May 9, 2006

Unconditional Surrender

I'm a suburban lesbian parent who lives life very much like any suburban heterosexual parent. For me it's a wonderful existence, not some sort of attempt to Blend In or Be Like Them. It just so happens that homosexuals and heterosexuals can have the same values, standards, dreams and aspirations. Imagine.

Sometimes I feel I do blend in. A bit too much. Through the relative quiet-tude of our suburban life, turbulent undercurrents occasionally run. Take, for example, the situation I'm about to describe. It's the nutshell version, names changed to protect the innocent, yada yada yada.

The 21-year-old daughter of A Good Friend (AGF for short) came out as a lesbian to her family over a year ago. I've known this young woman since she was in elementary school; our families have been close friends for years. Their entire family has always been extremely welcoming to Wendy and me and The Boy.

AGF is having difficulty with her daughter being a lesbian. AGF's husband is having even greater difficulty with it. AGF's daughter is having difficulty dealing with her parents having difficulty accepting her sexuality.

Oooh la la, what an awkward pickle! It's like one of those extra large deli pickles, the kind that's too fat to take an easy bite of. Ever snacked on one of those? Mmmm garlicky. But this particular pickle threatens to choke me. It's not garlicky-good at all.

I understand homosexuality can be difficult for parents to accept, that their vision of their daughter's future is shattered by her revelation, that their hopes and dreams are radically affected. I, too, am scared for her because, let's face it, life for a homosexual in America is not always easy. But what life is? At the same time, I resent them making her life all the more difficult by making their issues hers.

The daughter, I want to hug tightly, protect, and reassure all will be fine. I want to ask her to be patient and to remember her parents love her.

AGF doesn't know it, or maybe she does, but when she and I dance around the topic, my stomach clenches and I fumble for words. Yet I can imagine what she is experiencing and do my best to offer support. I want to hug her tightly also, protect and reassure all will be fine. I'd do the same for her husband if he'd let me.

At times I bite my tongue to keep from screaming, "She's your daughter dammit, the same wonderful daughter she's always been. Her sexuality is not the problem. The problems are your dashed expectations and, admit it or not, your pride. It's complicated by her perhaps naive belief you would accept her without hesitation. She has always enjoyed your unconditional love. She trusts you. So challenge yourselves, dammit. Nothing less will do."

But I've not said that to her. Out loud. I don't doubt she knows it all already. As a parent and friend, I feel her pain. It is real enough to touch. AGF is dealing not only with her own feelings but is also shouldering those of her husband and children. Such effort requires a delicate balance only a master juggler, or a mother, should attempt. Baby steps are fine. As long as steps are taken.

My fear for the family harmony is not rooted in their daughter being gay. It's rooted in what will happen if AGF and her husband do not come to terms with who their daughter is. Because really. How long do they think their daughter will call their home "home" if her significant other is never welcome and she is not accepted for who she is?

My head can't even go there, never mind my heart.



Anonymous said...

Change the minor minor details of this peice and it reads like the clarification of the situation I felt stuck in the middle of when my parents totally freaked out about my sister's relationship with an admittedly much older man. It was great for me to not be the bad daughter anymore, though! I'm not disagreeing/ignoring the "homosexuality" as element aspect of your experience. Isn't it a shame when people are hurting and we can't help, or friends disappoint us, or both. Good luck to AGF, AGF's daughter & husband; and to you.

weese said...

it sounds scarilly like something my wife and I are going through with her parents... regarding our upcoming nuptuals. o...yeah...except for the fact we have been together 21 years.
some parents are dense. and they are the ones that ultimately lose.

pinkme said...

As a parent you have dreams and ideas about your childs future. It is sometimes hard to get your head around your own dreams and realize that it is their life. We spend so many years making decisions for them it is hard when they make one of their own that doesn't follow our plan. I know that I love my boys no matter what they do or who they are. For men it seems to be a direct hit to the crotch when things don't go as planned (regarding sexuality. Hopefully they will come around.

Eyes for Lies said...

I've got a pit in my stomach just reading that.

How awful that the parents aren't accepting of her natural being.

I love and agree with everything you wrote.

I wish you courage and strength to say what you really think to your friends. It might really be powerful. Be true to your heart, gentle but honest. Maybe your insight will really help.

In another way, I feel pain in the fact that their ultimate rejection of their daughter's sexuality is in someway a rejection of yours. That has got to hurt.

Anonymous said...

Sarafenix is a dear friend of mine, I came your way via her site. Ouch! This sounds so much like myself and my daughter, when I found out she was gay. Inside I felt like AGF, but when she finally admitted it to me (yes, I saw the signs), all I could do was open my arms and hug her!

It was strange at first opening my home to her girlfriend(s), but I embrace her and her lifestyle now. Who else is going to? Life is difficult enough for her as it is..

I hope AGF and family come to terms.

Teresa said...

It's an odd feeling when we realize our good friends harbor a closet "not in my backyard" philosophy regarding our sexuality—this creeping understanding that there are people in our lives who love us and therefore "accept" who we are, but maybe they don't so much celebrate who we are.

When my partner's brother was expecting his first son, he told her that he liked a particular name but that he was afraid it might "make" his son gay. After a pause he said, "Not that there's anything wrong with that, but why encourage it, right?" And he fully expected that she would agree with him.

Leaving aside the idea that a name might make a child gay (!), his statement was an unconscious value judgment—and in this case, his fears weren't about a gay son having a tougher time politically.

Sexuality and gender issues have a way of bringing out the private prejudices in even the most liberal folks. That's why polls regarding gay rights issues seldom match voting turnout: In the privacy of the voting booth people feel free to express the views that publicly make them seem less than tolerant.

Deb Heller said...

Pinkme said mostly what I want to say. I think parents get this set of ideas in their heads. It's not quite living vicariously, just sort of subtle, natural expectations. It took my parents a year before they were at ease with my coming out to them. It has taken them a lot longer to acknowlege same with their own friends, if at all. They struggled with it - You see, they were in their mid to late 70's when dealth the blow that their daughter was other than they thought.

AGF and hubby just need time. I'm glad they have you as a friend - they may never come out and ask you anything, but by example you can show that all can be well.

Anonymous said...

This all makes me so sad. I hope that AGF and family and families in similar situations can find a way the embrace, encourage and celebrate.

the determined dieter said...

One of your best posts ever.

I'd like to copy that "She's your daughter dammit" part for when I come out to my mother. In the next century.

AGF's daughter is very lucky to have you in her life and her mother will come around soon.

Anonymous said...

What KMae said - I have seen the really horrible effects of denying who you are.
I used to think that pretending hetrosexuality was an older-genration thing to do but it still goes on today.
Not only does it end up hurting the children, it hurts THEIR children.
They need to stop the craziness and remember the love.

Kevin Charnas said... heart breaks for all of them, because unfortunately everyone is taking it personally.

About a year after I came out to my parents, I thanked them for raising me strong enough to live and to grow and to love myself enough to not do myself in like I wanted to so many times. I re-assured them that they didn't "cause" me to be gay, but if in some small way that nurture played a part in it (which I don't believe), that I should thank them. Because I'm proud of where I've been and more importantly who I've become through dealing with not who I am, but how society views me. I'm thankful for all of it - it kicked my ass and I wouldn't change a thing. I've got balls the size of Texas now, as I believe most individuals from oppressed groups do. And I hope that those parents step outside of themselves and their comfortable ignorance and have a real look at their beautiful daughter and realize that she's still their beautiful daughter and a whole lot more.

I'm glad that she has you. And the biggest thing that I could wish for her is patience and for her parents, understanding.

Anonymous said...

Susan, I couldn't have said it better myself. She deserves better than this.

LutheranChik said...

My mom died last month. I never came out to her, but in the years after my father (a really vicious homophobe) died, I would try and use teachable moments -- stories about the LGBT community on the evening news, newspaper articles, etc. -- to try and subtly raise my mother's consciousness. And it worked, to a point. She reached a place where she got angry at homophobic bloviating by politicians, TV preachers, etc., and harrassment and discrimination. But we never got to a point where I felt comfortable having The Talk with her...I knew that she would have a very hard time with it. Right now, in the immediate wake of her passing, I'm not sure whether I feel regret or relief.

Anonymous said...

just had to leave a comment here.
My family are very liberal and have always welcomed with open arms my sister's best friend who is gay. He's one of the family. So, although trepiditious, I thought my mum would be fine with me when i came out to her (aged 22). The result was that she hung up the phone on me without a word (wouldn't have done it on the phone, but i was living 1000miles away) and didn't speak to me for the next 3 months. At that point i moved back to a town 15miles away from her, and we went out for coffee which prompted "If I hadn't given birth to you, I wouldn't know you were my daughter". Needless to say I was shocked.
HOWEVER... the upshot of all this is, is that i realised it was less a homophobic reaction that prompted her behaiviour, but more the shock for her that she was completely out of touch with me.
And now... after two years of me phoning and visiting her regularly, we get on much better than we ever have done. She completely excepted my girlfriend. And for Christmas this year, took me shopping in boys clothes shops (where i LOVE the clothes) and discussed gender and sexuality politics with me completely openly in the middle of the store!

I know my story might not be rellevant to you, but i really felt for the family situation you described and wish everybody the best of luck