“Not gonna beat around the bush with this message. I was gonna call you but I’m about to go out with some of my friends, so we’ll have time to talk more tomorrow when you get here. It’s about my sexuality and the fact that I am gay.”
I’ll never forget receiving this text from our son. He sent it the evening before we were to leave on a trip to his college campus. Although I don’t remember all the details about that evening, I remember my husband and I were sitting together watching television when it arrived, and as I started to read the text my world came to an ear-screeching halt. It seemed as if time was temporarily suspended. The final words were, “I just needed to let that huge weight go, so I can finally be 100 percent comfortable with who I am as a young adult.”
I remember my heart beating rapidly, along with a tension in my breathing. It wasn’t the content of the message that temporarily unnerved me. Rather, the timing and mode of delivery caught me off guard. I never expected our son’s coming out to be by way of a text received a few hours before a family trip to support him being cast in his first college theater production. Truth is, he’s always known how to deliver a line with impact.
I sat staring at what I’d read, and two thoughts came to mind. One, I needed to share it with my husband, and two, we needed to send a unified response soon because this wasn’t the kind of message to leave unanswered. I knew it took a lot of courage for our son to send it and he needed to know he’d been heard. My dilemma was figuring out how to tell my husband our firstborn son, who shares his name, had just sent a text to tell us he’s gay? There was no chapter in our 24-year-marriage handbook for this experience.
There is nothing perfect about being a parent. The best we can shoot for is being perfectly imperfect for the people we love.
I knew my response would be one of love, acceptance and support. But how would my husband respond? Yes, we’d had many surface-level conversations about homosexuality and homophobia and how our views and beliefs had changed from what they once were based on our fire and brimstone religious upbringing. Over the years we’d chosen to unlearn some of the things we’d been taught to believe while sitting in the pews. We even joke about how it took him a little longer. But as of the day our son’s text arrived, we’d never discussed these issues on a personal level. Would our changed beliefs hold when the gay person is our own son? I would soon find out.
“Hey, I just got a text from K,” I said. “What’d he say?” he asked. I then proceeded to read the text verbatim. There was silence. And for the second time, it seemed as if time was suspended.
I don’t remember everything we said, but I do recall my husband mentioning how he didn’t understand it but he wanted our son to be happy. I shared for the first time out loud how I’d suspected our son might be gay after peeping his journal during one of my regularly-scheduled snooping your teenager’s bedroom sweeps when he was in high school. I later even tried to coax him to talk about it, but he shut the conversation down. He wasn’t ready to talk about it. Not only had I invaded his privacy, but I also tried to force him into a conversation about something he was still trying to understand. I apologized for doing so but left the door open, although I never mentioned it again. There is nothing perfect about being a parent. The best we can shoot for is being perfectly imperfect for the people we love.
Eventually, our scattered thoughts and feelings solidified in the agreement that our unified response would be to focus on what we felt was most important for our son to know. One, we loved him, two, we wanted him to be happy in his life, and three, we’d talk about it more when we got there. In a recent conversation about the trip with him and his two younger siblings, he said what he remembers most is how we were there with open arms to hug him at the end of the performance and how he appreciates that it’s been like that ever since. His siblings said finding out wasn’t a big deal to them then, and still isn’t.
Let’s make love, support and acceptance the rule and not the exception
Recently, my sister called to tell me about a childhood church friend of ours whose Black son told her he was gay. I sighed in relief when I heard our friend’s response to her son was one of unconditional love and acceptance. I know all too well that this is not often how it goes in Black families. Especially ones who are heavily involved in the church.
The Black church has always been an honored, powerful and necessary institution for many Black families and communities. Because of this, the weight of influence it has is significant. When the Black church speaks, people listen. Journalist Lynne d Johnson wrote, “The Black church, the oldest institution and pillar of the Black community, has historically dictated the community's stance on homosexuality — either you don't talk about it, or you condemn it.” Considering this messaging within Black communities, it’s no surprise the majority of Black LGBTQ+ children are not accepted and supported within their own families, as reported by the Human Rights Campaign in 2019.
I don’t know about others, but I truly believe all Black Lives Matter, and I advocate for all children to be loved and accepted, even if they are Black and queer. Rejection of and violence toward LGBTQ+ people are two societal woes I’d like to see eradicated. It’s hard enough these days to simply live while Black without the extra burden of being rejected by your family, too. Parental acceptance and support are critical.
As a Black mother of a queer son, I say that it’s time Black parents of LGBTQ+ children take our rightful seat at the table and speak up boldly on their behalf. Let’s change the conversations we have about our Black LGBTQ+ children, family and friends into ones where love, acceptance and support are the rules and not the exception. With June being the month Pride is celebrated, what better time than now to make such a commitment? I remain hopeful that more of us will.