My son Rick came out in January of 1989, shortly after his 20th birthday. I must have suspected he was gay from as early as age three. At that time, I told his father, “I wouldn’t care if he married someone of a different religion or a different race, but I don’t think I could handle it if he were gay.” That was an interesting comment to make about a three-year-old. In his early teens, I discovered him trying on my jewelry and I became greatly concerned that this meant he might be gay. This was the early eighties. I knew little about the LGBT community and had no gay or lesbian friends. I took that information to our family therapist and she assured me that it didn’t mean he was gay. When I think back on that now, I wish she had reassured me that it would be okay if were gay. Instead, she indirectly reinforced whatever negative feelings I had about his being gay.
By the time Rick was in high school, I definitely suspected he was gay. He had primarily female friends, but no girlfriends. Everything I knew about him and had known about him pointed in the direction of his being gay. By then, my feelings were opening up and I had developed friendships with some gay and lesbian people. One of my sons’ closest friends, Aaron, came out when he was 16 and was largely accepted by his friends and certainly by me. When my younger son, who is straight, came to me and asked me what he should say if Aaron wanted to talk to him about a boyfriend, I told him to respond the same way he would if it were a girlfriend, and that there was no difference.
In 1988, we moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area and Rick stayed in L.A. where he grew up. In December he called to tell me that he wanted to talk to me when I came to L.A. to visit, but wouldn’t tell me what it was about. I said to my husband, “Rick wants to talk to me when I go to L.A., but he won’t tell me what it’s about. Do you think he’s going to tell me he’s gay?” When I told my sister that he wanted to talk to me, she asked, “Do you think he’s going to tell you he’s gay?” When Rick told his brother that he wanted to talk to him, he thought that Rick was going to tell him he was gay. So when Rick finally blurted it out, I was not surprised. And at the same time, all the visions I had of what his life would be like were destroyed. I always thought he would grow up, get married, and have children, and I have to admit, that was selfishly about his making me a grandmother—something I wanted more for me than for him.
I was also worried about AIDS (it was 1989, right at the heart of the AIDS crisis), and I was worried about gay bashing and whether he would be safe.
Additionally, I was worried about what other people would say and think. I didn’t consider myself homophobic. By then, I had many gay and lesbian friends. But somehow, when it was MY son, it was different. I said all the right things for the most part. I told him I loved him—he knew that. I told him I wanted him to find out how to prevent contracting AIDS. I told him I wanted him to be happy.
And I didn’t understand why I was having the feelings I was having. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I didn’t want him to be gay. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I thought it might be my fault. I buried those feelings for a long time.
On the plane ride home, I thought a lot about who he was and who I was. He had given me permission to tell my husband, his stepfather, but no one else. I have to admit that while I didn’t tell anyone in the family, I did tell some of my closest friends because I needed the support. Within a few weeks, he had told almost everyone in the family. Thankfully, everyone in our family was very accepting.
I had heard about a support group for parents, and within the month I attended my first PFLAG meeting. What relief I found there. The parents in the meeting had been where I was and accepted me just where I was and told me that what I was experiencing was common and normal. That June, I marched in my first Gay Pride Parade with PFLAG. I was all out by then! That experience changed the trajectory of my life in ways I never could have imagined. My son sometimes laughs and tells me that I’m more of a gay rights advocate than he is. And it’s true! I kid him and say, “Someone in the family has to be!”
Over these past almost 26 years, I’ve marched in many parades, been involved in the Marriage Equality Movement, marched in Washington D.C. for marriage equality, worked on the No on 8 campaign here in California and made this my life’s work. When I think back to the worried young mother I was, I have to smile. If she knew then what joy having a gay son would bring her, she wouldn’t have worried for a minute!
Parenting Coach Susan Berland is fiercely committed to guiding parents of gay youth back to a loving, accepting relationship when they are struggling to accept their child as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Susan guides parents and their kids to communicate effectively, trust one another and accept one another where and as they are. You can learn more about Susan at http://susanhopeberland.com and read her free report, 6 Secrets to bring peace back to your heart and home.
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