by: Marcia Prichason
“Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? Sunrise, Sunset. Sunrise, Sunset. Seasons turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze. Sunrise, Sunset. Sunrise, Sunset…”
- from Fiddler on the Roof
The clues were there all along. At two, he was painting his fingernails. At four, he was dancing in his own ballet. As a preteen, his forays into sports were a disaster. In high school, he had girl “friends.” I wondered why his teachers looked uncomfortable during parent conferences, why people avoided him as a topic of conversation. They knew. I didn’t. He left a trail of bread crumbs that was so wide and so deep, anyone could see it. Anyone but me.
I remember reading an article in Newsweek which discussed the characteristics of a gay teenager in hiding. He hit all the marks; yet, I chose to deny it. I also denied phone calls from men I did not know, trips to places he didn’t want to reveal and friends I never met. I forced him into a secret and furtive life.
Why, you may well ask?
Because I was terrified. I was afraid of what people would think, afraid he would be rejected, afraid he would be hurt. Mostly, I was afraid people would find out. It was irrational, debilitating, agonizing.
But I stayed in denial for a very long time. The “secret” tore at our relationship, put a strain on my marriage and made life miserable. It seemed safer, somehow, to deny who he was than to deal with all of the issues, the conversations, the questions, the self-analysis that would inevitably come from any openness. Is that crazy? Nah, it was just dumb.
It was a great relief when he finally announced, “mom, dad; I’m gay and this is my boyfriend.” Armed with this information, one would think I would do something–anything–to help my son feel accepted and loved.
Did I do that? Nah, I blew it again.
Does any of this sound familiar? It might if you are the parent of an LGBT individual. And, if you are an LGBT individual, it might help you to know that many parents face this kind of anguish as they grieve the child they thought they had and learn to love and accept the child they actually have.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross discusses the five stages of loss as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I may have spent a lot of time in denial, but I reveled in anger. I was angry at the world, angry at him, angry that this happened to me. I became depressed. I went back to being angry. I slipped back into denial, anger again, depression, but gradually, in fits and starts, I clawed and crawled my way toward acceptance. I knew, through all of this, that the one thing that should not: could not happen was to lose my son.
What helped? PFLAG helped. I talked to other parents, I met LGBT people, I read books, we discussed at home endlessly. I cried: I cried alone, I cried with my friends, I cried with my husband. I talked to my son. I talked and listened some more. I finally felt I had reached a certain level of acceptance when I woke up from a bad dream in which my son announced that he actually was straight. “Oh shit,” I screamed out. “Now what do I do?” Life doesn’t give us do-overs; we just have to work toward a better tomorrow.
If you’re reading this and are the parent of someone who is LGBT, know you’re not alone. Also know that your son or daughter can grow up to be a healthy adult with your support–even if you make dumb mistakes. If you’re LGBT and your parents are accepting, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate that. They need to hear it; it’s a tough world to navigate as you raise a child, and there is definitely no manual out there. And, if you’re an LGBT individual who has lost a parent over this, try not to judge too harshly. Maybe your parents aren’t bad people; maybe they’re just bad parents.
It seems of particular consequence to be writing this as the debates, caucuses, and primaries spin around us, and we wonder what it all means to us and to our LGBT loved ones. I may not know the answers to the future, but I do know this:
Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? It doesn’t matter: he was born this way.
And me? I’m just a mom who loves her son.
Note: This article was originally featured at The Qu and was re-posted here with permission. You can check out the original here and find out more information about Marcia and her column on their site.