Hey mom, I have been hiding this, well, for a long time, but I thought you should know that I am gay. I could not work up the courage to tell you in person but we can talk about it at Bob’s Furniture.
This is the text I received about one and half years ago from my then 11-year-old son. I was driving when I heard the ping that told me I had a text, but since I was driving, I did not pick up the phone. A few minutes later, my son called and I answered using my hands-free Bluetooth. He asked if I saw his text. I told him that I would have to look at it later. Then I asked if he and his sister are ready to go since I was picking them up in a few moments to go to dinner and then to buy a mattress for me and his father. These were mundanities prior to everything changing.
At my son’s insistence, I pulled over, read the text, and had a moment of panic. I called his father, and we panicked together. Our panic did not come from hate or bigotry, but from fear of the changes this might mean and for his safety.
After talking to my husband, I drove to pick up the kids, still wondering what to say to my son. As he got in the car, all I said was “I love you, and that won’t ever change.” It seemed enough for the moment. We did not talk much more about it that night.
Over the next several days, we did talk. I talked with my son, my son talked with his dad, his dad and I talked. I Googled. We talked more. I found out that my son was fortunate: He was basically already out at school, and most of the kids had been supportive. He even had friends sitting with him providing support when he texted me. He had told his younger sister about six months prior to telling us.
His father and I adjusted to the news at different speeds; we had different concerns, different feelings we had to cope with during this time. For both of us, there was fear for his safety, for his mental well-being, and the vast unknown of his future. We dealt with those issues by talking to each other, by letting him know we loved him, we were just concerned, and by joining PFLAG. We went to PFLAG as a family, shared our feelings and got support from others who had been there. Even better, we felt we could help others.
Now, a year and a half later, his dad and I realize it is not such a big change in many ways.
We worry about the day when he faces real hate, real discrimination, real bigotry — more than words. We have come to an agreement with him that he can deal with the nasty words people might say at school, as long as he feels capable handling it, but if there is ever even just the threat of violence, he has to tell us so we can step in.
But even worries about his safety have slowly lessened. The world, while not perfect, is so much better than when we were kids in this regard.
He is approaching his teen years, and all that comes with that. We worry about how to help him navigate dating in the gay teen world, something we know so little about. He has a crush on male friend. This friend is not known to be gay, although knows my son is. I don’t know how to help him find out if his friend is gay — can you just ask? This is not something that I ever considered having to advise on when my kids were young.
But we are navigating these waters of young romance too. Sometimes, we find it is not so different. When another friend, one who is bisexual, asked my son about the two of them being a couple, I was able to help him navigate that. It really is not so different than if he was not gay and a female friend hit on him. You let them know you value their friendship, but that you just don’t think of them that way.
So where are we, 18 months out? We are doing the same things we would have done without knowing: We talk about the rules of dating, we talk about how to be a good boyfriend, how to show respect for the ones you care about, and for yourself. We daydream about our son’s future, and we tease him about whom he finds cute.
Now, instead of it being his father and him who discuss which actors they find attractive, he and I discuss this. Now, instead of talking about his future wife, and what type of life they may have together, we celebrate that he will be able to marry, legally, his future husband. We talk about the different options he might use to have children someday. We can even joke about his being gay — commenting on those stereotypical things he does and the ways he is not stereotypical.
Not everything is easy. Most of our family does not know. While I firmly believe most will, after an initial shock, be supportive, we do have a few very conservative, anti-gay family members. When and how (or if) to come out to them is a question only my son can answer. We just let him know we are behind him whenever and however he chooses to do it. In the meantime, we try to not react when grandma asks if he has a girlfriend yet and to use gender neutral terms for his future love interests.
Something changed, but the basics, the way we show love for our son, that has not changed, and maybe that is the biggest lesson I have learned. I love my son, and I always will, no matter what.
This essay was written in the weeks prior to the Orlando massacre that took place in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. In light of this horrific event, I felt there was more to say. I felt that some of the hope I had expressed at the end of the essay had been battered. Just a week prior to the mass shooting, when I had finished the original essay, I had come to a place where my son being gay was not such a big deal, where I really believed that, for the most part, our society had changed enough. I was not naive — I knew there were still those out there who hated him for something he did not choose, for who he is. But I truly believed enough people stood with the LGBTQ community that I did not have to worry more about his safety than I do for our straight daughters.
The shooting wounded that sense of relative peace and calm. Now I see my son in that club, a place he could easily go to in a few years; he is only five years younger than the youngest victim. Now I realize anywhere he goes, where people know he is gay or where gay people are known to go, he potentially has a target on his back. Now I know that he will spend his whole life looking over his shoulder, wondering who near him hates him just because of whom he loves.
This is the reality all LGBTQ people and those who stand by and love them, to have knowledge of that hate and how easily it can rear its ugly head. For me, because my son is not out yet, there are few I can talk openly about my fears to, few I can express my grief and fear to so that I can return to my son and portray the peace and calm that has now been wounded. Despite the heavy weight now in my heart, for my son, I will continue to portray that peace and calm. Maybe someday that peace and calm will return.