I read this article from a worried parent years ago. I found the question interesting enough to write about. A woman, the mother says, “My 16-year-old son told me that he is gay. What should I do about it?”
Today, I’d add my own experiences of informing my family that I was a lesbian. I wasn’t as young as that mother’s son was when he said, “Guess what Mom? I’m gay. Nope, that wasn’t me. I was 47-years old before I finally admitted to me that I was gay and then I admitted it to my family. You’re probably thinking isn’t 47 a little old to discover your orientation? Shouldn’t a person know before they reach 30 who or what they like? At 47, a person has lived over half her life in the shadows and maybe with the wrong gender as well. I understand your skepticism but permit me to explain my particular situation.
I’m a Baby Boomer. When I grew up, young women were just beginning to flex their muscles. They were thinking about working in non-traditional jobs and considered living non-traditional lives. Most of the women I knew when I was a kid, wore traditional clothes to represent their by-the-book lives. Frilly blouses, below the knee donut skirts, tailored shirtwaist dresses and A-line dresses were garb of that day. I rarely saw pants or slacks on my mother’s friends and only boys wore jeans. My mother and her friends allowed daughters like me to wear dressy, dresses several inches below the knee with heels at 16. On very special occasions, we daughters wore lipstick, a little blush for our cheeks, eye shadow and eyelash liner. We acted lady-like. We did not smoke, drink or cuss until we were over 21 and we certainly did not experiment with sex.
Hmm, I should clarify that last sentence. We did all that stuff before turning 21, we just did it on the sly. We snuck out on weekends to local bars or we waited until college before we went buck wild. At least, for me it’s what college was about. It was a place for experimenting and finding myself slightly outside the parameters my parents raised me. That meant looking for boys who grew up just like me with my middle class background and belief system to date and I did. I found a number of young men who fit my parent’s bill perfectly. Nice guys with the mindset to marry before having sex with their brides and producing babies. I didn’t date much in high school because of the racial situation where I’m from. We lived in an almost all-white community of 20,000 that wasn’t crazy about my family. We were only family of Black folks with kids, living among them. The other two Black families in my small country town didn’t have any children.
As I said before, my college dates were nice young men. Three of whom I actually considered getting serious. One boyfriend I discovered had a child and a girlfriend. He lied about it and I said a sad goodbye to him when I learned the truth. Another friend was Catholic. He expected me to convert to Catholicism. I didn’t have a problem with that. What I did have a problem with was what he said later on. If there were problems during the natural birthing process, he’d choose the child’s life over mine. I dumped him the minute he uttered the words. “According to church laws, newborns are full of innocence while their mothers aren’t.”
The other man in my college life asked me to move to the southwest with him. A university there had offered him a job and he wanted me to go with him. I almost did. He was 10 years older than I was and I liked him. The things he taught me delicious things about my body, as Smokey says ‘Oh, oh Baby, baby. I wasn’t ready to get serious about any man and so I said no. I was 19 at the time. What did I know about marriage or men?
I dropped out of college before they threw me out for my poor grades. Then I fast-talked my parents into letting me come to the Blackest place I knew…the big apple’s Harlem. It wasn’t an easy discussion because they wanted me close to home. I wanted me as far away from them and the all-white town where I grew up. My mother had an elderly grandaunt living smack dab in the middle of Central Harlem. I knew my parents would agree to my scheme of moving to New York if I agreed to stay with my mother’s grandaunt. That’s what I did for six months until I discovered the cheap rent of rooming houses.
My mother says I used to call her every week reporting all the handsome Black men I’d seen in my daily commute from Harlem to B Altman’s on 34th Street. She said my calls worried her. She thought I was hot to trot and ready jump at the first man who said boo. Just goes to show what my mother thought she knew about me. I jumped at the second man who spoke to me because I thought he was Black Panther speaking to me in Swahili. Turns out he was speaking in a fractured version of French. I didn’t care. I was in love. I married him five years after we met. He too, taught me many things…maybe too many things about sex. I say too many things when I really mean too many wrong things and not enough right things about love, sex and marriage.
I hadn’t begun to feel an attraction for women yet. Oh, there had been the typical little crushes on other girls when I was a kid but nothing serious. It took a warm marriage going icy and dangerous at the end to turn me toward women. My husband believed in what was great for the goose wasn’t good for the gander and vice versa. Translation, my husband could do what he wanted; when he wanted in our marriage but I’d better not try it. The first time I stayed out until the bars closed, my husband jumped on my chest. Then he held me down and smacked me upside the head so hard, he perforated my right eardrum. I couldn’t take the pain medication the doctors gave me for my aching ear because I found out we were pregnant. I got scared and left the state to go back home until the big bastard apologized and swore he’d never hit me again.
I know. I know you’ve heard it before; how battered wife goes back to her abusive husband and stays with him until he kills her. Well that I’m here to tell you that didn’t happen to me. My husband didn’t lay angry hands on me again for another seven years. By then we weren’t having sleeping together anymore. I believe that’s what set him off. It was a cold day in February thirty-two-years ago when he beat me.
I’ll always think of that day as a day of opposites. It was white-hot inside our apartment but icy cold with piles of soggy, dirty brown snow on the sidewalk outside. I was going to work. He was staying home to sleep. I was completely dressed in winter gear for taking the train to work. He was in his underwear. I was worried about work. He wanted to know why I didn’t buy his cigarettes. I argued how his smoking made my allergies worse. He was blocking the door with his body. I was trying to rush out the door to take our son to school. He saw the surprise then the fear in my eyes when he struck the first blow. I saw a crazy look in his eyes and sent my son into his bedroom. I won’t say more about the assault other than I survived. I went to court and got a 30-day order of protection before I took my son and we escaped the state to go to my parents’ home some 40 mile away from the city.
For years afterward, I had nightmares about the assault and scary daydreams too. If anybody surprised me by looming over me or getting on top of me in bed, I’d freak out. It didn’t help that my jealous husband didn’t give up trying to win me back. He spied on me. He sent me harassing phone calls late at night and he stole mail from my mailbox. He’d moved just around the corner from our old apartment. I received ownership of the apartment as part of the divorce settlement and I couldn’t afford to move. He was so persistent and insistent that I considered going back to him several times just so he’d stop bothering me. When my hand brushed the jagged scar running across my knee or I try to rub feeling into parts of my middle back that are completely numb, I’d remember how I earned those battle scars. I knew I couldn’t go back to live with a monster.
I continued to date men for another five years until I couldn’t. The male animal just didn’t do it for me any longer so I remained celibate for a time. With a curious growing son, I thought it was better that way then to answer questions about this man or that man leaving my apartment the next morning. I didn’t think any man or anybody would do it for me again until I started noticing women returning my shy glances. By the time I met my first out there lesbian I was forty-something. I met her through a friend of a friend who thought we would like each other.
My friend was right. We did like each other. We talked on the phone every night and day for months. We went to movies, plays and eat at great restaurants but most of all we talked. We found so many things to discuss that even now, it surprises me how much we talked back then. By the time, I slept with her, my first woman I was forty-seven. She felt so good I knew I was home and I wouldn’t leave again. I wish I could say we lived together and eventually married once it was legal in our state to do so but I can’t. We both have moved on. These first time affairs rarely worked for me but thinking of her does bring back fond memories.
I hope you’ll find my thoughts have been food for a positive mindset.