I'm spending today at the 2007 Indiana Counseling Association Educational Conference working at the PFLAG/IYG/YAD booth. (That's Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Indiana Youth Group, and Youth and Diversity for those of you from out of state.) It has been a truly enlightening experience that I wanted to share with you.
I'm not a counselor. I'm not a therapist or a psychologist. I don't have any particular experience working with troubled, confused, or questioning youth. I'm working with a lovely woman that I absolutely adore - Sue Hazer, from Indianapolis PFLAG. Sue's daughter is a lesbian. I'm a gay man. Those are our qualifications.
And yet our booth has been very popular with attendees... We've fielded several questions and given out tons of literature, buttons and stickers. I've been asked very challenging questions about what it's like to be gay, how my parents reacted to my coming out, whether anal sex was a mandatory part of being a gay male, who's to blame for a child's sexuality and other probing questions that I just didn't expect. And all were asked in a civil manner by people who weren't worried about judging Sue or I as much as they wanted to know some information. It's refreshing, I must admit.
Yesterday on the floor of the state senate chambers, I heard "my people" called perverts and abominations. I heard about the damage we would cause to Mr. and Mrs. Straight America's marriage. I heard several discriminatory remarks that were simply untrue and bigoted. Today has been a 100% different experience.
I'd like to share my experience with one woman who shall remain nameless for her own privacy. She left a little while ago after talking with me for a long time.
Her son just came out - for the second time. He came out originally in middle school, but in her words she "encouraged him to wait and see if that's really what he wanted." A few days ago he came home with whisker burn on his face from kissing another guy. The gig was up. Mom asked what had happened and he told her the truth. While Mom wasn't devastated, she was upset and worried about him.
She asked me all sorts of questions about what it's like to be gay. But one of the things that she said/did stuck out in my mind. She told me that the young man had been abused when he was younger; she wanted to know if that had "turned" him gay. When I told her that I doubted it very seriously, she asked if homosexuality was genetic and, perhaps, she had passed it on to him like some sort of virus. I understand that the woman was questioning, wondering and speculating. It's something I'm sure all parents do.
But wouldn't it be a much better world, as I told her, if parents stopped trying to "blame" something for homosexuality? Wouldn't the world be a much sweeter place if every time a child came out, there was a celebration? After all, this child is special. If only 10% of the population is gay, then that makes us a rare breed, doesn't it? I tried to explain to her the damage that blame can cause - both to her and her son. I asked her if her son had been abused but turned out straight, would that have been okay? Would she have overlooked the abuse or would she still have been angry about it? Of course, she replied that she loved her son and no matter what the abuse was unacceptable.
I asked her to look at the issues she was muddling together. It's okay to be angry that your son was sexually abused; it's natural. But that doesn't mean it has anything to do with his sexuality. They're independent vehicles going on opposite sides of the road. As I explained, one was forced on a child who had no free will in the matter. The other is simply what sex he is attracted to. By trying to blame the abuse, Mom was setting her kid up to think of being gay as something that requires blame or denigration. In other words, something must have happened for you to end up this way - and that way is what? What's implied in that reasoning is that something is wrong with the son and must be blamed for the problem. By then turning the tables on herself and blaming herself for a genetic defect, she's doing the same thing. She's assigning homosexuality as something "wrong" that should have a cause - and therefore a fix.
I patiently explained to her as she cried that there was nothing wrong with her son. He wouldn't live a life of loneliness and pain. Several of her innate prejudices weren't something that she deliberated and promoted - they were just "what she knew." But what she knew was wrong and it relieved her to hear that. My heart ached as we talked and I wondered if maybe my mom had someone to talk to about this when I came out she would have had an easier time accepting me as, well, me. (I left home at 16.) This mother was quick to point out that she loved her son with all of her heart. I asked her if she still loved her son after he came out. Had he changed dramatically? Was he suddenly a different person? "No," she admitted. "The only difference is that now he's been honest with me. I know now."
And so I asked her, "Isn't it better that way? Isn't it better to be honest then live a lie? Unconditional love is unconditional. Your son counts on you for emotional support and unconditional love. As long as you provide both of those, you'll be the most wonderful mom in the world. Your son will love you as much as you love him - probably even more after he hears other LGBT folks' coming out stories that are so horrible."
While she hasn't been the only person I spoke to today, maybe she stuck out in my head so much because I really wish my mom had someone to talk to like she had. Maybe things would have been easier for me - and her. I gave the woman the URL for bilerico.com and invited her to get active in the community.
Just in case she comes to visit, why don't you share your own coming out stories? I'm sure she'd love to read them. After all, the only one she knows so far is her son's and mine.
(Cross posted to American Values Alliance)