"We have to be aware that there are people out there that would kill him for who he is."
"I know that but I am his mother. If I dwell on that I'd never be able to get out of bed every day."
When our son told us he was gay I held on to that information for quite awhile. I had to kick it around in my head and come to terms with what that meant for my plans for him. Eventually, I realized that my plans had nothing to do with any of my kids and that their lives and futures were for them to dream. Sure I could participate but being Head Planner was never my job. A few years ago I wrote something about that time in my life that got a bit of attention. His coming out seems like eons ago so I tend to forget about it until I am jolted out of the ordinariness of having a gay kid.
I occasionally get calls from mothers asking for advice on coming to terms with the news they're processing that they have a gay son or daughter. My first reaction is to cry for them because I know how hard those days are. I might take it for granted for myself that this is not that big of a deal any more, but that day only came after a bucket of my own tears. I listen to these moms with their worry and their fear and I get it. Oh my God do I get it. But after they've purged all that I tell them something else.
I tell them that having a gay kid will be the best thing that ever happened to them.
That this kid that's causing all this anguish at the moment will be the one that will open their eyes to a world that they could never have seen before. I tell them that this son or daughter will point a very bright light on their preconceived notions about love, about faith, about commitment. This child, I say, will show you in a thousand different ways how closed-minded you have been about a lot of people. How quickly you judge, the faint smile of dismissal we are prone to give to someone we just don't care to know, the eye rolls and the heavy sighs because we don't approve. You will be shocked, I tell them, at the regularity in which you do that, but when it's your own kid that could easily be the subject of that kind of behavior you start to pay attention to how you interact with everyone. It will shove you so far out of your comfort zone you will think you're on another planet. And then you will begin to change in ways that will one day make you proud of how far you have come.
Through a comment I made once on a blog, a teenage girl found me and what I had written about my son and started emailing me. "I saw what you wrote. Do you really think I can like girls and not go to hell? My mother asked me once if I liked girls and when I didn't answer no fast enough she slapped me across the face."
"Oh dearie, I promise you that you will not go to hell. I don't believe that's how this all works."
"I locked myself in my room to read what you wrote about your son and I cried so much. I wish you were my mom."
We emailed a lot for awhile and then it stopped. I will never stop wondering what happened to her. Did her mom find out? Did she get kicked out of the house? Is she okay?
I will never know the answers to any of those questions. I only know how I have chosen to live my life. I understand the prayers of mothers in the beginning to not have anyone know their kid is gay. I also know that this sends missed signals because I was guilty of that myself. "I love you but for the love of God don't tell anyone."
There are some things I would do differently now with my own kid if only I could rewind. With the screw ups, though, comes the learning. Recently a mom asked me, "How did you handle it with your friends and family? How did you tell them and not succumb to their disapproval?"
"Here's the thing about me: I think I give off this vibe that I will not put up with that shit with my kid. It has never been intentional but it's there. I know it and so nobody has ever given me a hard time or tried to convince me that my kid made a choice that he can get bible-thumped out of. I do not go there with anyone. Ever. My advice would be to do the same. Don't ever entertain a conversation that isn't completely supportive of your kid. You betray him when you do and that seems to me to be an especially ugly thing to live with."
The body count in Orlando stands now at 49. That means forty-nine mothers got the worse news of their life. Maybe they accepted their kid without hesitation, maybe they slapped them in the face when they didn't renounce their attraction to the same sex fast enough, maybe they didn't even know their kid would go to a gay bar.
The world for mothers in this club just got a lot more dangerous and that is a terrorizing thought to live with. When my son is going out with friends I always say "Please be careful." I say this to my girls, too, but when I say it to him it is code for "Please, please be aware of where you are and who is around you. Don't get yourself into a place you can't get out of easily." In other words, be very careful about how gay you are when you are in public. Chalk that up to another mixed message and a dose of reality.
Will living his life, freely and safely, will always be a worry for his dad and me. I have learned to live with that fear most of the time. In Orlando there will be decisions for forty-nine mothers to make. Funeral homes, pall bearers, the clothes to pick out for their kid to be laid to rest in.
It's not difficult for me to imagine being in their shoes.