issue 201 - November 1989
Parent of a gay son
Discovering that their child is lesbian or gay can be a traumatic
experience for parents. One mother describes how it changed her.
We had no idea that our son was gay. He was 18 when he told us. Our reaction was total shock, surprise. We were very upset. We thought he must have got it wrong; that he was having some kind of personal problem. He did not display any of the stereotypical 'gay' behaviour that the media has made us expect. I did not know then that the majority of gay people don't. Our ignorance was abysmal. Of our three other children, two were married and our daughter had a boyfriend. It did not seem possible that our youngest son could be so different.
We had all the usual notions about what causes people to be gay: domineering mothers, elderly mothers, weak fathers, non-existent fathers. I thought there must be some kind of psychological reason. We, his parents, must be to blame (parents, of course, do this from the first minute that babies throw a tantrum, so there is nothing new about that). 'What have we done to our son?' we asked ourselves. We were very frightened for him. What was going to happen to him? He was going to have a terrible, lonely, cut-off sort of life.
But the main thing we felt was bereavement. The person we thought we knew was gone and in his place was a stranger. Someone that we did not know about, and did not understand. It took us about three months to realize that he had not changed. He was still there; he was exactly the same person. But we had to change. We had to develop and evolve.
What made this easier for me was that I was a mature student, doing a degree course in sociology. So I was able to get hold of books. I just went straight to 'H for homosexuality' and read up all the psychological theories and brought them home to my husband. But we came to the conclusion that this was ridiculous. There were so many theories, and the last one I read said categorically: 'We do not know what causes it.' I thought: 'Good grief. What is the matter with us? He is what he is. He is himself. You can spend the rest of your life wondering why somebody is the way they are.'
We began to open our eyes and see other gay people we just had not noticed before. We realized that there was a whole lifestyle. That he had every possibility of having a happy life. It would just be different from ours. This is the hard thing for parents to accept, the loss of your particular expectations. Gone is the wife and the marriage and the grandchildren. In its place there seems to be an emptiness. But of course there isn't.
The whole experience of Mark's 'coming out' caused me to change my attitudes. For example, I am no longer tolerant of stereotyping of any kind, be it sexual or racial or whatever. I get very, angry with the media now. They do know better and could present gays properly. Instead they just do the easy thing and go for the money. It is not fair to minority groups and I think we are all minorities in one way or another.
Actually I feel we are privileged to have a gay son. We have been given the opportunity to grow and open our minds. Had he not 'come out' there would have been a very large portion of human life that would have remained a closed book for us. A lot of parents feel this way. But it is not always an easy process - to open your mind. Some parents don't even try; and the tragedy and the loss is theirs. This is why I joined the Parents Group in Manchester - to help other parents to open their minds and accept their children for what they are.
Helen is a counsellor with the Manchester Parents Group in the UK.
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