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I wasn’t afraid to come out to my mom. She’s pretty liberal and had always been accepting of gay people but more than that, we’d just always been so close. I told her when I had sex with a boy for the first time, and I was honest when I skipped class or wanted to go to a party where there’d be alcohol. Her own mom had died when she was relatively young and she doesn’t have any sisters, so I used to joke that I was more than just her daughter. “I have to be your daughter because I am,” I’d say, “but I’m also your mother because yours isn’t here anymore, and I’m your sister because you never had one, and I’m your best friend… because I want to be.” I have no idea when I came up with that idea, or how a small human decided such big things, but it was true. My relationship with my mother was a giant thing, a beautiful thing, a special thing that I knew I was lucky to have.
As I grew up I found out that not all daughters and mothers were close. I felt bad for them — I could tell my mom anything. So when I went abroad to London and met the girl who would end up changing my whole world, I wasn’t afraid to tell my mom about it at all. I was excited. I knew my mom would love me no matter what, even if I were an axe murderer. That had always been our joke: she’d say, “I will love you no matter what,” and I’d ask, wide-eyed and big-grinned, “Even if I were an axe-murderer?” And she’d laugh or shake her head or just nod and smile back, always assuring me: “I’ll love you even if you are an axe-murderer. But I hope you won’t be.” Coming out to my mom felt safe because I knew that no matter what happened in this life, she would love me.
When I said, “I met this girl Emily and she kissed me and I think I like her,” to my mother’s grainy face over a bad Skype connection, my mom wasn’t happy. I had been casual on purpose. I didn’t have a speech worked out. I wasn’t sure if I was gay or bisexual or confused and I wasn’t really worried about the label. I just wanted to tell my best friend a thing that was happening in my life. I don’t remember exactly what my mom said in response but I know she ended the call pretty quickly. I sat at my desk for a long time afterwards staring at the screen. That was four years ago.
When Riese showed us this mothering forum message board with a note from a mom who suspects her daughter is a lesbian and is asking for advice, it felt personal. The original question, the responses and the followup message from the original mom brought out a feeling of tenderness and understanding that I wish I could have granted my own mother four years ago. I spent a long time feeling angry and misunderstood by my mom, and while I don’t think those feelings were wrong, I’ve also started working through the more complex feelings of understanding my mom, accepting that she is trying just as hard as I am and ultimately forgiving her and loving her no matter what, just as she promised always to do for me.
Here’s what this mom wrote:
I need help. Today I went into my daughters room to clean up a bit since she is away at college, and I found lesbian themed graphic novels under her bed. She never showed any interest in boys, but I always assumed that was just because she was shy. Now I’m starting to suspect that her relationship with a certain “friend” of hers might be more than it seems. I’m very upset, and I don’t know what to do. Is she gay? Should I ask her? Should I confront her about the books? Also, how do I accept this if she does turn out to be a lesbian? I feel sick just thinking about it. I know it is not a choice, but I don’t want her to be this way. I want her to have a normal, happy life, not this.
One person, who wrote that while her own daughter is currently questioning her sexuality, “whatever she figures out, it’s not an issue to us… we want our kids happy and healthy,” (yay supportive mom!), questioned if the original message might be from a troll, because “it can be taken as inflammatory, imo.” True, I felt somewhat uncomfy the first time I read the original question. This person feels “sick” at the idea of a gay daughter? Yikes. The language isn’t the best. But I did not for one instant think it was the work of a troll. I have a feeling that a big part of why this mom went to the effort to post on a message board is because she was looking for assurance and acceptance in a situation that she really wants to be okay with, and it was inspiring to see other parents reach out with words of advice and reason and kindness. I didn’t see any hate on the board, and while I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all the advice this woman was given, I certainly appreciated that every word seemed to come from a place of love and acceptance and wanting what’s best for your child.
Before we go any further examining the advice this woman received via a list of my very own advice for moms with gay daughters, let’s appreciate the poster who pointed out that this woman might be jumping to conclusions. Because much as I wish we could recruit the entire world to the gay baby army, alas, a lesbian themed graphic novel under a bed and a close friendship with a friend of the same sex do not a lesbian make. This person says as much:
There is also a chance that the books you found mean that your daughter is an aspiring indie cartoonist. Or that she enjoys the work of Alison Bechdel. (I have a complete set of Dykes to Watch Out For in my house, half of which were bought by my husband.) Remain open to other interpretations.
Right-o! Hey ma, your gaydar may be off. Totally valid. But let’s assume this daughter is gay, because if we don’t I can’t talk about the rest of the really heartfelt and interesting advice that these humans on the internet gave to another human on the internet, and I really want to do that because it’s good and some of it made me cry. I put together a handy dandy list of my own advice to moms who have gay (or bi or queer or questioning etc etc etc) daughters and as it turns out, many of the message board posters are totally on the same page as I am. This is the list I wish I could have given my own mom.
1. Do not confront your daughter. Period.
So your daughter’s a lesbian! Should you say something to her about it before she comes to you to discuss it? NOPE. This is the #1 piece of advice I would give any parent in this scenario. It bears repeating: Do. Not. Confront. Your. Lesbian. Daughter. Why? Another poster explains:
I would wait until she is ready to talk. She might still be figuring it all out herself, and that takes time. And, if you feel “sick” about this and want her to have a “normal, happy life” she is probably right in not choosing you as a confidant at this time.
Yes! She might still be figuring it all out herself, totally! When I first came out to my mom she was so hung up on the words — “Are you a lesbian? What is queer? What do you mean you don’t know? If you’re not a lesbian why does it feel like you’re writing off boys forever?” — and I was so fucking confused that every conversation we had felt like an accusation or a fight, even when she wasn’t trying to pick one. In retrospect, that was not all her fault — I was very angry at her for not immediately understanding me, and I didn’t think it was my responsibility to hold her hand through my coming out process especially when I was less than sure what I was even coming out as. I was right in that it’s never your responsibility to make anyone feel comfortable with your sexuality, or any aspect of your identity. But I forgot to acknowledge another truth: Sometimes the people we come out to, the people who love us most, do need someone to hold their hand while they get used to the news.
2. If you’re not immediately okay with this, find a source of support (that is not your daughter).
Part of why I love this message board conversation so much is because this mom is acknowledging that she needs some handholding, and she’s seeking it from people who are not her daughter, and these people are offering to hold her hand. It’s actually a really great, healthy way of dealing with the fact that this news is upsetting to her. Sometimes our friends and family need support. Another person on the message board realizes this and points this mother to a place where she can seek said support, as well as echoing the idea of not putting your daughter through a “confrontation” and challenging the concept of “normal.” I love this person!
There is no reason to put her on the defensive about who she is, and that is not going to encourage her to open up to you. Whether she is a lesbian or bisexual or just exploring, having the support of those close to her is so important. Also, she can definitely have a happy life, even if it doesn’t match what you would think of as “normal”. I would start by checking out PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
I begged my mom to check out PFLAG, but she said it wasn’t the right avenue for her. I disagree, but I had to respect her feelings. That said, I think every parent who struggles with any aspect of their child’s identity needs to get support so they can work through their own feelings and not burden their child with the responsibility of dealing with the negative reaction.
3. Do the work.
Newsflash: Being gay is okay, and if you’re not okay with it, it’s your problem. If you’re not in a place where you can accept your gay child, you’re the one who needs to do work, not your kid. Do the work. The following poster suggests, “see if you are capable of growing and changing,” and maybe now’s the part where you all tell me I’m a dumb optimist but I truly believe everyone on this earth is capable of growing and changing. So do that.
Right now you are not in a position to give help, support or constructive criticism to your daughter, because you are living in an angry, shocked, prejudiced place. Give yourself time. See if you are capable of growing and change. I am not saying it is easy, it isn’t. And even if you don’t say a word, your daughter knows the place you are in. Perhaps she is not discussing it with you in order not to hurt you… sometimes two people are two whole poles apart, and their views so vastly different, that there is no middle ground for them to meet in. I think, right now, this is maybe where you and your daughter are at.
A thing that really struck me in the original message was the mom’s concern that her daughter would lead a harder life because she is a lesbian. That’s a fair concern, to an extent. People do a lot of really horrible shit to gay people. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to live in big cities with welcoming communities and ample okCupid possibilities feel the harsh reality that comes along with people hating you simply because of who you are and who you love. It sucks. But the answer is not for all of our parents to sit around biting their cuticles until they bleed, worrying that we’ll be the next victim of a hate crime or miss out on that prime promotion because our boss is a bigot. And as one poster points out, the idea that just because someone is a lesbian she won’t grow up to have a wife and a dog and babies and a picket fence (if that’s what she wants) is pretty old fashioned. Expecting something awful to happen to your gay daughter and using that fear as an excuse for your negative feelings about her identity is a copout. Fight bigotry and hate and the patriarchy, not your daughter.
4. Get over your expectations (and yourself).
There are literally a billion ways your kid could not fulfill your expectations as they grow up and become a human with their own thoughts and ideas. Wanted your kid to be a doctor? Well guess what, she’s gonna be a dancer. Wanted your kid to travel the world? Sorry, she’s a homebody and never wants to leave the country. Wanted your kid to love all your favorite books? I’m sorry, mom, but I’m never going to read Lost In Translation. I don’t know why, it doesn’t even make sense, I’ve just got a lot of other things to do right now and I can’t. You’re going to love her anyway, because that’s what parents do. So treat the whole sexuality thing in the same way and stop asking her to read your favorite book. Maybe try reading one of her favorite books, while you’re at it! A real live gay lady showed up in the message board conversation to say what I just said in a lot fewer words than I used and also to make me have a lot of emotional emotions.
If your daughter is a lesbian, she might still fulfill your vision in every (other) way. If she is straight, she might never fulfill it. Chances are no matter who she is, she’ll meet your expectations in some ways and not in others.
(Side note: When I came out to my mom, the first thing she said to me was: “But I always thought you wanted to get married and have children!” and I said, “I do want those things!” FWIW, my partner and I have been together for 20 years (married for 11, still awaiting legal recognition of our marriage), and we are parents to a daughter, though my mom died before she got to meet her granddaughter.)
This specific point has been one of a lot of contention for me and my mom. She desperately wants grandchildren, and luckily I really want kids (one day, not today!). Win/win! This was true when I was dating men, and it’s remained true since I started dating women. Despite marriage often being looked down on in queer circles, I want to get married (you can yell at me about being a bad queer later but I don’t care, I really want to wear this dress and walk down the aisle) and in New York nobody can stop me.
5. Love her unconditionally.
Moms, listen up: a lesbian daughter can have a way happy life, okay? But you know what kind of puts a damper on happiness? When your mother doesn’t accept you for who you are. That pretty much insures that you’re going to be unhappy for a while, ya know? If you’re so worried about your lesbian daughter’s happiness, don’t be the thing in her life that makes her unhappy. In fact, if you suspect your daughter is a lesbian and she hasn’t confided in you yet, she could be leaving you out of the loop because she’s scared that you’ll freak out, she’ll lose your love and she will indeed be very unhappy. Another wise poster points out this logical possibility:
I’m sure her reasoning for not telling you, if she is a lesbian, is just because she is scared that she will lose your love. Assure her that she won’t lose you, and it will make it easier for her to open up to you.
Even though my own coming out conversation didn’t go as planned, the very reason I felt so comfortable to say anything in the first place is because I was absolutely certain I would not lose my mother or her love. Though she didn’t react the way I wanted to, I was right about the big stuff. Her unconditional love is the reason we are able to have a relationship today.
Things with my mom are so much better now than they were after our initial conversation in February 2009. We continue to work on our relationship because we love each other and we want a relationship, even when it’s not easy. I’m lucky. I know things don’t go as smoothly for some people when they come out to their parents, but the way it happened to me still felt hard. I wish my mom had reacted differently and had supported me immediately. I wish the world didn’t see a lesbian daughter as something to be sad about. Most of all I wish that one day, no one will have to give advice to moms who have gay daughters on the internet, no matter how heartfelt or sound that advice may be, because there won’t be any questions to ask — just love, acceptance, and more love.