My 16-year-old daughter Sophie came out to me when she was 14, in February of her freshman year. She’d preferred “boys’ clothes” most of her life and never got angry whenever her brother called her a “lesbian” because she wore a lot of plaid—so it wasn’t a total shock, but it took a while for the news to sink in.
As I tried to process this new information, I found myself upset not so much over the fact that she liked girls, but that this “tomboy” thing wasn’t a phase after all. I realized that I would probably never get the prom dress, the wedding dress, or any of the “typical” things a mother of a daughter looks forward to. Shortly after getting the news, I told a close friend while we were out for a walk. While we were walking and talking I just broke down crying. She connected me with a friend of hers who had been through the same thing with her gay son and had now become his biggest advocate. About a month later, this mutual friend took me to my first PFLAG meeting. I found it very helpful, a combination of supportive people who had found acceptance and others who were in a similar place as me.
Over the next few months I found myself vacillating between acceptance and mourning the loss of the vision that I had for myself as the mother of a daughter. One of our biggest issues early on was “The Haircut.” My daughter had long, very curly hair and had been wanting to cut it all off for a while. When she first broached the subject (before coming out to me), I was concerned about the impression that people would get, yet she seemed nonplussed by it. I finally gave in to “The Haircut,” at the end of her freshman year. I cried hysterically that morning, wondering how I was going to get through this and knowing that this haircut was letting the world know a definitive statement about who Sophie is. Once the deed was done, I realized that it was no big deal and she actually looked really cute. (She now wears it even shorter than that first haircut and also dyes it blue—none of which phases me.) More importantly, she became more confident and felt better about herself now that the way she looked on the outside was a reflection of how she felt on the inside.
Once I became more comfortable with my daughter being gay, it was time for me to “come out.” Telling most of my friends and family wasn’t that hard—I tried to just find a way to casually bring it up. Everyone was very supportive and I always felt better after doing so. I recall one situation at the beginning of the following school year when I was having breakfast with a mom of one of Sophie’s friends. We talked and talked about our daughters and Sophie’s haircut and in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “Does she know? I think she does, but I don’t want to assume.” Finally, on our way out just before we parted, I found myself saying, “You know Sophie’s gay, right?” And she responded, “Oh, thank goodness.” She knew, she just didn’t know if I knew or if I knew that she knew. It was such a relief for both of us.
Not all of the “coming outs” have been easy. Ironically, one of the more difficult ones was to a very close friend, who just happened to be more conservative. Our families are very close and I wasn’t sure how she and her husband would take the news. I was also preparing myself for what would happen to the friendship if they didn’t accept my daughter. After months of putting off the inevitable, I finally “came out” to my friend over lunch one day. However, I could not have been more wrong about her reaction. While she was a bit surprised, she emphasized that it didn’t change the fact that Sophie is still the person they know and love. Both she and her husband have been proving that ever since.
By last June, I had been attending PFLAG meetings regularly and had even brought my daughter to a few. I also became a board member and started managing the group’s Facebook page. The NYC Pride March is scheduled for the last Sunday in June. My daughter and I ordered t-shirts—mine said “I Love My Daughter,” with Love being symbolized by a rainbow heart. Sophie wore a shirt that said, “wey, hey, guess who’s gay?”—and on the back— “me.” We took some photos wearing our t-shirts and I finally made the ultimate “Coming Out” decision— I posted our picture on Facebook as we got ready to walk in the Pride March. I figured many of my friends on Facebook probably already knew, just based on pictures of my daughter and some of the LGBT-related things I posted on my page. I knew that some would be very accepting and others might not be, but I didn’t care at that point. I also knew that there was extended family who would be learning about Sophie’s sexuality for the first time. Coming home from the parade on the train, I read all of the wonderful “Likes” and comments from people on my Facebook page. I also got some really touching private messages that surprised me and moved me to tears. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support for me and my daughter.
Most recently I found myself advocating on behalf of Sophie for her yearbook photo (which they take in junior year). Traditionally, the girls wear an off-the-shoulder drape, but I knew Sophie would want the tuxedo jacket instead. Two years ago I dreaded this very day. Now I found myself picking up the phone and calling the school as well as the photo studio to make sure that my daughter was given the tuxedo jacket and wouldn’t have to explain herself or feel uncomfortable. I am happy to report that everyone was very cooperative and understanding, and the photos went off without a hitch!
While this is not a journey I could have predicted, I can honestly say I would not change it for anything. It has made me closer to my daughter and has brought me into a community I could have never imagined and that I am so happy and honored to be a part of.
Linda Ulanoff is a wife and mother of a 16-year-old daughter (who just happens to be a lesbian) and 20-year-old son. She is an advocate for the LGBTQ community as an active member of PFLAG Long Island and serves on their Board as Treasurer. She also manages the group’s Facebook page. You can follow her on Twitter @CrankyMomma48
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