, but I think what impressed me first were these young, very nice gay men.
I think the reading material was helpful, and the support groups, actually and the programs too, because I got a lot of information out of either the speakers or the presentations.
The most difficult thing was not being comfortable telling other people about it. Any other people. It made me feel I was different than them, maybe that my family wasn't as good as theirs. Oh, and also you think back to the jokes, or offensive things that these people have said in the past about gays. I was concerned about how they would see me and I was terrified of actually telling them. But then as I kept going to PFLAG meetings I knew I should tell other people, and I am proud of my daughter. But how do I go about doing it, and it still, even to this day, it's not all that comfortable. If it comes up, then I'm fine, but if it's roundabout then I really don't. Now somebody I know asked me yesterday, "Oh, how many children do you have, and are they married?" and I said, "Oh, no, my son isn't, and my daughter has a partner that she's been with for seven years, and they're not going to have any children." And I was very comfortable telling her this, where gosh, I never would have done that at first.
My daughter give me permission to tell whoever I want, because I would not do it without her being accepting of me doing that. As I just started to come out, I just felt so good about myself, and so pleased that I could do this for my daughter, and she was so pleased when I would be able to come out to someone, and so it's a very good feeling. Even though I might be nervous doing it, after it's over I feel very good about it.
When I chose to come out to people, I figured, "They know me, and if they like me then they're going to like me as the parent of a gay child." Most of them knew my daughter or had met her or knew about her, so hopefully they would see here's a gay person - or a gay family, or whatever you want to call it, and they are okay, normal people. There were a couple of offensive things said, not many, and I responded appropriately as a parent.
Once a co-worker used a derogatory term towards a female, called her a dyke, or I'm not sure what - and I said to him, "You know, I don't really think she's this way because she's a lesbian. Here's a picture of my daughter and her partner. My daughter's a lesbian, and that isn't something she would do, so I think she's doing this for some other reason, and to categorize her as doing it because she's a lesbian isn't appropriate." And you know, I think he was embarrassed for sure, but I felt it was my duty to say something. I had had a working relationship with him for years, and we were just as fine afterwards.
My close, close friends reacted better than I thought they would. I mean they've known my daughter almost since she was born, some of them, and we've been such close friends for so long that it was like totally fine with them, and nobody had any negative reaction to it at all.
Religion was never a problem for me. I'm Jewish and the Jewish religion tends to be accepting of differences, of minorities. What I tell people who people say "God said this or that" - my God is accepting of all people. And I believe being Jewish has helped me to say that. My religion wouldn't look down on this because they would not choose to look down on people because of a difference, like this, that they had no choice in.
PFLAG was definitely the most help, I just looked forward to those meetings, when I left a meeting I would feel so much better than I had going in, and then I knew I was going to have probably the rest of the month until the next meeting, and I just really - those were so important to me since I wasn't getting support from outside.
I've always been so proud of my daughter. This is just one other part of her, another aspect, that I want people to know about. It's just finding the right time to tell it. And I would like to get the word out and be helpful to other people going through it.
My immediate reaction was like somebody had socked me in the stomach. Immediately I thought, "Oh my gosh, he's telling me he's gay, and the majority of the world doesn't accept people who are gay, and he's a minority. He's got that strike against him already, and then to have this added on to it." I said, "Oh my God!" And then the third thing I thought about was his safety. I was thinking gay people could get hurt physically, because I had seen Matthew Sheppard's story. This was the future for my son? So, all those things flashed before my eyes, but most of all was my concern for him. And then my next thought was, "What did I do?" But he had prefaced breaking the news to me by saying, "Mom, I'm gay, and it's nothing that you did." But still, I did think, "What did I do?"
I really hadn't explored the gay issue, because it really didn't have an impact on me. It was foreign territory to me, I had just my impressions of what was in the news, the stereotypes, that they're all flamboyant, and they're artists and designers. That's where you see gay people. My husband's brother is gay, that was just like, "Oh, he's gay." And that was it, I never thought more about it other than he wasn't going to be with a woman, he would be with a man. And then to have my son tell me that he was gay, it was a big shock, like, "What happens now?"
Finally, as I recall, I looked at him and I said, "I know." And I don't know where that came from, except that it was so odd, I have two sons, and with my older son I never ever thought, "Is he gay?" But my younger son...I remember when he was seven years old, and he was walking down the road to play, and as he was going away from me, I looked at him and I thought to myself, "There's something different about him." I didn't tie it in with being gay, it's just that he played better with girls, his best friend was a girl, and that's where he was going that day, to play with Sue. It was Sue, it was my son and Sue, they were always playing together. I just thought it was a little odd that he didn't hang out with boys his own age. So it crossed my mind back then, and then as he got older he had girlfriends. But, I don't know, there was always something I kind of questioned. So on that day when he told me, I said, "I know." It was in my subconscious, something I just kind of instinctively knew but didn't really think about or dwell on.
Another thing that I thought about was the loss of grandchildren, I lost that dream, so I felt sad. I felt fear, because I was fearful for his safety. I had this surprise announcement but it wasn't a surprise. I was filled with mixed emotions and contradictions.
When we had that discussion it was behind closed doors in the master bedroom, and we didn't talk much longer. We didn't sit down and say, "Okay, now tell me, when did you first feel this way?" He told me, I accepted it, I told him, "I love you no matter what," and I said, "but I am fearful for your safety on this." And we didn't really talk much more than that. I walked out of the bedroom back into life like it was before he told me. He was back to being a sixteen year old teenager and I was back to being the mom, and we really didn't talk about it. It was a secret, it was a secret. I had a real fear of telling my husband, because my son chose to tell me, and he said, "Do you think we should tell dad?" And I said, "You know, your father just is not going to handle this real well." So I'm the one who advised him not to talk to his dad about it. At that time, my impression of my husband was that he was totally against gays - I had never heard him say anything good about being gay. You know, he used derogatory comments, like "fag" and that sort of stuff, even though his brother was gay. So I was assuming that he was not going to be too happy with the situation, and so I recommended to my son that he not tell his father. But it was more my own sense of calm in the house, I was doing it for my own peace in the house, because I knew that if we told him, I saw the whole house caving in, and chaos, and yelling and screaming, and I just didn't want to go through that. So it was a secret. But my older son knew, because he talked with his brother.
I told my sister, because I'm really close with my sister. My sister and I have a very open kind of relationship, I had no hesitation to talk to her about it. And as it eventually happened, the family got to know. I don't remember specifically dialing people up and telling them, but I guess if you tell certain members, it just kind of goes through the rest of the family, so most of our immediate family knows, like my sister-in-law, my brother, that kind of stuff.
At the time, my son was in high school and he would come to me and talk to me about his relationships with boyfriends or that kind of stuff. And it was hard for me to think about my son being with a male, you know, I didn't know if I could handle seeing them together. So he would share with me, because my son was very open with me. Not real open, but he would talk about who his current boyfriend was, and he wanted me to meet him, he really loved him, and I guess it was his first love. And that's really why I think he told me he was gay, because he'd found a relationship that he thought was very special. And he wanted me to know that this person was in his life. His name was Robert, and I probably met him about a month or so after my son told me he was gay. He brought Robert into the house and introduced him to us. I treated him just like a friend. I didn't know how I was supposed to act - what's the protocol? This is your son's boyfriend, how do you treat him? So I just treated him like a friend, "Hi Robert, nice to meet you." And I didn't say, "And I understand you're hanging out with my son," you know, I didn't go into anything like that.
If anything was helpful it was being able to talk to my sister.I think being able to talk with someone, I believe that if I had isolated myself and just covered it all up or ignored the whole thing, that would be bad. I think that's the way it is with most emotions that you have. If you hold it all in it festers and gets worse. I was able to talk to my sister about it, and so in talking to my sister I shared some of my initial concerns about not having grandchildren, about being fearful for his safety out in the world. I shared with her and she listened, which is all that she could do. She assured me that everything was going to be okay. Then I looked beyond my concerns, and resolved that this was just a fact, there's nothing I can do to change it. It's life, deal with it and anything that comes along. As I look back on my actions, I think sharing my feelings with someone else was important; unfortunately, it wasn't my husband.
The loss of my dream was probably the most difficult thing for me to overcome, because I had envisioned my son having the typical family, being the husband, having a wife and children. That kind of thing was my dream, it wasn't his dream, so I had to work on getting that picture, that dream changed. I still don't know what it's going to be like, he's not involved with anyone in particular, he's still out there looking for somebody, and he tells me about his relationships and I'm hoping that someday he finds someone who will settle him down.
The disease of AIDS made me fearful about his safety, because he was out there, going with a lot of different people for a while. When he first came out it was like, "Here I am, I'm gay!" He didn't do that with family and people around the house. In the gay community, he is young and handsome, so he had a lot of different partners and he was out late at night partying, and so the AIDS issue came up. But he tells me that he uses protection and that he periodically gets tested for AIDS just to make sure he's okay, so he's taking care of himself that way.
My thinking from a religious point of view was this was sinful, this was something that was looked down upon by my church. And that did come into some of my thoughts about my son and the church. That still is a struggle. There is another group that I periodically go to, and it is a group sponsored by the Catholic church that is composed of parents, just like PFLAG, composed of parents of gay children, and it deals with how we can relate to our children through the church, but the kinder, gentler version of the Catholic church as opposed to the staunch church that says, "Your son's going to get excommunicated." It's a little softer way of trying to deal with a gay child and the Catholic church. So that has helped me a little bit. They've been very helpful in showing me that the Catholic church is not all convinced that my gay child is living in sin and is wrong.
Telling other people is kind of a lesson in human nature, because people take it in different ways. It took me at least a year to deal with the whole issue of my son being gay, and then having myself be open with it. I started gradually and then I told the people that I work with. I just figured I had to tell them, because they would ask me, "Oh, is your son dating anybody?" Because he was going back to school in New York City now, they'd ask, "How is he doing back there, did he meet anybody?" I didn't want to keep telling little white lies, like, "Oh no, there's nobody special." So I thought, this is like living a lie, and I can't do that. So it just happened that we were in a group situation one day and I thought, "You know, this is the time to tell them," so I just came out and said, "My son is gay." And the look on their faces was kind of like, a little bit of surprise. But they're a warm group, and they responded with "Oh, well my so-and-so is gay, my cousin is gay, or my aunt is gay," and they started talking about their family members. It was unplanned, I was with them and I thought, "You know, this is a good time because we're all together." If I had thought about it and agonized over it, yes, I might have had an upset stomach or something like that, but it was just kind of spontaneous.
I haven't really come across anyone who's been negative. Everyone I've told has either been really surprised, or just, it was a non-issue. The next co-worker I told was outside of my immediate group, someone who I deal with on an infrequent basis. We happened to be talking one time, and she started getting into, "Has your son met anybody or anything?" And I said, "You know what, I don't know that I've ever told you," I said, "but my son is gay." And she just happened to be drinking a Coca-Cola at that time, she'd just taken a sip, she choked on it and said, "No you haven't!" And I said "Yeah, he's gay, and he hasn't found a partner or anything yet, he's out there looking." And she said, "Oh." But the shock was all over her face. I guess I travel in a nice circle of people. I don't know that I'd walk up and tell a perfect stranger that my son was gay.
Initially, I thought for sure there were going to be fireworks with my husband and he wouldn't be able to handle it, but he was completely opposite of what I thought. The only issue, and I totally don't blame him, that he had with the whole thing was that we never told him. We kept the famous secret until after my son got out of high school. And when he was going to go away to college I said, "You've got to tell your dad. I'm not going to tell your father, you have to tell your dad now." And he said, "Yeah, I will." Well he never did have a face to face with his dad. When he went away to college, he called my husband on the phone and told him over the phone. My husband was upset that it had been a secret that we all knew about and we didn't let him in on the secret. When he hung up he came to me and said our son had told him that he was gay, "And you knew about it all the time, and you didn't let me know, what were you guys doing?" It didn't go too well, but I was at fault and I shouldn't have done that, as I look back on it. He had to work through that, he wasn't too happy at all. He was mad at me, he was mad at my son.
I think talking with another parent was helpful, having some parent reassure me that everything was going to be okay, that this wasn't the end of the world, that, "Look at my son, he's in a partnership now for 15 years." This is what PFLAG provided to me. Just having that assurance when I went to PFLAG was comforting to me to know that my son is not going to be continually on this one partner after another kind of thing, that yes, there are stable relationships and gay marriages.
I was wrong in keeping it a secret. I think that it's probably best that the family confronts it together, regardless of what the situation is going to be like, because secrets just aren't good at all, and it's best to have open communication. You're stronger as a unit rather then individually. You have to change your way of thinking about the typical family unit. There is another acceptable lifestyle other than the "Leave It to Beaver" family. Those are the things that you have to learn, and to learn it together is probably the best thing to do. My husband now knows about it, and we don't have secrets anymore, and so it becomes a non-issue. When it's a secret then it's a big deal, so now it's nothing, it's just part of our son.