I will depart from my usual dialogue on this blog to recognize my Mom who would have been 94 years old today if she were still alive.
How did a mother deal with the realization that her son was gay?
I have blogged before about this, but some newer readers may have missed it, so I will repeat the story, but not copy what I have said before.
When I was growing up, 14th kid among 15 in the family, understanding that there was a possibility that one (or more) of her children could be gay was about the last thing on my parent’s minds. It was not a matter to discuss or think about back in the ’50s or ’60s.
I had a happy childhood, filled with family and fun. While my early teen years were painful with the death of my father and being bullied in Junior High School, I managed to survive with the love and caring from my family and close friends.
I knew something was different about me when I was in high school, but couldn’t determine what it was. I was not interested in girls the way my twin brother or classmates were. Sure, I had a lot of female friends, but that was it. Going on a date was always platonic. I have been told by several female classmates later in life (as we remained friends) that they suspected that I was gay, but liked me anyway.
In my teen years, I cannot say that I was attracted to other guys. Sure, I liked looking at their boots, but in all honesty, that was that. I was not attracted to them in a sexual way. I was rather asexual. Not interested, but I sometimes wondered why, and why I was different.
Throughout my college years, I was way too busy to come to grips with my sexual orientation. I had figured it out by my early 20s, but didn’t act on it. I had more classes on my schedule than the average bear, was quite involved as a student leader in campus activities, and worked part-time as well.
I remember every now and then, my Mom would ask me if I were dating — at all. Generally, I shrugged and said, “T and I went to the movies last week” or “R and I had a great time at the fraternity event” or “S and I had fun at Homecoming” or “G and I had fun at [such-and-such] event.” Yes, I went out with many women, but again… only platonically.
Come to think about it, I didn’t go “out” with any man on what one may call a date when I was in college, either. I may have hung out with a group of guys, but usually they were fraternity brothers and we did things together as fraternities do — fundraisers, dances (which I avoided), meetings, Greek Week, intramural football games (which I cheered, but didn’t play), and so forth. (BTW, my college social fraternity didn’t have a “house” when I helped to found its chapter and get it started. I always lived off campus in my own place, so I could go to bed at my usual early bedtime and not be kept awake by a bunch of rowdy students.)
After college and when I settled down into a “real job,” I was heavily involved in reconstructing an old house to make it my home. I bought a house that had been abandoned. The cost was quite low — for a reason — the house was in rough shape. I spent three years using my own sweat equity to replace almost every part of that house from the roof to the foundation, to the walls, ceilings, and the floors, from the electrical to the plumbing, and everything in between. I couldn’t afford to hire contractors, and my drive to spend only what I have is something I learned from a very young age. For three solid years, I would work on that house every day after work and on weekends. — no dating, no men, no women, no nuttin’. By the time my day’s work on the house was done, I was too exhausted to even think about going out with anyone, male or female.
My Mom kept encouraging me to have a more active social life. “Why don’t you go out with P any more? She is a nice young lady.” or “Your friend R sure is nice. Does she still live around here?” Hints, Mom, hints… yeah, I get it, but I wasn’t interested.
By then, the early ’80s, the AIDS crisis was becoming a major concern. I would read almost every day about gay men dying a horrible, painful death. AIDS or the threat of contracting this mysterious disease scared me right back into the closet.
Finally, when I reached my mid-30s, I had settled into a routine at work, was making a livable income, my house was paid for, and my expenses were low. I had more free time, so I decided that I wanted to ride my motorcycle with other guys, and began to look for what I thought would be an interesting combination — motorcycling with gay men who liked to wear leather and boots.
I did not know then that such a group was a wish rather than reality. However, I joined an “MC” Club based in DC, naively thinking that “MC” meant “motorcycle.” Ha! It turned out that the only good thing about that club (composed of a bunch of drama queens) was that my partner had joined it, too. That’s where we met. Soon after we met, we both quit the club and began our life together.
I brought him with me one day to my Mom’s home soon after we started going out. I needed his help to repair a leaking faucet in my Mom’s kitchen. As my Mom saw how I reacted and responded to my “new friend,” she could tell that our relationship was more than buddies.
Thus began my Mom’s coming to terms with having a gay son. Here I was, age 35, unmarried, not dating women, claiming I was too busy or ignoring the situation, then I show up with a guy and flirt with him in front of my Mom. She was a smart woman, and it didn’t take a nanosecond for her to figure it out.
Initially, she was upset. She was afraid that I would contract AIDS simply because I was dating a man. But that was during a time of extreme anxiety over wild and incomplete news reports. I can understand her concern.
Fortunately, my Mom always had an open mind and a desire to learn. She asked for information to be sent to her in the mail from reputable organizations. She accepted advice from my siblings, who supported me without question or reservation. I think two things helped my Mom grow to accept and understand that I would be okay:
1) my twin brother telling her, “heck, Mom, I’ve known he was gay for a long time. So what? He’s the same guy we’ve always loved. Nothing has changed.” This statement had a profound effect on my Mom when she realized that every word was true.
2) my Mom learned by observing that my partner was honest and financially stable. He wasn’t out to take advantage of me. He did a lot of things that demonstrated his caring concern and love, which endeared him both to me and to my Mom.
I think what Moms want most for their sons is assurance that they will be happy, healthy, and well cared-for in their adult lives. My Mom learned that. In fact, by the year of her unexpected sudden death (1998), my Mom and my partner had become close. So close, in fact, that my partner was the only “in-law” that my Mom listed as a request to be a pall bearer at her funeral. That request spoke volumes and made it clear to my family that my Mom not only “accepted” my partner, but loved him.
My story is probably different from other gay men’s stories of strife, struggle, and estrangement. I am very happy that my Mom was not influenced by some wacko religion that preaches hate. I am glad that my Mom maintained the dialogue as she was learning about something new to her — what it was to have a gay son. I am honored that my siblings remained steadfast in their support (though I cannot say that for all of my in-laws, but that’s another story). I am pleased that the community, county, and state where I live gives me comfort in knowing that I can live openly and honestly, and contribute in a variety of ways to the mutual benefit of all residents — gay or straight.
But most of all, I am thankful for my Mom. For her wisdom, courage, candor, and her love. Today on her birthday, and always. Happy birthday, Mom.
Life is short: remember those you love.