By Joseph Jones
All my life I have admired and found inspiration in strong, confident women. As a kid I watched Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman flawlessly claw, purr, and kick her way through Batman Returns. It filled me with the urge to paint on a skintight leather bodysuit, and fight crime. Proud, self-assured vixens still inspire me, whether it’s Gal Gadot deflecting bullets as Wonder Woman or Lady Gaga showcasing her vocal prowess and star-power as a performer. However, these idols will never live up to the female role model in my life, my mother.
Born on this day in 1975, my mom has been my compass, may anchor, and my guardian angel. She made it her sworn obligation to raise me and my sister with sound morality, good judgment, knowledge, and the strength to carry us through times of adversity and strife. My mom has never wavered in her commitment to us and I can think of numerous incidences where she made personal sacrifices to put the needs of her children before her own. One of my favorite early memories of my mom was when she read the first Harry Potter book to me, and thus sparking my love for stories and reading.
My mom has always been tough, brave, and has been met with challenges. I don’t know how I would have found the will inside me in order to overcome such obstacles. Tragedy struck my mother when she was a young adult, when a boyfriend committed suicide. The loss of the love of her life devastated her, a traumatic event that will forever leave a permanent scar which never can be fully healed.
Although her grief has stayed with her like a stubborn stain that won’t wash out, she has managed to live with her pain as a reminder of great love. Her courageous strength to live with such a tremendously cataclysmic event in in her past, but not allow it to hang ominously over her present of future, and still approach each new day with optimism and hope, is one of the many reasons I admire her and am proud to call her my mother.
While I was struggling with my sexual identity as a growing teenager, I felt nobody would understand, love, or support me. I withdrew from friends and family, in an effort to conceal a crisis which waged inside of me. I was torn between needing to unleash my inner truth for all the world to see and suppressing my urges and desires in the hopes they would simply go away. I felt like a poker player, using my faux-heterosexuality or sexual ambiguity as a bluff, with the stakes continuing to raise. I was afraid one false mannerism or something I say would reveal my tell; everyone would see my hand and know that all I was holding was a pair of queens.
They say a mother always knows, and it was obvious to her that all was not hunky dory with her darling son when I started lashing out and confiding myself to my room and refusing to attend family gatherings. My self-imposed alienation and outbursts of frustration made her concerned and desperate for an explanation as to what was troubling me. Perhaps, my behavior resonated as stark warnings echoing from her past and of her old flame which was snuffed out. Maybe she feared I too would suffer the same fate, consumed by my own darkness.
At the time, I had only come out to a few trusted friends. It was a conversation on that matter with my best friend that my mom stumbled upon, when she played Nancy Drew and snooped through my cell phone to try and discover what inner pain was tormenting me. After finding what she was seeking, she confronted me. She asked if I had something I needed to tell her. Initially I said no, because I was still afraid to come clean to the one person I wanted to come out to more than anyone.
Whenever I needed her, my mom always was, and still to this day is, the person I run to in times of confusion and doubt. But, on the issue of my sexuality crisis, I felt I could not turn to her. Although my mom is liberal in her liberal leaning in her political beliefs and harbored no hostile feelings to LGBT people, even having friends who were gay, I feared she would have a negative reaction when it was her own child coming out. For the first time in my life, I shut myself out from her, and felt even she couldn’t help me.
I reluctantly admitted to her that I was struggling with defining my sexuality, and at the time I was labelling myself as bisexual, but after seeing how positively she accepted me, I felt confident enough to later come out to her again, this time as gay. She made it clear she loved me no matter who I was with and would do everything in her power to make sure I would be happy. She knew my life would be much more difficult as a gay person, especially with a father and other members of my family with less progressive attitudes toward sexual orientation, and has stood up for me ever since.
One such instance I remember was when my Dad used the word “faggot” in front of me. She scolded him, asking “what if one of your own children is gay?” I remember this moment clear as day because, it showed me my mom was more than just a mother to me, but also an ally. I knew that my mom would always accept me and love me as her son, despite what anyone else might think. I was still her son; nothing could change that, not even me being gay.
Ironically, my mom was the one to let my dad know that, in fact, he did have a gay child. Because my father and I always had a tense relationship, in part due to my sexual orientation and my fear of my coming out to him, my mom did it for me, with my permission. His reaction was better than I expected it to be. I thought there would be yelling and cursing. However, my Dad said he still loved me and didn’t care who I was. With a sense of relief washing over me, all my anxiety about coming out left my body, and I soared to new heights like a caged bird set free. With the secret out, I have been able to build stronger relationships with my friends and family, and lived happily and openly as a proud member of the LGBT community.
When I watch the relationship between Debbie and her gay son Michael on the Showtime lesbian and gay drama, Queer as Folk, I cannot help but see my own mother and I reflected in those two characters. She may not be a member of PFLAG like Debbie, attend Pride, or wear a shirt that says “I’m proud of my gay son”, but she doesn’t need to do anything extra special to show her love and support of me. She already does more than enough by acknowledging my sexual orientation by expressing interest in meeting men I am romantically involved with, listening when I need dating advice, or being a shoulder to cry on when I have my heart broken. She doesn't treat me any differently as her gay son, as she would if I were her straight son. And like Debbie, she would tell off any homophobic bigot who would try to tell her otherwise.
For LGBT people one of the most important factors in ensuring their healthy well being is whether they are surrounded by people who love and support them unconditionally. I can say, with complete assurance, that I have been blessed with an amazing amount of love and support from my friends, family, and community, and it all started with my mom. I am beyond appreciative and full of gratitude for being embraced by you when so many others like me are shunned and cast out by people who claim to love them. Thank you for being my biggest ally when I needed you most, and for still being that shining beacon of love and acceptance. Mom, I love you.