All I need to do is name the place and you know what’s on my mind.
I was trying to stay away from the news reports, the commentary, the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Not because I can’t take any more or because I feel helpless in the wake of so much violence. But because I knew it would turn into an argument about gun control, criticism against Obama for whatever he can be blamed for, sound bites from Presidential candidates – including more talk about stopping the immigration of Muslims, and somewhere in there some people would also be the grappling with the reality that this was an attack against gays in one of the few places they could go to and feel accepted and safe.
The reason I didn’t want to get caught up in all of that was because the whole thing threatened to open up old fears for me. There are people out there who will attack and even kill people because of their sexuality.
And my son is gay.
I did pretty well at keeping that old fear and sadness contained until my son, with Orlando on his mind, texted me to tell me he loves me.
There are no words…
At least none I can form at this moment but I do want to say something. So I’m going to say it with an excerpt from the book I’m working on. I can’t speak for all parents, but this is how the fear started for this parent. This is why my thoughts right now are not as much on what or who to blame and what will stop so much pain from violence in this country. My thoughts are filled with imagining what the friends and families of people who were shot are going through and how the survivors will be affected by what they saw and heard.
This excerpt is a bit long and maybe not the correct reaction to Orlando, but I have no other words but these.
All I Wanted and Still Want for My Child
All I wanted was for my child to be happy. I wanted him to have lots of friends and to do well in school. I wanted him to always believe in himself, to go out into the world with confidence and joy. I wanted him to be safe.
Being gay was not safe. And it wasn’t easy. Not that life is ever easy, but my son had just shut a lot of doors. Friendships would be complicated. There would be bullying and hostility; there already had been.
When he was nine years old, my son crawled into my bed, tentatively easing his body, limb by limb, under my covers. After determining I was awake, he said, “I have something to tell you, mom. I’m gay.”
I was too sleepy to have any feelings of alarm or impending dread. That hadn’t become my habit yet.
“Mom, I’m gay,” Lain said again.
No nonsense, no lead up, just a thud of words in the dark.
I was quiet for a while. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I knew it was one of those make or break moments that would affect our relationship from that point on.
I asked, “Why do you think you’re gay?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
I suppose he hadn’t thought much beyond just getting those words out, “I’m gay.” That was hard enough. How do you explain something you just know in your gut to be true?
But I meant the question — how does someone at nine know they are gay? Why was he even thinking about this? I never thought about my sexuality at that age.
I know now why that is, I didn’t have to think about my sexuality as it was just assumed. But at the time, I didn’t understand how different things were for my son or anyone else who doesn’t identify as heterosexual.
I didn’t respond right away because I didn’t know how to respond, but as the silence grew and I worried that my silence was worse than anything I might say, I finally answered, “Maybe you just think you’re gay because of the names the other kids call you or because you aren’t interested in sports and other boyish stuff. But if you are gay, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll always love you.”
Oh God! That was so wishy-washy. But I’d left an opening. Lain could say something to help me understand so I would know what to say next.
But he just laid his head on my shoulder. Neither of us said anything more about it that night or for a long time afterwards.
There are mother’s who kick out their gay kid or try to ungay them. There are mothers who become activists for gay rights and march on Washington. And then there are moms like me – the ones who simply haven’t a clue what to do.
My silence, my putting things off, was because of me, not him. I was in way over my head and didn’t know where to turn for help.
Even friends could not relate to what I was going through. My difficulty with trying to talk to anyone about my parenting issues was as frustrating and painful as it was for my son to try and talk to me.
After Lain told me he was gay, I looked for books in the library and online for parents of gay children. I found very little, but I did find the PFLAG organization – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (They’ve since broadened and revamped the acronym to be more inclusive of all LGBTQ people.)
I drove clear across town to attend the PFLAG monthly meetings, looking for support and guidance. But I quickly discovered that the group was filled with parents who’s children came out to them in college or in their thirties. No one had a child who declared they were gay at age nine. There was no path someone had already cleared for me to follow.
I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing as a parent in the best of circumstances. How was I supposed to be up to this challenge?
I watched other mothers at the park, shopping centers, and school events and marveled at how confident and at ease they seemed to be. Maybe it wasn’t instinct that made some mothers better at it. Maybe they had good examples they’d learned from.
What did I know about communication, and problem solving, and taking a bull by the horns and walking confidently forward? What I knew was avoidance. I knew about being invisible and hiding from danger.
And here I was in what felt like a dangerous situation. Lying low did not sound like a good option. Not that Lain allowed himself or me to lie low for any length of time. He did have some bouts of trying to disguise himself. There was the year he cut his hair short and tried to look preppy with polo shirts, but no change in haircut or attire stopped the bloodhounds from sniffing him out.
I wasn’t sure what it was about him. His voice? Mannerisms? The way he walked? To me, he was just my son.
I talked to Lain about how kids treated him and how it made him feel. But when we did talk, that was only a small part of the conversation. What we talked most about was how he could remain safe. He needed to be careful who he talked with about being gay.
I wished for a different world, one where he could just be who he was but that wasn’t the world we lived in. It’s still not the world that we live in.
*Artwork by Lain Kay