As some of you may remember, we posted an article here on our blog that was written by Will’s mom, and basically asked her to give her thoughts on her son’s sexuality and coming out and so on. We received such a positive response that we decided to do it again. This time, we asked my dad to weigh in on the subject.
I basically gave him free reign, and asked that he do his best to be as forthcoming and candid as possible. The goal here is to give both LGBT people and their parents a little bit of insight into someone else’s journey to acceptance. I think this “letter” proves that it is just that: a journey. Even though a parent may love and support their child no matter what, there are often some more barriers of understanding that must be broken in order to reach a place of true acceptance. I feel like this mirrors the journey that a lot of people face when accepting the idea of the LGBT community. Many people out there don’t necessarily carry any animosity towards us and our happiness. There are just one or two things that they don’t “get”.
One more thing before I hand it over to my dad. I just want to tell him thank you, and to tell him that I think that it’s incredibly courageous of him to open up so completely on such a public forum. I may have known you for my entire life, dad, but even after all these years, you never cease to find ways to surprise me.
Right, on with his letter…
In General, a parent’s outlook on life and raising a family:
I’d like to preface things by saying that I love my sons, both equally, in a way that only parents would know. That it is fact and not a cliché when we parents say that we’d willingly lay down our lives for our kids, if need be. What typically drives most of us, especially when first starting out to raise a family together, is developing the means to be able to provide a safe and secure environment for them to grow up in. Most parents tend to spend a lot of time and energy early on trying to achieve this most basic of goals as they strive to raise their kids to the best of their abilities. Towards that end, most parents would openly admit that they’d prefer their kids grow up to be happy and content in their lives rather than have them be rich, powerful or maybe even successful. I doubt much would give me greater joy and pride than to have both my boys be successful in their chosen careers and that they have the means to live comfortably; but much more important than success in the material sense, I’d prefer that they be happy in whatever career or life path they pursue and that they find a willing and loving partner to share their love, dreams and desires with, someone that they can grow old with.
When my wife and I first discussed marriage and starting a family together, we both had similar visions of what that life might be. Although some of the minor details varied, at the heart of our wishes and expectations was to marry and have a nice home in which we could raise our kids (preferably three, two boys and a girl) and that this would hopefully lead to unspecified number of grandkids whom we could dedicate our latter years doting over and spoiling altogether.
When we first heard that RJ was in a gay relationship, we felt sad and worried for both him and us. Worried, because we’d heard of the many cruel things that have happened and continue to happen to gays, mostly out of spite, fear and deep seeded hatred, that some folks harbor for anyone that’s “different”. From our perspective, it’s tough enough to make a marriage work when you not only have the full support of both families but of society in general. Starting off with many of these obstacles it becomes a much tougher journey, one that many folks gay or straight alike find too hard to navigate and sadly results in the high rate of divorce we have today. We were saddened because initially we’d assumed that this meant no kids for RJ and that we’d need to forget that part of our dreams. With time we’ve learned that although gay couples still have a tough time adopting, that with the help of surrogacy it is possible for gay couples to have kids and raise a family. This has made a difference in our outlook for RJ and Will and for our future family.
In time we’ve gotten to know Will and have seen the positive effect he’s had on RJ. Although RJ had been in previous relationships, we immediately saw a difference in him and in the way he acted towards Will. RJ had always had a tendency to put himself first and to look at things strictly from his perspective. With Will this was not the case; in fact he was very protective of him and his feelings and seemed to put Will’s needs ahead of his. He looked truly happy, and for us that is what was most important and what has made all the difference in welcoming Will into our family. We believe that in any relationship, as long as at the core of it you truly do love one another, very few obstacles are insurmountable. At least this has been the case for my wife and me after 34 years (28 married) that we have been together. So it is with hope, pride and admiration that we look at what Will and RJ are doing; that by putting themselves out there as an example of a normal and happy gay couple, they can help others that did not think it possible, pursue their ideal relationships and simultaneously show the rest of society and the world in general that gay couples are no different in their pursuit of happiness.
How/when you do it is important:
The way you come out is also important. Mutual respect is paramount to a healthy discussion, especially when having one as serious and emotional as this and where points of view may differ greatly. It is imperative that, if possible, you allow for ample time and the right setting to discuss things thoroughly, to allow for both sides to discuss all without the fear of physical or emotional retribution. If possible, both parents should be present (unless one parent is more approachable and has a closer relationship with the child, which would then make it less stressful on all and minimize potential for conflict), siblings should probably be told at a separate time (especially if of an age where the discussion may not be appropriate) to minimize potential for conflict and from adding to the various points of view that could detract from the discussion.
One of the things I think RJ did wrong when coming out to us was the flippant way he did it. There was no preparation or pre-cursor, it was just said as a casual thing, almost as a joke in the middle of a completely different conversation we were having with his brother at our dining room table. Having suspected early on that he might be gay we tried giving RJ various opportunities to acknowledge it without fear of reprisals, and even tried asking him straight out on several occasions if indeed that was the case; but he adamantly denied it. For RJ to drop this on us in that manner seemed disrespectful to us at the time and definitely started the discussion off on the wrong tone, especially when he announced that he was bi and not in fact gay. We asked that his brother leave at the time before we continued our discussion.
What I remember most of those first few moments was that I wanted to proceed slowly for fear that I would say the wrong thing in haste and thereby alienate our son. My wife and I both wanted time to think through and sort out our feelings, as well as to inform the rest of the family in a more personal way, before RJ posted his new “status” on Facebook. One of our first arguments was this need for us to “break the news” to our family and friends while RJ wanted more to “shout it from the roof tops” and announce it to the world as quickly as possible. Since we all felt there was nothing wrong with being gay, he could not understand why we’d need time to announce it to family and friends prior to him going public. Looking back now it seems reasonable to think that once he was able to get over the hurdle and nervousness of letting us know, he could not wait to announce it to all. For RJ it was the relief of finally being able to be himself, while for us It was more wanting to be sure that the relationship was serious and not a casual one. If in fact RJ was bi, and his relationship with Will did not last, there was a chance that he could end up with a wife in the future. This (his coming out) we thought would complicate matters for RJ in possible future hetero relationships, especially when dealing with our extended family.
Once we got to know Will and saw that they were indeed serious in their relationship, and more importantly that they were happy and committed to each other, we were able to welcome Will into our family and settle into our new family dynamics. With time we’ve all adjusted somewhat, some in the family quicker than others, and although my wife and I don’t always agree with RJ and Will, we are more comfortable discussing our various points of view.
Bi vs Gay:
There are some topics some parents and most kids wish they would never need to discuss with each other. Close to the top, if not at the very pinnacle of this list, is the subject of sex. Although we had suspected early on that RJ might be gay and had somewhat prepared, or privately rehearsed what we might say to be supportive, when he announced it; we were not prepared when RJ let us know that in fact he was not gay but bi-sexual. This was confusing to us at the time since we naively thought that if you could freely choose to be with one sex or the other, and were equally attracted to both, why not simply follow the path of least resistance and let yourself fall for a nice girl that you could settle down with and raise a family. Fully knowing at the time that we don’t necessarily choose whom we fall in love with but yet thinking that we do have and exercise some form of free will. We thought it possible that prior to getting to know someone well enough to fall for them it would be possible to buffer those initial thoughts and feelings and wait for that more conventional someone else to come along. Of course that’s how some folks wake up 10 to 20 years into a failed marriage and finally decide that they are tired of living a lie; but we had not yet met Will and did not know how far RJ had fallen for him.
With time, the way I could make the most sense of RJ’s bi vs gay declaration was to think of it as simply RJ being in a gay relationship (if Will had been a girl we would have had a much different discussion) and that in Will he had finally met the person he wanted to settle down and be with. As long as RJ and Will are together, and I do hope they will continue to love and remain committed to each other; I don’t see a need to think of it otherwise.
I’m not sure what I’d think if RJ and Will were to split up for any reason and that RJ were to later bring home a new woman for us to meet as the new love of his life from that moment on. I’d likely be skeptical at first and only with time, if he were to treat her the same way he does Will, would I admit that he indeed can be attracted equally to both and is indeed bi.
Suggestions to other parents of gay or bi kids:
I’m not sure that I’m in any position to give advice on this subject, other than to share our experiences with others, both good and bad, and make suggestions in the hope that it can help those that are dealing with similar situations avoid some of the same pitfalls.
I firmly believe that from the day they are born, regardless of anything that may occur in their lives, a parent can help their child mostly by being supportive and by reassuring them that, no matter what, you will always love them and be there for them. It should be no different with a son or daughter that is coming out. I had on several occasions, prior to his announcement, mentioned to RJ that even parents of serial killers loved, cared for and even begged judges for leniency for their murderous sons. I reminded him of this on that day and that no, I was not comparing gays to serial killers, just that most parents love their kids unconditionally and typically want nothing but the best for them in life. Although you may not know or be able to relate to what your kids are experiencing or going through, you can listen carefully to what they have to say and be supportive of their decision and feelings.
If you acknowledge that going public with your sexual orientation is not an easy decision for them to make, you can then see the kind of stress that they are living under. For various reasons plenty of folks all over the world live out their lives in secret and in fear of being discovered our “outed”, so it does take courage for most to come out to their friends and family, not knowing fully how anyone will react to the news.
That day when he told us, we let RJ know that we’d always love him and support him, and that although we weren’t sure we understood it all, we’d stand by him no matter what. Above all we wanted to protect him from any possible backlash and fortunately none was forthcoming. We talked about how Will and he met and how their relationship evolved, about many of our concerns and fears. We also asked RJ if he would prefer that we tell the rest of the family and he did, so we did. We asked RJ to give us a bit of time to let friends and family know in a more personal way, before he went public, and he did. In time we met and got to know Will, and saw how he and RJ were together, and have fully welcomed him into our family.
Most in the family reacted well to the news, stating that it made no difference to them, and behaving no different around Will and RJ; yes we had our guard up ready for any sign to the contrary. Unfortunately some have not, and have taken a bit more time to come around. Although you can’t predict how some may react, you can let all know that you support your son and they can then weigh in whether to be part of your lives or not. At the same time you need to prepare yourselves that some in your extended family or friends, and you can’t really predict whom that may be ahead of time, may not and that you may not have them in your lives from that moment on, at least not to the same capacity.
But at least for us, most did. We have all adjusted somewhat and can look forward to spending time together, just the core us or with the extended family, and the more we do the more at ease and relaxed everyone is. We don’t know what the future has in store for our family, but at least for my wife and me, we can look forward to the little possibilities.