Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why New York's momentous vote for marriage equality should matter to parents of gay and lesbian children everywhere

After about 2 or 3 years of marriage, my husband and I decided that yes, maybe we would like to have children (but believe me, this was not a forgone conclusion going into the marriage). Once we made the decision, we both got really excited and could not wait for the day we could call ourselves parents. I had come from a decent sized family, four boys and me, all of us very close in age (exactly one year apart - good Catholic family that we were), so I knew a bit about what to expect (more so than my husband, who was basically raised as an only child with a little sister surprising everyone years later).

I believed with all my heart and soul I would be a good mom. I'd played a big role in being a second mom to my 4 younger brothers after my mom, through absolutely no fault of her own, ended up a single mother raising and supporting 5 children by working nights and grabbing a few hours of sleep during the day. That experience convinced me I could trust my gut when it came to the nuances of raising children and actually be good at it.

In 1984 son #1 was born. My husband and I were beyond ecstatic. He was so perfect. He was so beautiful. And he was ours. I never knew my heart could feel so much love. Life could not have been more amazing. Sixteen months later, son #2 was born. Again, pure unadulterated joy. Again overwhelming awe. Our hearts were bursting with so much happiness. Two perfect, healthy, beautiful little boys. Our family was complete. I could not ask for more. I was a mom with 2 healthy happy little boys. Having a daughter was something I had really hoped for, but I told myself it was not meant to be and cajoled myself with the thought that I'd grown up with a bunch of boys and now I was going to raise a couple of them. We still had our perfect family, it just wasn't going to include a daughter.

Or so I thought...

My husband desperately wanted a daughter. So did I, but I had gotten stuck on the number 2. He had not. And so two years later our baby girl was born. And this time, there were no doubts, we both knew our family was truly complete.

Those early years, when the children were little and completely dependent on us for all their basic needs, were wonderful. We loved every second of those times, so much so that we often daydream about having them back. Then came the teenage years. They were pretty magical too, but in a different way: A bit more challenging, a few more worries, a little more angst, a lot more emotional ups and downs, and the realization that in many ways our children needed us more than ever, not so much for basic needs, but for guidance, reassurance, and learning how to navigate through the maze we call our lives. And I just knew I was up for the challenge. After all, I thought I knew what to expect. As I watched our children struggle for independence while still being fairly dependent I was reminded of my own teenage years as well as my brothers'. I felt confident those years as a second little mother had prepared me for whatever challenge lay ahead with my own children. I didn't think there were many curveballs for which I'd be unprepared.

Or so I thought...

Boy was I naive. Of course, there would be curveballs for which I was unprepared. Lots of them. It comes with the territory. And of course, one of those curveballs would be learning that our middle son was gay. And of course it would be something for which we had no experience in dealing with. But it wasn't a curveball in the way that some would think it would be. It wasn't that our son was gay that had us so shocked and upset. We were shocked and upset that our church (the Catholic Church in our case but basically most of the others religious institutions as well), all the well-known family advocacy groups (Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, American Family Association, etc.), and yes, even our politicians (including the President of the United States, George W. Bush) were not only NOT offering any guidance for teaching our gay children how to grow up to be well-adjusted, moral, upstanding and contributing members of society, but they were actively working to portray our gay children as evil outcasts for which society had no place. They didn't just want our children as invisible and demonized as possible, but they wanted them completely excluded from the very institutions that bind a strong society together.

I can tell you this in no uncertain terms, it is very difficult for parents to teach their gay children that they should abide by the same moral standards as their straight counterparts when the most prominant message they receive early on from our churches, our family groups, our politicians and ultimately from society as a whole is that they are so evil that nothing can redeem them. And it is even more difficult to explain why sexual intimacy should be reserved for that special person in their life when again the message heard from society is loud and clear, any kind of gay intimacy is evil and will damn that person to an eternity of hell. But that is the monumental job we parents of gay children have been handed, countering the years of bigotry and bible-based hate that permeate our gay children's lives, stripping them of self worth and self respect.

And this leads me to why the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York is such a huge deal and a big step in the right direction for the entire country. But rather than trying to connect the dots myself, let me quote from a letter written by a 27 year old gay man to Andrew Sullivan today. He does such an eloquent job of summing up just how profound an affect this new law and society's eventual acceptance of gay relationships will have on the way he conducts his life moving forward:

You talk about this [gay marriage] being a generally conservative movement, that it is about people in love wanting expansion of a traditional institution to them.  But no one talks about the influence this has on single gay men.  For the first time since I came out, I feel forced to look at the fact that I am not just in this for dating, for sex.  Maybe if I were older, I would already have an identity hardened against being defined by society, and it would not matter so much.  But we are on the way to a world where society will accept my relationships, and I will not be able to use outsider status as an excuse for any behavior.

Traditionalists will fight this tooth and nail, but the last great joke will be how much this gives them what they want. 

I waver between a deep gratitude to New York for accepting me, and being spiteful for making me grow up.  But I suspect that the former emotion will be the lasting one.

And I too am deeply grateful to New York for not only accepting my gay son and recognizing his relationship should he want to get married in the future, but also for making the job of raising our gay children a little easier. After all it is easier to convince a child to strive to be a valued member of society when that child knows that society values and accepts him for who he is.



Jarred said...

What I hope for is that we can move on to a more mature morality where sex and relationships are concerned. That's a morality where the big questions aren't who we sleep with and when, but how we view, treat, and value both ourselves and the other people in our lives. That's a morality that is robust and beautifully nuanced.

Seething Mom said...

Well said Jarred. We really are a country obsessed with sex and until we can grow up and until we can act like grown ups, we won't be having the kind of conversations about which you mention in your comment. And that's a shame.

Anonymous said...

Nicely written Kim. The sexual escapades of all children spill into family life, but then it is a sexual escapade that made them in the first place. Normal IS just a setting on a washing machine.