When my then 16-year-old son came out to us in October 2014, I was shocked. As in drop-my-jaw clueless. And I’m not stupid. I’ve always rolled my eyes at those parents who so obviously lived in denial at the true activities and personalities of their kiddos. Not me. Never me. I’m a savvy parent, raising my two children with both eyes open. So how could I have been so taken off guard about something so huge in my own son’s life?
My husband has always been the more suspicious parent, while I played the role of overly trusting. This as you can imagine caused us lots of fights, but actually complimented our parenting pretty well. We were the perpetual good cop, bad cop. Not to the massive extreme – it’s not like my husband is a villain and I’m an angel. It’s more like I trust until it's proven I shouldn’t and he trusts only when earned. That definitely worked in our favor on that fateful day in October.
God put me safely out of town, so my hubby could do his thing. Sure enough, he got suspicious when our son was overly attentive to his phone, surreptitiously texting and tucking it back behind a pillow. Had I been home, I’d have told my spouse to stop being paranoid, we would have fought, and our son would have remained firmly in the closet. But instead, it went the way it needed to go and we found out Easton is gay.
We kept the news to ourselves for nearly a year while we adjusted to the idea, then gradually started sharing with some close friends, and finally our own families. Interestingly enough, nearly every person that we told started their first sentence after with some variation of, “I wondered for a while,” or “I’m not surprised, but …” or something of the sort.
It actually hurt my feelings at first. If my closest friends and family had thought my son might be gay, why in the heck had no one bothered to share that with me?? What happened to “it takes a village?” Does that only apply to easy things like seeing your friend’s unlicensed driver pull through Sonic (true story)?
This indignation phase was followed by thoughts of “what are you talking about?? My son is masculine; why would you think he was gay?” Society has sneakily and solidly determined what are acceptable levels of masculinity and femininity, and I apparently had bought into them. Shame on me for that.
It bothered me that I seemed to have been living under a rock. And it didn’t bother me just a little bit, but more to level of ants-crawling-under-my-clothes-driving-me-crazy. What had I missed? I was an attentive, stay-home mom. We were the host house for lots of teen get togethers, although admittedly that had dwindled down over the past year. But still, how could I have missed what apparently had been so obvious to everyone else? So I started asking the question, “Why weren’t you surprised?” to those who claimed not to have been. The answers were nothing shocking actually … because our son had been in unconventional sports like gymnastics and volleyball. Because he was a music theater kid and could dance, sing and act well. Someone even told me because he was neat and polite (what, are straight kids messy little Charlie Brown Pig Pen boys running around yelling?? I had to laugh at that one).
None of these things were anything I didn’t already know. But yet, while others saw these things and read “gay,” I saw the same things and read, “Easton.” Was that denial? Had I seen signs his whole life and just been blind to them? I began to think back … when he was a toddler he played dress up in his big sister’s dress up clothes. He always liked performing. His best friends were almost always female, even from a very young stage in life. He did start gymnastics when he was five, but I knew how much strength and training it took to be a gymnast so never thought of it as less than manly. Same thing with volleyball. Professional volleyball players are tough -- nothing feminine there.
We actually had defended him voraciously when he was bullied growing up. In 8th grade some idiot football kid (just a description of this particular kid not a sweeping statement about football players) wrote the nasty “f*ggot” word on his locker. Then again in high school a volleyball teammate used the same horrible term, and then the coach actually added to it by referring to missing practice for rehearsals as being “gay.” I’ve written letters to administrators and run in, Mama Bear fangs bared, to defend my son from bullying at every level.
So why hadn’t it occurred to me that he actually might be gay?
I stewed over that question for quite a while. And added to that pot was the question a friend asked me during the process: “when raising my own kids, what do I look for to determine if they might be gay?”
I determined what the answer really boils down to is stereotypes – are they real or not? Or somewhere in between?
Google search defines “stereotype” as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” Interesting. Fixed. Oversimplified.
To me, stereotypes always have had a negative connotation. That would be the “oversimplified” part of the definition. I saw them as sweeping statements that take individuality out of the mix. Something that affects your view of a person or group of people, but shouldn’t. We see it most these days with the new legal and political term “racial profiling.” And we all know the violence and discrimination that has caused in our society over the past few years. Stereotypes = bad.
And yet, the little voice in my head was constantly whispering that stereotypes have their basis in reality. They start with a commonality among a group with a shared trait, then take that to a generalization of all people with that trait. So there is a thread of truth to them, which I think is what makes racial profiling so controversial – there are statistics that uphold certain behaviors by certain ethnicities. So it’s easy to get caught up and assume all people within that bracket will behave that way. It’s easy, but also dangerous.
Back to my son. I didn’t have my eyes closed. He did exhibit behaviors that are stereotypically homosexual. I can’t tell you how many moms of gay musical theater boys I’ve met in the past year. It’s become almost comical. BUT. That doesn’t mean every male musical theater kid is guaranteed gay.
Basically, I saw different behaviors as part of my son – which is right and good – and didn’t read anything into them. I didn’t assume my son having stereotypically “gay” interests automatically made him gay. And that’s a good mom thing. A great one, I believe. When Easton first went to college earlier this year, I asked him one day if he was telling new friends he was gay, or how he was handling it. He answered with, “Mom, I’m just living and they are figuring it out.” Maybe that’s what I did as a mom – let him live as he wanted to and figured it out when I needed to.
Where I think I went wrong – and what advice I will give to other moms – is in not considering the fact that the behaviors while not conclusive, could mean he was gay. I didn’t let myself go there, largely due to my own religious feelings at the time, beliefs that since have changed through many MANY hours of study and prayer.
My mom had probably the most insightful reply to my question as to why she had wondered if my son was gay. She said that while she had always seen him surrounded by girls, she had never seen that “flirty thing going on.” His relationships with girls had been plentiful but platonic.
THAT is what I had missed. Remember me saying how Easton’s best friends had always been female, even at an early age? That is a sign, and not based on stereotypes, at least none that I am aware of. He relates on a friendship intimate level with girls, and on a romantic intimate level with boys. I had never allowed myself to see that. He had “girlfriends” over the years, but looking back I think they were more best friends, and remain such to this day, which definitely defines the typical boyfriend/girlfriend break ups.
With hindsight I can see that I was closed-minded in ways. I was and am a good mom, and have always watched out for my kids, both of them. Letting them be who they are with no judgments is a good thing. Something to strive for. So I don’t regret for a minute not knowing my son was gay. But I do regret not recognizing that he might be gay. I think had I been able to do that, it might’ve opened the door for communication and might have avoided his years of living in fear. I very much regret that he was afraid of our, of my, reaction to his sexuality.
Parents and future parents, this is my advice to you: Let your kids be themselves, with no assumptions as to who that might be. Watch them and love them and accept them. But look for signs that they just might be different than you think. Different than you expect. And make sure they know you will love them anyway.