Whilst my mother has improved exponentially in her tolerance of, if not acceptance of my sexual orientation, I know that this is an issue that most of us face every day. In a way this casual dissonance from close family members harms more than the blatant hate that is directed our way from the general, ignorant masses.
As a child I sensed that I was different. I wasn’t the pink wearing, doll playing, daughter my mother wanted and yet, I wasn’t the athlete my father wanted either. From the time I was very small I was drawn to individuals of the same gender. Very early on there were nights I laid awake asking God if he could somehow please make me a boy overnight so that my attraction to other girls would be acceptable. My first love was my preschool best friend. I remember vividly holding her hand, shadowed closely by our chatting mothers, as we walked across the “Rainbow Bright Bridge” (as we had dubbed it) to the Presbyterian Church where our small preschool class was held. I also remember her chasing me around the island in my family’s home trying to kiss me goodbye. The excitement and yet unease that I felt at this gesture at age four was accurate foreshadowing at how my adolescence would be spent. I remember wanting to let her kiss me and yet, I remember knowing that somehow, my parents would probably not appreciate the sentiment as much as I would.
In high school, I developed a mad crush on a girl in my homeroom class. Her long dark hair and talent with a paint brush had me mesmerized. I sought solace in my guitar, my books, and my own art work. Disappearing into my room and my imagination for hours on end in the evenings made living in reality during the day time bearable. I was lucky enough however, to have a great group of supportive friends that embraced me my sophomore year of high school when I revealed my secret to them.
My freshman year of high school I attempted to come out to my mother. I told her I was bisexual. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t true. I had never had any interest in boys. Yet somehow, telling her that I was interested in girls as well as boys seemed a softer blow. She shook her head condescendingly and told me to, “date a few boys, honey. You’re not gay. You’ll see.” Thus, upon kissing my forehead, she left the room. My mother and I have always been close. I told her everything. In a way, having her dismiss my fears was almost reassuring. Maybe she was right. However, as my crush for the dark haired painter intensified in the following two years, remaining even as I experimented with boys, I knew that she had been mistaken. My junior year I attempted to come out to her again, her response was more reassuring. “Well, if that’s the case, it is what it is. We will deal with it.” When I finally left for college and started dating girls, my mother’s disapproval deepened. She spent her time trying to keep my father from disowning me (and divorcing her, because he was somehow under the impression that she supported my ‘alternative life style’ choice) and trying to convince me that I was mistaken. Eventually, her hurtful, angry comments turned into strategic snide remarks in general conversation. No less hurtful of course, and jarring yes, but I gladly took it over the anger she had openly displayed. My parent’s feelings about my sexual orientation affected my relationship with my girlfriends, one in particular, my now ex-fiancé.
During the painful break up that I had with this particular ex, my mother was supportive in all the ways one hopes a mother would be during such a time. My relationship with this girl had been borderline abusive. My mother told me often during the time I spent with this girl that she just wanted me to find someone who treated me the way I deserved to be treated. Man or woman no longer mattered to her. She just wanted someone to treat me well.
My mother’s tolerance of my sexual orientation has been a long time in coming. Things aren’t perfect. She and my father still have a long road to travel down to complete acceptance. However, I can now have a girlfriend home and they will respectfully treat her as such and not ignore that she is more than just a friend to me. I don’t have to hide those glances or touches from my parents that any happy couple shares, just to keep them feeling comfortable at my own expense, and at my partner’s expense.
Last night I went to visit my mother for my birthday and it was the first time in a long time that she uttered those words. “You know, you could still always find a nice boy.” However, instead of those words being tinged with regret, pain, and anger, a smile curled the edges of her lips and there was humor there. I know she still has a vague hope that somehow I will turn into the straight daughter she imagined me to be most of my life. However, I believe that she is beginning to understand that just because I am programmed to love a woman instead of a man, does not make me unable to have the family or the life she imagined for me.
Coming out is painful for all parties involved. It is healthy, however. Pain allows personal growth. It is a difficult road to tolerance and it is a long road to acceptance, but lean heavily on love and patience and lots of time (and perhaps a vivid imagination) and eventually, we will make it to acceptance with those people who we care about most and who’s approval and words affect us the most deeply. In turn, we can teach them what it means to be true to one’s self in the face of adversity.