When my son came out to me in 1989, I wasn’t surprised. I had suspected he was gay for a long time, but the truth is, I didn’t want him to be. I had gay and lesbian friends who I loved dearly. I considered myself open-minded and liberal, but I really hoped my suspicions weren’t true, and deep down, I was ashamed of feeling that way. I wasn’t supposed to feel that way.
So when he told me that Sunday morning in January, I said all the right things. On the plane ride home, I remember the feelings were similar (though nowhere as intense) as the feelings I had on the plane ride home after my father died. Looking back, I now know I was going through a grieving process—grieving the son I thought and hoped I had so I could get to the point of unconditional acceptance of the son I did have.
My son told me I couldn’t tell anyone except my husband. That was just fine with me. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know. At least not where I was now living. I grew up in Los Angeles and had trusted friends there. But I had only been in my new home in the Bay Area for five months. While I was beginning to make friends, I didn’t yet have the closeness or trust with them that I had with my friends in L.A. I was afraid of what people would say and what they would think. Would they think it was my fault? I was projecting my own fear. Was it my fault? My head knew it wasn’t, but in my heart I wasn’t so sure. Maybe there was some truth to having a strong mother causing a son to be gay. I was over-protective with him. He and I were unusually close for a mother and son. Maybe something physical happened when he fell off the changing table when he was three months old. No, I didn’t want anyone to know.
I’m a support group kind of person. I’ve been going to support groups of one kind or another since I was a teen. I knew there was one for parents of gay kids and I found PFLAG. I attended my first meeting in February. I listened to the experiences of the other parents and knew I wasn’t alone. It’s funny, but I never shared any of those fears about it being my fault. I buried those thoughts and feelings for 25 years—but that’s another story!
At that first meeting, they were already planning for the Gay Pride Parade. I listened and thought to myself, “No way!” When I was asked if I wanted to march, I politely declined. I told them I wasn’t ready for that. They understood. By that time, I had begun to tell some of my friends in Los Angeles and get support from them. But I sure didn’t want anyone at home to know.
At the next meeting, I was sitting in the living room where the meeting was held, waiting for it to start. Much to my surprise, in walked someone I knew. I froze and got this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought to myself, “Oh my god, she’s going to know!” Within seconds, I realized that she was there for the same reason I was, and I began to relax. When she shared at the meeting, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. She was there for the same support I needed. Suddenly, the idea of people knowing became a little less scary.
I don’t remember when I began to tell people in my new home that I had a gay son. What I do remember is that as people talked and planned for their march with PFLAG in the parade, I began to “catch” their excitement. I’m not one for being left out!
By the time the June meeting rolled around, the one just prior to the parade, I was all in. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t care anymore who knew, but rather that I was caught up in the excitement. It was my experience in the parade that helped break down my barriers about letting people know. After seeing the many LGBT people with tears streaming down their faces at the sight of the PFLAG contingent, I understood the importance of parents standing up in support of their LGBT children. Somehow, my fear of what people would think didn’t matter anymore.
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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