Monday, May 10, 2010

Does Your Mama Know?

In honor of Mother's Day, the website Whats the recently posted stories of Black gay men coming out to their mothers. Today I am going to share my story.

I knew I was gay in Kindergarten. I was too young to understand it or even have a name for it but I knew I liked boys better than girls. I struggled with my sexuality for a long time. Religion played a major role in my lack of personal acceptance. Despite all my natural yearnings, I was constantly told that it was unnatural and ungodly. I remember crying during my pubescent years because I thought something was wrong with me and God wouldn't fix it.

In high school, I knew that everyone around me knew I was a big homo but I still tried to date girls as if I was throwing people off-track. During those times, I was embarrassed in gym class because I had all these hormones and feelings happening and no one to talk to about them. At least no one that understood. My church's idea was to pray and lay hands. After the prayers, I would wipe the olive oil cross off my forehead and fantasize about Blair Underwood in Krush Groove.

My college years were more of the same except I was in a long term relationship with a girl. A great girl but still...a girl. She and I were a great couple but I knew that we really didn't have a future because I still fantasized about men. I wanted to commit to her but in the back of my head I kept thinking "I'm going to hurt this woman emotionally one day." Finally, I broke up with her and began the process of dealing with who I really am.

One of the first major steps was moving away from home which consequently meant moving away from my church (a major influence and source of joy and pain for me). My college was in my hometown of Peoria, IL. School, family and church were intertwined.

I was fortunate to go immediately from undergrad to grad school. My first week in DeKalb at Northern Illinois University I was approached by a fellow grad student. He told me, on that beautiful fall day, that he was gay and he thought I was hot. That was the first time I had ever had an open exchange about gay sexuality and dating that didn't involve church/family guilt. He and I started openly dating. I was 21.

Everyone in DeKalb knew me as a gay man but the subject had never been breached with my family. It was liberating. I was a different person but the same person but different but the same (you get the idea, I hope).

I became ill with the flu just after my birthday in November but before the holiday break in December. My boyfriend, Michael, called his mother (a nurse) to ask her what he should do to take care of me. That was the sweetest thing anyone I dated had ever done for me. I remember thinking that if the shoe was on the other foot I couldn't just call my mother up and say, "My boyfriend is sick. What should I do?" It saddened me. I decided to change that.

When the holiday break happened I picked my younger sister, at the time a student at Michigan State University, up from Union Station in Chicago. It was Dec 23rd and during the 2 1/2 hour drive we listened to music and made small talk about school and being away from home. Suddenly, I asked her if she thought I was weird. "No," she said but she mentioned that she thought I was confused about my sexuality. There it was. The thing I was most afraid to address and a family member was actually talking openly to me about it. I told her that I wasn't confused and I told her about Michael, my boyfriend. I decided to myself to come out to Mom as a gift to myself.

I was determined that Christmas to come out to Mom. I waited through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day playing the role I had played my whole life of closeted son. My mother had to work on Dec 26th, the day I chose to go back to DeKalb. I hatched a plan. I would ask her to come home for lunch so I could see her before I took off. It was sort of hit and run but I figured if the talk didn't go so well, at least I would be leaving town.

We sat down in the rarely used front living room and I told her. I told her everything including the story about being ill and Michael calling his mother. I told her that I was sick of not being me and that if she wanted to be a part of my life then she had to see me for who I fully am.

Mom listened attentively and in a very warm and sweet voice told me that she knew I was gay. She had known since I was small child. She said that being a single mother it was difficult for her because she had to be both Mother and Father. She indicated that she was tough on me because she didn't want me to suffer. She told me that she loved me. She said she would always love me.

She had to go back to work and I was headed back to the cornfields of DeKalb. I asked her not to tell anyone at her church. I didn't want people trying to "pray away" what I knew couldn't be changed.

That was twenty years ago. For the record, my mother had her own coming out adjustments that took several years. It took time for her to accept that she was not responsible for my sexuality and that nothing she did could change it. It took time for her to recognize that I was looking for the same thing that my straight siblings and cousins were looking for in a mate. She finally saw me as a whole person whose sexuality was an aspect of my life like my ethnicity. It was. Period.

I can now talk to my mother freely about my life. She accepted my former partner, Steve. She even stayed with us for a long weekend. Steve made me very happy. She was happy that I was happy.

Steve and I broke up but you can never break up with your Mama.

Mama, I love you always.

P.S. Speaking of Gay -