Today’s my mom’s birthday. If she’d lived, she would have been seventy-three. Unfortunately, she’s long gone. Yet, she left me many wonderful gifts—and through me, she left my children one of the greatest gifts we can give: acceptance of who they are, including their sexual orientation.
I grew up in the 70’s—a time that was a LOT less accepting of gays, let alone transgender and other gender identities and sexual orientations. Stonewall happened in 1969. In the late seventies, you had people like Anita Bryant resisting anti-discrimination laws for gays and claiming that gay people wanted to “recruit the youth of America” to freshen their ranks. Yes, people actually believed that shit. But not my mother, whom I can still hear cursing and ranting about “that hate-filled woman.” (Oh, the tirades she’d be on about Donald Trump’s hate speech.)
Early Gay Pride Parade
I was in early elementary school when the first Gay Pride Parades started. I remember watching the evening news with my mom, where they were covering the parade. For much of the nation, it was shocking to see openly gay men (it was mostly men, then) parading shirtless, holding hands, and even (gasp!) kissing in public. At this point, the gay rights movement was shifting from the baby phase to the kid phase on the path to social justice. They needed attention—and boy did they get it.
As well as the marchers, there was a big faction of anti-gay protesters along the parade route holding signs with horrible slogans and shouting horrid things. I don’t really remember seeing them—but I do remember my mom shouting at the TV (she tended to do that), “What the hell do you care what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?!!”
Being a young child, I’m sure I asked her questions and I’m sure she explained the issue to me. That’s the discussion I remember, but I know it wasn’t the only one we had. My mom was a news hound and a political junkie (another thing I get from her). With the likes of Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell around and events like Harvey Milk’s death, I know I heard a lot more shouting at the television and we had a lot more talks about homosexuality and gay rights.
All those talks added up. They turned me into a person who was not just open to homosexuality, but openly accepting. She shaped me into a person that my gay friends in high school felt comfortable coming out to—at a time when a LOT of people still hid their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs, getting beat up, or even killed. (Remember, Matthew Shephard was killed in 1998!)
The mother my mom made me
More importantly, my mom made me a better mother. Because of her (and my equally socially liberal husband), I raised my own children in an environment that embraced homosexuality and all varieties of gender identity and sexual orientation. I have fond memories of marching in the Seattle Pride Parades with our kids in strollers. When gay marriage was up for legalization in Washington state, my kids asked me regularly how the campaign for it was going. We toasted with them when it was legalized here and toasted again when the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal nationally. My kids’ reaction? “Finally.”
Most important of all, because of my mom we created a home environment where my two bisexual children felt comfortable coming out. Neigh, not even coming out, but questioning and exploring their sexual orientation with us as they discovered it. Thanks to mom, they shared their bisexuality with us even before they shared it with their friends. How great is that?
I knew and still know teens in pain because they are either hiding their sexual orientation from their families or trying to change their orientation because their families aren’t accepting. I wouldn’t wish that horror on any child and I’m so glad that my own children can be who they are and never have to wonder if we and their siblings will still love them. They don’t have to hide such an important part of their lives, don’t have to hide who they are from the people they love most. With all the angst and trials of the teen years, this is one less they have to deal with.
My mom wanted most of all for her children to be happy. She wanted her grandchildren to be happy. So it would have pleased her to know that her grandchildren could come out easily to me and their father. She’d be proud to know we are by their side and supportive of their journey to find out who they are—in all aspects of their lives.
Mom is long gone. My two bisexual children never met her. She never got to see their beautiful faces let alone be a part of their lives. And yet, she IS a part of their lives in one of the most important ways possible. My mom left them with the gift of love and acceptance. She made it possible for my children to find themselves easily and with the full support of their family.
Thanks, Mom. Happy Birthday. And I love you.
Image courtesy of: © Leffler, Warren K., photographer. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.09729. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2262345