I had just come home from college one Christmas, expecting to spend some time with my family over the holidays. My Mom was waiting for me, and she said,
“I’ve been getting some phone calls from a man named Rex, and I think there’s something you need to tell me.”
Then she added, “I am your mother, and I will always love you no matter who or what you are. You can tell me anything.”
“Mom, I’m gay.”
Unexpectedly, she turned on me.
“I’m ashamed of you. I will take this secret with me to my grave because I’m so ashamed of you. I don’t know why you’re doing this to me. I can never forgive you for this.”
* * *
The first family member I came out to was my uncle, who dragged me to church the next day, put me in front of the choir, and told everybody that I was sick. They then came up and anointed me with holy water and laid their hands on me, while praying and babbling in tongues. It was a terrifying experience, and I remember my uncle telling me, “You have chosen a sick, sinful lifestyle.” After that I told him that I was not sick, and he never spoke to me again.
One of my closest friends, a Mormon girl, sensed that something was not right, and one day offered, “I know that you’re going through something. I can help you, please tell me.” After I came out to her, she said goodbye and never talked to me again. When we graduated from high school, she put a note under my front door which read,
“I think you’re the way you are because you don’t love God enough.”
After my first sexual experience at the age of 17, I began to feel a lot of shame about what I had done. I still hated myself for being gay and was very angry at God for making me this way. I was also angry with my religion, which I blamed for programming me for depression and suicide. I began to make plans to kill myself, and started telling my friends and family members about it. Their common reaction was, “Don’t talk about that.” I went as far as reading labels at the drug store to see what I could combine with alcohol in order to mix an overdose. But I never attempted it, since at that age, I didn’t have the guts to carry out my suicide plan.
I turned to my theatre teacher, a Catholic woman, whose view on homosexuality was that “it’s alright as long as you don’t have sex”. In college, I also turned to other Christian friends, but was only met with their rejection and hurt. I lived in the student dormitory, and there was another openly gay guy who was there. But one day someone with a gun fired a shot at him while he was walking in the parking lot; another time his front door was set on fire. My room-mate was also threatening me, and I was pretty scared that the same thing would happen to me too.
I decided to seek outside help by calling a gay men’s crisis helpline in New Mexico, and was befriended by an older man called Rex. He said he was the director of the organisation, gave me his telephone number and invited me to his home, where we met up. I was 20 years old, he was 30, and we started a sexual relationship that went on to become verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. He would talk down to me, intimidate me and demand to have unsafe sex. I initially consented out of fear but when I later changed my mind and wanted to use a condom, he started to become violent towards me. When I tried to leave him, he would grab me and pin me down on the floor, holding me there and screaming at me, before throwing me against the wall. I eventually broke up with him, which prompted him to phone my Mom in an act of revenge, and made it known to her that I am gay.
When my Mom confronted me that Christmas, I was really shocked and scared and ran from her house over to see my theatre teacher, who gave me this advice.
“Your Mom’s trying to tell you she’s OK with it. I think you should tell her the truth.”
So after a few days, I gathered up enough nerve and came out to my Mom. I remember that conversation word for word, as it’s burnt into my memory. I had just returned home for Christmas, looking forward to spending a safe holiday with my family. Instead, I was painfully rejected by the one person I loved the most. When I went back to college I wrote her a three-page letter pouring out my feelings about what happened, which included these lines,
“I’m still your son, I still love you and I hope we can work through this. I won’t let you do this to us.”
I never got a reply from her.
* * *
I’ve had my share of bad therapists; my first refused to accept the fact that I was gay and encouraged me to ask women out on dates. Another Christian counsellor referred to me as a “homo” and called me “weird”; she also sided with my mother and suggested that I masturbated while thinking about women.
Someone who actually helped pull me through was my AA sponsor, whose name was Bob. I called him one Christmas, drunk, crying and feeling suicidal. I told him I was thinking about killing myself, and after a long silence he said, “Please come and talk to me.” At his home I remember seeing that his Christmas tree was up. I laid down on his couch and cried my heart out to him. When I was done he said,
“I hope you make it. I won’t be surprised if you don’t, because I have seen so many young people like you who don’t get better. They don’t quit drinking, and they die. I really hope you stop drinking.”
Then he gave me a big hug, and that was the last time I ever saw him alive. He died two weeks later of AIDS, and I never forgot that although he must have been really ill, yet he still made time to help me through my suicide crisis.
* * *
I went back to see my Mom again a few months ago, and for the first time we were completely comfortable with each other. We went on a road trip together, and could actually joke about things, like the boys I had crushes on when I was a kid. She told me,
“Your mistake is you didn’t realise that over the years, I was changing. And you didn’t notice that I’m a different person now.”
She was right. I hadn’t realised that my Mom had changed during all the years I was running away from her. A few years ago during a previous visit, she sat me down with her at home and said she wanted to watch a TV show with me. It was “Will & Grace”, the first mainstream television programme in America which featured an openly-gay male character in a positive light. She really loved the show, and saw for the first time that it was perhaps normal to be gay. I think that was when she started to turn around and wanted to talk to me about it.
She is an amazing woman. Now when she hears people making negative remarks about gay people, she confronts them by saying “I have a gay son and I don’t want you to talk like that.” When church groups come to her house to evangelise, she tells them “I don’t like your religion’s stance on homosexuality. I have a gay son, and I don’t like what your religion is saying about gay people.” In my hometown, when people hear that someone has just found out their child is gay, they would actually say, “Well go talk to Sue, she’ll help you. She’s been through all that with her son Brad.”
It makes me really proud that I have a mother like that. I wish we hadn’t wasted those 20 years of being angry with each other, all those years when I wasn’t interested in having a relationship with her as I was so caught up with the alcohol, drugs and sexual acting-out. I sometimes feel like those were precious 20 years we can never get back. It still hurts, but it hurts less now.
* * *