“When my son came out to me, he gave me information about PFLAG. He said, ‘Go to PFLAG. If you don’t, we will always be on a different page.’ It took me a while. It wasn’t easy. I cried a lot. I blamed a lot. But I didn’t have the luxury of staying away, because my son would not let me or his father off the hook.
“Attending support groups for parents and gay people became my monthly fare, searching for the relief that I knew was possible. When it came, the sadness was replaced with anger and a new kind of sad realization. I realized that my son had suffered needlessly and he suffered totally alone. My love for him never reached into the most painful part of his secret life.
“When I was coming out to friends, I was careful to make sure that they understood that my son didn’t look gay. Of course, what I meant was that he didn’t look feminine. My son challenged me: ‘If I were feminine, Mom, would you still be proud of me?’ And that’s when I realized that there are subtle forms of homophobia, even in the gay community, as evidenced by the common line in so many gay classified ads, ‘Must be straight acting.’
“Other parents take a second direction. They may say, ‘Tommy is fine, but all those other gay people are bad.’ Their child becomes the ‘immaculate exception.’
“Recently, I spoke at an orientation program for school nurses…. Squeezed between the ‘Inoculation record-keeping’ and ‘How to handle stomach aches,’ I was able to talk about the pain of being gay that begins with the very early feelings of being different. This feeling of being different can be apparent in the feminine interests of some gay boys. Sometimes these little boys need special support, even as early as nursery school.
“People were reluctant to face the fact that all human sexuality begins in childhood, and they certainly did not want to think about gay children. They much preferred the idea that some awful parenting style, or sexual abuse, was turning teenagers gay.
“‘How did you have your first sexual encounter?’ I asked my good friend, a gay man. I was doing my homework. I knew that if I were ever going to be able to be fully affirming of gay culture, I had to get over my hang-ups about gay sex.
“There’s something about being an activist that annoys people. It is not politically correct to say so because, after all, the activists are doing good work, repairing the world and so on. But the annoyance is there.
“Our kids are the way they are from the very beginning—not better, not worse, just a little different. When they fall in love, everything is exactly the same. All they want is a normal life. They want life partners. They want to nurture like the rest of us. They also might want to dance.