June 18, 2009 in Washington Voices

A mother’s pride isn’t about orientation

Stefanie Pettit
 

I have a son who is gay.

I hope that one day soon, the standard response to that statement will be “so what.” Or better yet, there will be no more compelling reason to speak of a son’s sexual orientation than to mention his hair color or whether he is left- or right-handed. But that day isn’t today.

I speak of it because June is Gay Pride month and because attention still needs to be paid.

No, this isn’t about gays in the military, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples or a debate on the whole Leviticus-abomination thing – not that I don’t have deep feelings about these subjects. These words today are about a parent and a child, about love and about fear.

Sam is our youngest son. When he was a boy, his father and I both began to wonder if he might be gay. It wasn’t because he was a gentle child, which he was. And it wasn’t because he loved to sing, to draw and to act, all of which he did. Lots of kids are like that and most of them aren’t gay. But there was just something about how he related to the world, something I’m still hard pressed to find the right words to describe, that made us wonder and have concern.

I remember when Sam was in sixth grade, he told me he sneaked behind the gym and kissed a girl. Good, I thought. I remember when he was in middle school, I found a Playboy magazine in his room; I was thrilled and relieved.

Sam and I have since laughed about the Playboy sighting. He told me he used the pictures of naked women as models as he developed his drawing skills. Now if your son is straight, you wouldn’t buy that for a minute, but if he’s gay, it makes perfect sense.

Sam was in high school when we had “the talk,” and he came out officially. It was pretty much an open secret. Even so, I had a tough couple of days afterward. I was so afraid for him. There are people who would kill him just for being who he is. Did we do something wrong in raising him? I imagined all the terrible social, employment and soul-crushing experiences that might harm him – never mind the whole second-class citizen status that would probably always be his. And I mourned for the children he would probably not have (he would be such a great dad!) and, selfishly, for the grandchildren I wouldn’t get to enjoy.

And I realized that because of his sexual orientation, he would feel safer and more comfortable being rooted within the gay community, a community of which his parents are not a part (though I have since found that community to be very warm and welcoming to parents).

Sam teases me now about that tumultuous weekend. He says he watched me experience the full gamut of grieving – from denial to bargaining to anger to acceptance, all on something akin to fast forward mode. He does a funny pantomime of the whole thing.

What I realized on that weekend and through countless discussions afterward was how open and kind Sam was in helping me understand. He talked about things I’m sure most teenagers would rather die than talk about with a parent. I mean, how generous was that? He was helping me.

It was a brave thing he did. Although I think he was pretty confident his father and I would be there for him through whatever was to come, there was some risk. After all, such discussions in other households had caused parents to reject their children, withdraw their love (I’m not quite sure how that’s even possible) and boot them from the home – as happened to some kids Sam knew.

My mid-teens boy went to great pains to explain, to answer questions and make understandable this basic part of himself that I, as his mother, really didn’t comprehend. This was a task more difficult than it might seem because being gay isn’t just about the mechanics of sex. It’s more complicated than that, and he wanted me to know whatever I needed to know to be at peace.

I am very happy to report that Sam has grown up into a well-adjusted, funny and loving man who lives and works in Seattle. Two and a half years ago, he and his partner, Ian, held a wedding ceremony. It wasn’t to make a political statement, but because they wanted to stand up before friends and family and say the words out loud. So they rented the pagoda at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma and exchanged their vows. Cake, music, toasts, food and dancing. It was a lovely ceremony at which I know at least one of the mothers of the grooms cried.

A few weekends ago I was in Seattle to attend a concert by Ian’s rock band – and yes, I was the only gray-haired mother in the crowd – and to see a play that Sam directed. We all talked and laughed and had a grand time. It was family.

No, everything hasn’t been perfect in Sam’s life. He’s encountered problems and had some troubles that he wouldn’t have had were he not gay. I like to hope that’s getting better, but sometimes I wonder.

I have learned two things in raising Sam and watching him become a lovely, responsible and kind adult. One is not to be afraid if you have a gay son (or lesbian daughter). Yes, there are scary things out in the world that may await, but your child is a unique bit of wonderfulness just as he is. Embrace him.

The other thing I learned directly from Sam. He once said this to me: “You know, mom, I love with the same organ everyone else does. My heart. The rest of it is just plumbing.”

June is gay pride month and attention still needs to be paid.

Am I proud that Sam is gay? It doesn’t quite work like that. I am no more proud that he is gay than I am proud that my oldest son is straight. But I am proud of Sam, and I know that being gay is an important part of what makes Sam the Sam that he is. And I wouldn’t change that.


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