Being Gay and My Relationship with My Mother
Many gay men talk about the closeness, the special bond they have with their mothers. “…being gay might be a factor that makes some mothers and sons even closer (Psychology Today, 2011).” Many of my gay friends have shared with me that their mother is their best friend.
Of my four siblings, I look the most like my mother. Because of this resemblance and her youthful appearance, some assumed we were brother and sister. However, when I think of who I am, my values and my morals, I don’t think of her. I know she influenced my views of myself and the world around me. But from my perspective, we were never close.
“As her long sigh wafted through the phone, I realized she’d always known.”
My memory of our relationship, from an emotional standpoint, is that there was always a plexiglass shield separating us. I saw her, but I never really knew her. Similar to images I’ve seen of Queen Elizabeth II of England, my mother’s pleasant coolness hinted at little.
I was born in late January in Phoenix, Arizona, three months after my mother’s twenty-second birthday. Single and living with her religious and widowed mother, she shared little with me about this period of her life. For reasons not fully known, she ended her relationship with my father, never telling him she was pregnant. Throughout my youth and young adulthood, she shrouded his existence in mystery.
My mother’s pregnancy was a shock to the family because as my aunt said “she never shared with us she was seeing someone. To my knowledge, her routine consisted of school, work, and home. Of course, I asked, and I wondered. But your mama never told me who he was.”
After my mother’s death in January 2004, I discovered that my father was a 22-year-old New Yorker, an airman at Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base. I later located him, living in a Maryland middle-class suburb with his wife, in the city that they settled in during the 1970s to raise their children. My dad accepted me and we became close.
According to my mother’s closest friends, my dad liked her. However, at the dawn of her life as a young woman during the spring of 1969, it seems she may not have wanted to settle into a marriage with someone she didn’t feel strongly about. Thus, she took on the stigma at the time of being an unwed mother, something that was a source of criticism in her family.
“…it was during this time people started noticing you weren’t like other boys.”
My mother wasn’t a physically demonstrative person. There were no kisses on the cheek. Throughout my childhood, her hugs were sparingly given. My desire to be held often elicited responses like “You’re too sensitive,” and “It’s not good for boys to be smothered by their mothers.”
My mother eventually met someone else, married, and had three more children. I was six when my brother was born. Over time, I saw he could lean against her when sitting on the sofa and wrap his arms around her neck to kiss her cheek. She stopped my attempts with “You’re too old to be doing that,” or “Not now, I’m busy.”
I came out to my mother when I was 30. As her long sigh wafted through the phone, I realized she’d always known. But from then until her passing four years later, she encouraged me to keep the secret between us.
When I came out to my aunt a few years later, she said “I knew when you were four.” When I asked how this was possible, she added that “it was during this time people started noticing you weren’t like other boys. And they whispered you were this way because of not having a father.”
My mother never opened up to me about her revelations of who I was as a child. Based on her attempts to minimize physical contact between us, I suspect she felt responsible for me being gay. “…many mothers initially blame themselves and these close relationships for their sons’ homosexuality (Psychology Today, 2011).” To put it into context of society’s view at the time, it wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental illness from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This was three years after I was born.
Throughout my 20s, I struggled with accepting that my mother and I weren’t close. I didn’t connect it to being gay, something I didn’t fully acknowledge to myself until I was twenty-eight. It was more that I hoped for an intimacy I sensed when around male friends and their mothers.
With the help of therapy, family, and close friends, I mourned my mother’s death. I also put to rest wishing for something that could never be. And that looking for this sort of love with a romantic partner isn’t good for the relationship or my emotional health.
Today I accept being gay as an integral part of who I am. The LGBTQ+ community is diverse, talented, and culturally influential. And I uplift and celebrate this through Our Black Gay Diaspora Podcast, for “global black LGBTQ+ citizens who come together to inspire & educate each other on who we are in our respective countries and professions.”
Like many who have survived adversity, I’m re-parenting myself. The challenges I faced, including my relationship with my emotionally distant mother, are part of who I am. However, through being open about my experiences, I can slough off the shame. And honor and celebrate what makes me uniquely me.