Mark S. King

My First Gay Christmas aka Destroying My Mother

Filed By Mark S. King | December 08, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christmas, coming out of the closet, LGBT families, mothers

There is so much distance in my mother's eyes that I fear she may never come close to me again. Circling her stare are wrinkles of pain, betrayal even, and in her hand she holds the watch.

Thumbnail image for Christmas Gift.jpgIt was December of my senior year of high school, and things had calmed down considerably after my having burst forth from the closet that Fall, wearing go-go boots to school dances and openly flaunting my twenty-something boyfriend. But these were all healthy choices, I told myself.

If there was nothing wrong with being gay, then there should be nothing defiant about letting my family know about it. And my friends. And my teachers. And people at church. Never mind that we lived in Bossier City, Louisiana. Or that it was 1977.

But there was something about that look in my mother's eyes, in that moment. It took all my arrogance to protect myself from it, to seek refuge from the shocked stare, the battle in her face between heartbreak and fury. She was squeezing tightly to the silver watchband, and her hand shook imperceptibly.

The boyfriend had been my downfall, of course. He was both too old and too immature for me, and Mom knew it. She also knew that spending so much time with him that previous summer wasn't usual for a 16-year-old. So when she spotted a letter I'd written to him, she figured it would tell her what she wanted to know. She opened it.

It never occurred to me to place blame for that indiscretion. I was relieved when my parents found out, actually, and once that suspense was over I could get on with the business of scandalizing my high school.

There were brief exchanges between us following my big gay reveal, tense moments crowded with frustration and unfocused love. "What's your problem with it?" I would ask, adorned with multiple pooka shell necklaces or sporting a man-made hickey without shame, "What's your problem with me being gay?" I possessed more self-righteousness than an HRC dinner.

She would sigh with resignation, hand leaning on the kitchen counter. "Mark, it's just that I know this won't be easy. It's your whole life, and this will just make it... difficult." There were no scripture readings or ignorant signs of homophobia. Just a mother's perfectly legitimate concern that a child's life could be tougher.

I didn't appreciate her enlightenment. I would reply with a teenage shrug, just before some eye rolling and a saunter out of the room that must have made her want to strangle my pretty little gay neck.

As Christmas approached that year, I made it known that Thumbnail image for Christmas Watch 1.jpgthere was a gift that would be just swell for a certain high school senior. Something sophisticated, to show his increased maturity.

A watch.

But then, on my birthday two days before Christmas, I walked through the front door prancing like the Queen of Sheba - meaning, more prancing than usual - and on my wrist was a glimmering gold watch, a shiny new gift from my boyfriend. It was not a quality timepiece, not that I knew it, and the gold was destined to fade faster than the relationship. But it looked quite fabulous as I strutted and posed like I had just discovered that I could vogue.

Mother didn't betray her emotions. She waited. And two days later, wearing a robe and a gold wrist, I opened a Christmas present from Mom and Dad that had been hidden behind the tree and saved for last.

It was a Timex, and it was beautiful. Silver.

There was more than the standard holiday tension as I slipped off my gold watch to try on the Timex. True to form, Mom kept her own counsel, but something told me that I wasn't simply being presented with an additional watch, but with a choice. And I didn't want to make it.

All that year I had been trying on a confident young gay identity for size - and that included a boyfriend who had given me what I wanted for Christmas. I valued him and I valued his gift. But family emotions were fairly clear: his gift was a bit much. After all, Mom and Dad could have had the man arrested for taking up with their 16-year-old. Seeing him shower me with jewelry had to push the limits of their patience.

But such concerns were beyond a self centered teen like me. I was convinced that flaunting his gift was about my new-found gay pride, and about respect for my sexuality and all sorts of other lofty, misdirected ideals.

Later that day, after the mountains of wrapping paper had been cleared, Mom and I sat near the tree. "So, this is a bit strange," she began, as casually as she could muster, "having two watches... what will you do?" She had never had to compete with a gift giver for my gratitude. Someone outside the family. And a man.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked, knowing.

"Maybe you should talk to your friend, and..."

"And what, Mother?" I snapped back, propelled with a little too much righteous indignation. "Look Mom, I have an idea..." I slipped off the Timex and handed it to her. "I think you and Dad should return this. Silver isn't really my color. You should know that."

MarkAnneOnDeck.jpgIt is then, that moment, which continues to replay in my mental catalogue of regret. I wanted to collect the words from the air and gobble them up, but of course it was too late.

Her face was blank at first, and then a stunned, hurt expression flashed across it that was as heartbreaking to me as it was utterly foreign. She looked like she was the target of some cruel joke. And then suddenly her vulnerability was abolished for her usual calm. Her face made the whole journey in an instant.

I moved to say something more but thought better of it. Instead I reached for the watch in her hands and took it back, my face a silent promise never to give it up again. Mother withdrew without more words.

It was a milestone, a snap of the apron strings, a selfish or brave gesture of independence, depending on your point of view. I can consider whether it was an important step for a gay teen or simply the self-indulgent act of a child, but the debate doesn't interest me. My minds eye only remembers her face.

Even now, more than thirty years later, I want to take it all back.


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I feel compelled to mention that I treat my mother like a queen today, and this was a rare (?) moment of teenage idiocy. I have a video interview with my Mom about raising two gay sons on my site, at http://marksking.com/my-fabulous-disease/video-15-what-it-feels-like-for-a-mom/

Mark

Mark, I know you are reconciled to your mother now, but that doesn't change the fact that what your parents did that xmas was very snarky and invasive behavior undertaken deliberately to throw a serious guilt trip on you and not at all based on a serious parental understanding of what you really needed, which was not a tacky and selfish competition for your affection, which would have come home to them soon enough if they had been at all real about your being gay and given you your own space, free from their delusions about your nature and desires.

While you surely have completely forgiven them for their insensitivity as parents, you need to also forgive yourself for your teenaged insensitivity to their ridiculous attempt to coopt your affections through material bribery, among other things. You certainly cannot claim that they were assisting your coming out process, and you need to understand that they were NOT being usefully parental or insightful in what they did. Given their behavior, undertaken with foreknowledge, your own behavior seems completely appropriate, if rather immature. Remember, you were the kid, cornered by disapproving adults. The burden of responsible maturity lay with them, a burden in which they completely failed.

I hope you will continue to reevaluate this experience. Since it is long past and not immediately painful and everyone has basically

Sorry. Accidentally posted before finished writing...

Mark, I know you are reconciled to your mother now, but that doesn't change the fact that what your parents did that xmas was very snarky and invasive behavior undertaken deliberately to throw a serious guilt trip on you and not at all based on a serious parental understanding of what you really needed, which was not a tacky and selfish competition for your affection, which would have come home to them soon enough if they had been at all real about your being gay and given you your own space, free from their delusions about your nature and desires.

While you surely have completely forgiven them for their insensitivity as parents, you need to also forgive yourself for your teenaged insensitivity to their ridiculous attempt to coopt your affections through material bribery, among other things. You certainly cannot claim that they were assisting your coming out process, and you need to understand that they were NOT being usefully parental or insightful in what they did. Given their behavior, undertaken with foreknowledge, your own behavior seems completely appropriate, if rather immature. Remember, you were the kid, cornered by disapproving adults. The burden of responsible maturity lay with them, a burden in which they completely failed.

I hope you will continue to reevaluate this experience. Since it is long past and not immediately painful and everyone has basically gotten over it, perhaps you can now heal your own lingering regret by facing the fact that, although it all finally worked out OK, what happened that day was NOT really your fault.

Thanks for sharing. I'd say, (since you've graciously invited us in to your life:) Don't keep shaming yourself over the watch moment. You were a teenager! That's how they are! Occasionally insensitive- i.e not emotionally grown-up yet - surprise, surprise. And you didn't go through with it- because even in your 'bratty' moment ( which wasn't really very bratty,) you had empathy.

I think it's cool you had so much spunk and self-confidence about your gayness. Why not choose to see your sassiness about being out as a POSITIVE reflection on your mom, and as a celebration of all the love and support she gave you as a child, and as a teen , in general, that then empowered you to love yourself for who you are!

Cheers and thanks for putting me in a good mood!

Mark,

It's a wonderfully heartwarming story. Not everyone has one. Cherish yours.

Kirk Lammert | December 9, 2010 2:07 AM

"Not everyone has one." What? A mother or a heart? :)

Cherish both anyway!

We all do things during our teen years that we regret when we become adults. It's a difficult time.

Send your mother big love from the Bilerico folks!

Actually... I didn't. Little Miss Straightarrow here.

If I have any regrets, it's that I didn't do anything that would be looked upon as mere youthful indiscretion, or even normal teenaged social behaviour now. I had too much on my plate at the time for that, I didn't even know the residential address or phone number of anyone my age, let alone anyone else. But enough about me.

The important thing is, Mark, that you have taken it back. By recovering from mis-steps like this, by making a good life... you've given more joy to your Mom than you can ever know.

"And they all lived happily ever after".

I agree with Bil completely. Please send your mom love and hugs from those of us who make and read Bilerico.

Having read Dan's comments, it might be a good idea to offer some rebuttal to his understanding of the incident.
First, there was never any need to "reconcile" to his mother, he always had the complete love and support of both parents...with no delusion about Mark's nature and desires.
Second, there was never a competition for his affection, that was never in doubt.
Third, the "material bribery" involves a gift that had been purchased as soon as Mark had expressed his wish for a watch.
Fourth, aboout the charge that the mother did not display "responsible maturity" about the situation. She recognized Mark's predicament and initiated a discussion with him...a pretty mature decision.
Fifth, your understanding of Mark's article seems to concentrate on completely negative verbiage..."invasive behavior, guilt trip, delusions, insensitivity, disapproving."
Mark has moved on, becoming an older and wiser adult, still a member of the same loving and supportive family. Regretfully, you seem unable to display that same growth.

Yup, that's my Mom. And her skills, parental and otherwise, are clearly still intact.

Go Grandma! I agree! Dan needs to grow up. If he only knew our family and how close everyone really is, he wouldn't make such comments. Great article, Mark! I love you and Grandma very much!

SeeingEyeGrrl | December 9, 2010 10:43 PM

Your mom sounds great....It is not the easiest job in the world, and sounds like she did and has done her best. Hope I can be as understanding with my family. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I've known Mark for A While now (By reputation, Professionally and Personally) and it's Obvious he's an Extraordinary Person. "Extraordinary People" do NOT happen by accident. Parents do the best they can with what they have. No Kids comes with an instructions manuals.

My mother was 16 when she became pregnant with me. My Parents made Plenty of mistakes; the one thing they got RIGHT was, they ALWAYS encouraged me to Think For Myself. It's obvious that Mark was raised with good values and encouraged to Think for Himself.

I Recall hearing Mark speak for the first time and thinking, "WOW, i'd LOVE to meet THAT Family sometime."

When we read a piece, we can read our own "Take" into it. As humans, we can paint things with the brush of our OWN Experiences. I think It's best to try to give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt. It IS one person's perception of a sequence of events....

I think The Kings raised some Incredible Kids During a Turbulent Time and they should be Congratulated for it. There are some Parenting Skills in there somewhere. Kudos, Mrs. King.

Good God, let's put this in perspective: the 70s in Shreveport, Louisiana no less! Not exactly the bastion of liberalism and gay acceptance (then or probably now). The Kings chose a tactful approach re: their son's gay relationship vs. the attack approach. They could've turned this incident into a real firestorm and lost their son forever. But they didn't. And the result is years later here's Mark reflecting on an incident that he's never forgotten, an incident that I'm sure has shaped his sense of diplomacy in his own life affairs.

Linda Conway | December 11, 2010 6:30 AM

I strongly felt the need to respond to Dan Massey's post. I wonder what kind of bitterness Dan is suffering from to find such negative hidden agendas in our parents' actions. You wanted a watch for Christmas, they bought you one.
"was very snarky and invasive behavior undertaken deliberately to throw a serious guilt trip on you" Dan's comment that you have "forgiven them for their insensitivity as parents" makes me want to hurl. Dan should get counseling if he can find nothing but negativity and hidden agendas in this story of a mother who chose to quietly discuss a matter that she saw was a deep concern of her son's. This was an experience that I think made an impression on you Mark and helped your growth. No, I don't think you have anything to feel guilty about. You acted like any other immature teenager, and I actually was proud of you when I read that you decided to not say anything else and just took the watch back. You did a good thing, and matured in that moment. It was handled gracefully by a caring mother, as she handled most situations concerning her children.
Dan said "Remember, you were the kid, cornered by disapproving adults. The burden of responsible maturity lay with them, a burden in which they completely failed." Where is this indicated as you read Mark's story Dan? You seriously need to have more knowledge of someone's situation before you spout these opinions/statements that were in no way indicated by the writer.
I have known the parents of gay teens who reacted really badly, and acceptance was far down the road. The support and love my parents showed Mark his entire life helped him to become the exceptional man he is today. Mark's whole family loves him, accepts & support who he is, and we are all more proud of him than he imagines. Especially our mother.
Mark, I just wanted to respond to Dan's post, as it couldn't have been more wrong regarding our parents... and I hope that his comments in no way make you feel worse about this experience.

I think Dan gets the idea by now. I had the incredible experience of growing up as one of the SIX children of the two most loving, understanding and supportive parents who ever graced this planet. Too strong? Really? Then you've never had the pleasure of listening to any of their children telling stories about their parents. The biggest mystery to me as I look back is how could all of us have so many stories about what our parents did for us? I felt like an only child and felt as if my parents were totally focused on what was important in my life and showed so much interest in me. The funny thing is all of us felt like this. I won't defend my Mom to a man who made a negative comment, I don't have to. I just wish that Dan and the rest of the world could know a little about my Mom and my Dad. I wish Dan could spend about 20 minutes with my Mom or Dad or even listen to one of the hundreds of stories from any of their children. My Parents? I can't even descibe to you how wonderful they are. But I don't have to, I have dozens of people that can help me do that. David King