My son came out when he was 16, several months before I told him I was gay. I’d wondered about his sexuality long before I began questioning my own. At four, even before he loved Mary Poppins, he carried Barbie to show-and-tell and preferred making necklaces to tossing footballs. His love of Hotwheels was a little inconsistent with his other passions, but mostly he preferred arranging them in interesting patterns to actually racing them. And somewhere around his 5th year, a playmate’s mom came to me beaming that C. had told her daughter how great her new haircut looked… she was sure that he would make a girl so happy some day. I remember lifting an eyebrow to tell her I was pretty sure he’d be making a boy happy some day. But as he grew older, I saw fewer of those indicators and no longer felt the same certainty.
He’d been dating a girl for many months and I knew that he was wanting to break up with her but struggling with the how and when. So when he called me in tears one afternoon, asking me to pick him up at an off-campus location, I figured it was the break-up and it hadn’t gone well. In the car, I began the standard parent lecture, “Honey, I know it’s hard, but she’ll get over it in time…” to which he responded with “Mom, it’s more complicated than that.” And I knew.
That night, he asked to talk to me out of ear-shot of his little brother. We sat at the table on our back patio, and he said, “Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this. Can I text you?” I was a little late entering the world of texting, so could only say, “How do I get a text?” He shook his head with the same disbelief he always felt when I reminded him of my resistance to 21st century technology, then said, “Okay, I’m just going to type it into my phone and I’ll hand it to you,” and there it was…
I don’t like girls.
I knew what he meant, of course, and poured forth with all the parental assurances that seemed necessary in the moment, but almost immediately, I started worrying about his next day at school. When he broke up with his girlfriend, he’d told her that he was gay and her response had been loud and angry. (Her previous boyfriend, she’d learned, was also gay. Little wonder she was growing frustrated.) Students and adults alike had overheard the conversation, and I couldn’t imagine what kind of fall-out he might face.
Not much, as it turned out.
Friends and teachers offered only kindness and support—not one word of judgment did he experience in his next two years of high school. In fact, he went on to become “Head Boy” (equivalent of student body president that he shared with “Head Girl”), pushed the school’s commitment to environmental standards through the environmental club that he founded, and delivered a graduation speech to make any mother proud.
Times they are a-changin’.
So, as I’ve said before, it comes as something of a surprise when I catch word of activity that seems to herald from some other time and place. From Laurel Ramseyer at Firedoglake, I read today that a Washington state senator is attempting another “License to Discriminate” bill. Frustrated that a florist is now being sued for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple, Republican Senator Sharon Brown is asking for the bill in order to protect the rights of those who might need to discriminate on the basis of their religious convictions. Interesting. As a teacher I had convictions about testing, and my choice was to give the test or quit.
In Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, scholar Elaine Pagels explains how Augustine, the 5th century “saint” who defined the direction of the Church and the Empire both in his lifetime and for many centuries after his death, had a conviction that all sexual desire, even that between a man and a woman, was unnatural and sinful. To boot, any spontaneous erection was a sin. (Mornings must have been a guilt-ridden hell for the male population of the time.) Ever so slowly, the church moved on from Augustine though I can’t help thinking… had legislators stepped in to defend Augustine’s convictions, a florist would have had the right not only to ask for a signed affidavit of virginity but of any male customer’s word that they’d never had an erection.
At some point, we look upon history incredulous that it could have been so. And I think that’s the hope that I feel—that we have moved forward enough that a misguided florist and those of her ilk are, for the general populace of Washington, an embarrassment to their state, not the gay couple seeking flowers for their wedding. After all, Washington already killed a similar bill back in 2006. And Washington has other Republican legislators who might well cringe to read Brown’s bill. In fact, one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve heard on the issue of gay marriage came from Washington Rep. Maureen Walsh.
I get that perhaps it is dangerous to assume we have entered that space in time where we look upon a religious florist as the isolated lunatic screaming from the corner with whom we avoid eye contact, so uncomfortable are we with her bizarre behaviors. And I probably wouldn’t have the same thoughts if we were talking about a state in the South (I cringe to hear some of the stories at comingoutatmidlife.com and know my own story would be different were I still there). But I’m feeling optimistic. Perhaps at some point in my sons’ lives they will be able to look at these stories and say: Wow. Can you believe that happened in our lifetime?