A few years ago, my oldest daughter came out to me as gay. I think of it as kind of a gradual process. During high school, she had friends who identified as homosexual or bisexual, and she would occasionally indicate some leanings. I will say I didn't take it too seriously at first. Maybe she entertained the idea because she knew a number of gay people and because it was accepted at her pretty progressive school. Maybe she was somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality, understanding people to have fluidity when it came to preferences. Maybe she was experimenting with the idea as part of a normal search for identity.
Elizabeth had a couple of pretty innocent and short-lived relationships with boys, one at the end of 8th grade and one in 10th. I latched on to these examples as proof that she didn't actually have lesbian feelings. I discounted the girl crushes and what she was actually verbalizing to me, which was basically “I am gay and the heterosexuality you observe in me is the rare exception or something else.”
If I am going to be really honest, it is far more telling that I would resist her self-identification than that she would have a couple of minor apparent inconsistencies with it. After all, it was probably fairly difficult for an introverted girl, one who never liked to stand out and who always sought her mom's approval, to put herself “out there”. Why did I resist? I could give myself some unflattering reasons, like I am not as open-minded and accepting a person as I like to think I am, and maybe there is some of that. But the real reason, the very strongest reason, is that I am first and foremost a mother who deeply loves her children. And my kind of love calls for protecting from the outside world. The outside world doesn't always embrace or even tolerate homosexuality or non-traditional families. I wanted my daughter shielded from unkind words and thoughts, and to fit into the traditional mold and have what I have—whether she wanted it or not!
But stronger than the need to shield is a mother's drive to support and encourage. Once I was able to recognize the reality of Elizabeth's orientation, I was compelled to shift my focus from protection to support. Shortly after she arrived at college, my daughter began dating another girl and they are still a couple 2 ½ years later. I have told the significant people in my life, educated the younger siblings, and welcomed the girlfriend. I am grateful that we live in a state where they can legally marry, which they plan to do this year.
In keeping with the recurrent theme of my life, “My children are my greatest teachers”, Elizabeth's coming out forced me to do a kind of coming out myself. It began in a roundabout way. My daughter's faith had always been a significant part of her life. I was her religious education teacher for 5 years through the Catholic church we belonged to. Elizabeth would attend weekly Mass with me as special mommy-daughter bonding from the time she was little, followed by a Sunday dinner date at Friendly's. She joined the church's youth group after her Confirmation and remained a part of it through most of high school. We talked about God and prayer regularly.
As she began to identify as gay, I noticed Elizabeth withdrawing from church and her faith. This made me sad, but I saw it as completely understandable. Even if she felt love from the Church, it would be a stretch to feel embraced just as she was—tolerated, accepted at best, but never fully embraced in her authentic life. There would certainly be no Church wedding in her future. Motivated by a desire to help her find a faith community which would be a better fit for her, I did a little research and accompanied her to a Unitarian Universalist church three summers ago. Not only is her orientation accepted 100%, but all her other views and feelings are fully respected.
The part I wasn't really counting on was that I would also feel drawn to this community, to the point of wanting to join it myself. I attended fairly regularly for a while, often with my second daughter, Abigail, and sometimes with Elizabeth when she was home. It truly fed my mind and spirit. I came home from a service energized, with new ideas and reading material and focus. I took classes there. I finally made the leap and officially joined on my birthday just about a year ago. It was a gift to myself.
I am not criticizing the Catholic Church, which is my heritage and to which many of those near and dear to me belong. I guess I still technically belong, too, and my son is currently in the Confirmation program where he chooses to remain. I respect the beautiful rituals and the care focused on the poor and suffering. I am, however, making the shift and starting my youngest child’s religious education within my new church. The guiding principles of Unitarian Universalism are the ones I intuitively feel and follow. My daughter's courage in living authentically ended up motivating me to do the same.
You can find more from Julie on Mamalode!