Creative Team Presents Findings of LGBT Survey at Museum of Motherhood







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Mothers of gay, lesbian, and bisexual children from all over the United States spoke out at the Museum of Motherhood in New York City, without ever leaving their homes. Their opinions on learning that their children were gay were given voice by the creative team of Maura McGurk and Mia Grottola, who conducted an anonymous survey over several months and presented the survey’s findings at the Museum’s conference on Evolutionary Motherhood.

The presentation was entitled Listen to Your Mother: Mothers Respond When Their Children Come Out As Gay.

The mothers’ responses uncovered a range of feelings and reactions to the moment when their children “came out”, or identified themselves as gay, to their mothers. The responses revealed a vulnerability and honesty on the part of the mothers, many of whom did not know their children were gay before the announcement. One swore out loud; one wished she had a fishing pole to reel back her son’s words; one felt shame for having made anti-gay comments in front of her child; another was relieved that she had inadvertently solved the “pesky daughter-in-law problem”.

McGurk and Grottola, who are a couple, analyzed over 100 survey responses, culled representative quotes, and presented them verbatim in a dramatic reading. The audience, many of them academics and mothers of young children, alternately laughed and cried during the presentation.

McGurk said that the inspiration for the survey came from her own, and Grottola’s, experiences coming out to their mothers, who had a hard time with the news. Subsequently, McGurk and Grottola had a genuine interest in trying to understand their mothers’ thoughts and fears, which led to this project.

McGurk said, “Mia and I were adult children when we came out, but that didn’t necessarily make it any easier on our moms, or on us. We planned for the moment, how we were going to say it, where, when. It seems like it should be easier nowadays than it’s ever been, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you hope for the best.”

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To attempt to ensure maximum honesty, McGurk and Grottola created an anonymous online survey. Ten questions prompted mothers’ thoughts on everything from their first reaction to the news, to its effect on family relationships, to thoughts on their parenting styles. Each question had unlimited space to answer in narrative form. McGurk and Grottola publicized the survey mostly through word-of-mouth among their gay friends, and through PFLAG (Parents of Lesbians and Gays) support groups.

Both women realize that their admittedly unscientific methods must have affected the survey results, though they are not sure exactly how. Because the survey was conducted online, it necessarily required internet access and a degree of technical savvy. Since many of the survey participants were likely located through PFLAG, that could indicate a tendency to be more open to dealing with their fears surrounding their children’s sexuality, which in turn could make them more likely to plumb the depths of their feelings at a stranger’s request. McGurk wonders whether the mothers are involved with PFLAG because they enthusiastically support their children, or because they need assistance coming to terms with their negative feelings.

“It’s hard to say,” McGurk says. “We saw one mother who said she was literally on the edge, hanging on for dear life, crying while she was typing, because she couldn’t accept her son. We felt terrible reading this, because our instinct would be to reach out and help her somehow, but we don’t know who she is. And of course we feel awful for her son; we understand his perspective. On the other hand, there was a mother who said she didn’t like our tone, that one of our questions made it sound as if there was something wrong with being gay and her son is perfect just the way he is,” McGurk chuckles. “Mom, we’re gay too! We don’t think there’s anything wrong with it either! But there’s a mother who is fiercely in support of her child. We saw quite a bit of mama bear instincts throughout the responses”.

The survey, though it may not be representative of all LGBT children, found that most come out to their mothers in their late teens or twenties, though seven mothers said their children were twelve years old or younger. One child was four years old when he casually came out before school one day.

The survey did not ask when the coming-out conversation took place, but indirect references in the mothers’ responses show that some of the coming-out stories were from as far back as the 1970s, with some of the mothers now near 80 years old, with adult children in middle-age.

McGurk and Grottola, who were married in August, are exploring other ways to present the results of their survey. McGurk says,

“The dramatic reading was very powerful; we’d love to bring it to the stage. I’m an artist, so I think of this in a visual way too; maybe an exhibition will come out of this. I know this made a big impression on the mothers, on us, on the audience. We’re looking forward to bringing this information to more people; many of the mothers thanked us and said it helped them to process their unresolved feelings”.

Some excerpts from the presentation, including mothers’ quotes, can be read here.

Maura McGurk Named Artist of the Week by theStudio4Art

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TheStudio4Art named Maura McGurk “Artist of the Week” for her paintings in response to gay bullying, and recognized her for her work with various charities that stand behind LGBT youth.

In bestowing this honor, theStudio praises the paintings and mixed media work that not only display “a magnificent use of color and texture”, but also have the ability to emotionally resonate and move hearts and minds. TheStudio states that McGurk’s artwork “promotes love, acceptance and tolerance and supports LGBT youth by taking a stand against the bully epidemic. If there was ever a time to believe that art has the power to change the world this would be a start.”

Mapping a Memorable Man

Pittsburgh, PA by Jennifer Carland

I just funded my first Kickstarter campaign.

What is Kickstarter you ask? It’s an online source of funding for (mostly) creative projects that might never get made otherwise. The way it works (ideally) is that lots of people give small amounts of money to invest in a project, for example, the filming of a movie, or the recording of an album, or the exhibition of artworks. Because it’s difficult to find a few backers willing to fund a large proportion of a project, and perhaps even more difficult to find backers who will resist the temptation to influence the creative process, many of these projects might not get made without Kickstarter. The idea is to provide autonomy to the artist, while allowing many people to share in the satisfaction of putting something creative into the world, and if the project doesn’t reach the funding goal, no money is taken at all, from anyone. That’s important: Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

The campaign I funded is called Mapping A Memorable Man by Jennifer Carland. The Memorable Man of the title is Jenn’s brother, Justin, who died unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident in April 2012. The project will create map-based artwork of specific cities that were important in Justin’s life, and exhibit the 20-40 artworks together, near Justin’s hometown.

Jenn has chosen to channel her grief over Justin’s death into creating artwork about his “incredible fun-loving” life. Why maps? In Jenn’s words:

My idea is that if I create abstracted maps…of the locations where my brother spent his life, it will tell his story in a unique way…people have a strong identity with a particular location and have an emotional and/or psychological connection to a particular place- somewhere where they currently live, where they grew up, where they went on vacation, or another memorable location.

Jenn and Justin Carland

On the Kickstarter campaign site, Jenn provides a list of cities she’d like to map through this project, places where Justin played hockey, worked, met friends and so on. While these cities are personal to Justin and to Jenn, many of them hold strong memories for me too. Jenn says:

The cool thing about this is that these cities not only hold [Justin’s] stories, but many more memories and stories for lots of other people.  I would love to have the opportunity to make prints for people, who may or may not have known Justin, but want to have a print of a city that has meaning to them. This way I can keep Justin’s memories alive…but at the same time, bookmark memories for other people.

Even though I never met Justin, I also feel connected to New Bedford, Niagara Falls, and San Francisco, to name just a few locations on Jenn’s list. My memories, of course, aren’t Justin’s memories, but discovering this interpersonal connection makes me feel a little richer. Doesn’t that at least partly explain Facebook?

I like Kickstarter because, to quote Jenn again, it shows “the impact one person has on the world”. This means Justin, it means each individual backer, it means the artist behind each project.

Another nice thing about Kickstarter is that you can be a part of the action for as low as $1.00, and each level of this campaign comes with rewards. You can receive PDFs, prints of artwork, personal thank-yous, and more; it’s worth checking out.

Remember, the project has to be backed 100% in order for Jenn to receive any funds for art supplies, exhibition of the original works, shipping of artwork, etc.

Check out Mapping A Memorable Man, support the arts, memorialize a great person, make a connection, and possibly obtain your own unique piece of artwork.

Good luck to Jennifer Carland and Mapping a Memorable Man!

55 Galleries in One Day!

While walking in Chinatown today, I stopped to help a man who had just dropped his Rollerblades on the sidewalk. As I bent down and picked one up, I recognized the man; he leads art tours every Saturday afternoon in New York City. We started chatting, and he showed me his notes from his afternoon of tours — 55 galleries (out of 132) in SoHo and the Lower East Side!

These notes, ratings, and two-word synopses of each exhibition will eventually be honed into a 4-6 gallery tour by Saturday. A nice look at the inside of this operation; one of my favorite parts is that about once a month, an LGBT-themed art tour is given. Check out NYC Gallery Tours for more information.

Listen to Your Mother Survey: Some Excerpts

Video by John Roberts. This video encapsulates many of the responses Mia and I received to our anonymous online survey of mothers of gay children.

At this point in history, it could be argued that it’s never been easier to tell your parents you’re gay. But Mia and I can tell you from personal experience that coming out to our parents wasn’t easy. We planned for the announcement, carefully choosing the words, timing, and setting, and hoping for the best possible reaction.

Our mothers especially had a difficult time with the news. Our genuine interest in trying to understand their reactions has led us to consider other mothers’ responses to their own children’s coming out announcements.

We created a survey of 10 questions, with unlimited space to answer in narrative form. We received responses from over 100 mothers. In a presentation at the Museum of Motherhood, entitled Listen to Your Mother: Mothers Respond When Their Children Come Out As Gay, we included some analysis of responses and quotes from real mothers of gay children. We are considering additional ways to present this information to the public in the future. Stay tuned.

Below are excerpts from the MOM presentation:

Regarding the age at which children came out to their mothers, most were in their late teens or twenties. Seven were 12 years old or younger.

When we asked about the first thing the mother thought of when her child came out to her, these were some of the responses:

  • “shit.”
  • “I remember thinking that I wished I had a fishing pole, and could reel his words back in, so they wouldn’t be out in the open. Then, I thought my heart would break to think that he went through this process alone.”
  • “Well, that solves that pesky daughter-in-law problem.”
  • “What would our friends and family think and say. Shame on me….”
  • “All of the things I’d said and done inadvertently to hurt him. (Don’t buy that shirt, it looks gay)”
  • “That I had lost him forever”

Mothers’ fears included the following:

  • “Was very uneducated on the topic so worried about internet predators and increased susceptibility to drugs/alcohol/depression.”
  • “I was mostly afraid that he would be “shunned”, that people would be cruel, and that he wouldn’t find love. I was afraid his father would reject him, worried how friends/community would react. and felt sorry that I probably wouldn’t have grandchildren.”
  • “My only fear for myself was that I had let her down by not making it safe for her to tell me earlier. For my child, fears that her very traditional extended family would reject her (one side did, the other did not).”

Regarding whether coming out affected any family relationships:

  • “Once the news settled in, I realized that my child would be treated by people the same way “I” treated her. So, I really made an effort to touch her, hug her, in public–to let EVERYONE know that I loved my child.”
  • “it has affected my relationship with him. still have a hard time understanding it after 12 years of knowing”
  • “no, but I did feel guilty that I was so dim and not able to offer support during his teen years when he must have needed it.”

We asked if and how mothers shared the information with family and friends:

  • “I have found that I am most comfortable if I share as much as possible. It helps me find out who is really going to be an asset to my son and from whom we need a little separation. I don’t have any tolerance for negative energy around this topic–my son will get enough of this out in the world, so he needs to be completely safe from it at home. I want him to expect to be respected.”

Did mothers see their children’s gay sexuality as a reflection on their parenting?

  • “I must admit that I did wonder if I was too liberal in my parenting. As parents of boys, we encouraged art, baby dolls and cooking, and discouraged rough behavior. We were able to ignore the comments of other parents (especially fathers) when they were young, because we were certain we were raising balanced children. My son being gay seemed to validate my critics.”

We asked mothers how their child came out:

  • “I came home from work early one day. She and her girlfriend were cuddled up on the sofa and were very surprised to see me. Don’t remember how I got the girlfriend out of the house, it was all her fault you know, but I started screaming at my child. She went across the street to a neighbor and stayed for some time but when she came home the confrontation continued. The girlfriend had seduced her, etc! It was probably the worst day of our lives.”
  • “Thank you for doing this. When My Son told me, he was very hesitant as if worried what My response would be. I told him that I already knew. I had always known. And I told him that it didn’t make any difference to me, I love him just as much, I love him just the same, and he is My Son, nothing changes my love for him, not being Gay or not, just as it wouldn’t change how I felt if he was a good kid vs. a bad kid, or if he was outgoing vs. shy. He is My Son. I Love him with all my heart! I don’t understand how some Parents can turn their children away when they tell their Parents. That’s when your child needs you the most in their life. How could I have reacted any other way? I am so very Proud of My Son! I remember him telling me that he hears all these stories from his friends about the horrible way some of them were treated by their PArents because they are Gay, and I will never forget him telling me that he had no way to understand how that felt because he didn’t experience that at all with me when he told me. That is something I will always carry with me. Just something as simple as my reaction made his journey easier. That is what a Mom should be able to do for her Son.”
  • “he called on the phone 2 weeks before we wre going up to see him perform in a play. I’m glad he told me on the phone, so i could fall apart privately, and I had 2 weeks to prepare so I could face him and hide my tears.”
  • “She arrived home from school & told me she finally met someone she had a crush on. She was stunned when I said “I hope she’s a good student.””

Did having a gay child impact the mother’s identity?

  • “No. I think I have become more vocal about my love for all my kids. It bothered me that he had to question how I would react. I want them to know my love is unconditional.”
  • “I consider it a positive impact on my parenting that he could tell me. I also know that he never heard negative comments about homosexuals in our house or in our church which comforts me”
  • “Yes, I was sure it was my fault, and that the fact that I had kicked his father out had coused it. No matter what, it never changed my love for him. I feel like it did change my thoughts and beliefs about gay people.”

We asked how mothers handle negative comments about gay people.

  • “I would always have spoken up when someone made an offensive comment. Now that it is personal, however, I feel I am better able to make offenders aware of how hurtful they are. Saying, “I disagree with your statement” just isn’t as powerful as saying, “someone I love is gay, and your words are very hurtful to me.” Making them aware of my pain makes them think. Fortunately, it just hasn’t come up for me very often.”

We asked whether mothers were concerned about their children’s future partners, specifically, if they were concerned about any masculinity in the women, or femininity in the men:

  • “No…..as long as my son is happy, that is all that matters. He has a wonderful partner whom I consider my “other son””
  • “No. It may have been different were she male. It has been difficult for me to take uber-feminine gay men seriously (can’t imagine them as attorneys or accountants, for example). I have had to challenge my thinking on this, and it has been difficult. I am not proud of this.”
  • “No my daughter has always been masculine and hasn’t dated anyone yet that I know. Whomever she likes or falls in love with won’t matter as long as they treat each other with love and respect. I’m concerned with how outsiders will treat my child because of her masculinity let alone with a girlfriend.”
  • “I’m quite conventional in my behavior. And I’m relieved that my daughter chooses partners who don’t appear ‘gay.’ If she did, then I’d have some work to do on myself to accept this and I know I’d be able to.”

We asked for advice for mothers whose children have just come out.

  • “Take your time dealing with your emotions. And no emotion is off limits. You are entitled to all of them. It can be a long process getting comfortable with your new reality, but you will get there and it will be worth it. And some day, you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come. I would also add that finding out we had a gay son opened up our world in the most amazing ways. I would not change one thing about the journey we have been on. And I certainly would not change one thing about my son.”

Hurricane Sandy: Art and Recovery

Times Square Pour, Molly Dilworth. Benefit Edition for Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

Governor Cuomo observed this week, “We have a 100-year flood every two years now.” Hurricane Sandy has made the relationship between the natural and built environment painfully clear, it is critical that we build for the future with this knowledge in mind.
— Molly Dilworth

I’m a believer in the power of art to help, heal, to change the world. I have often donated artwork or proceeds from sales to various causes that are important to me. In a move that’s close to my heart, artist Molly Dilworth and ArtWeLove have teamed to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated so much of New York City.

This is the email I received today from ArtWeLove. Good work, good cause; consider checking it out.

As you all know, Superstorm Sandy has left a terrible path of destruction on the East Coast of the United States as well as Haiti and Cuba. As a company made in New York, our team and many of our artists are in recovery mode, many of them still without power, and for some, having lost their workspace and most of their art.

We want to do our bit to help rebuild our great city and support everyone affected by the storm, in New York but also beyond. The great Brooklyn-based artist Molly Dilworth has pitched in one of her ArtWeLove editions, Times Square Pour.

Especially for this benefit, we’ve created a 16 x 20 inches version of this popular print and effective immediately all sales of all sizes of Times Square Pour will all go to benefit the American Red Cross’s Sandy relief efforts.

Times Square Pour is a particularly relevant choice. Molly is a land artist who has always been concerned with the environment and we’ve worked together before to create benefit editions for the Global Earth Project with 350.org.

Times Square Pour is based on her site-specific installation “Cool Water, Hot Island” in New York’s Times Square and the winning proposal for the 2010 reNEWable Times Square Design Competition. This edition is a representation of NASA’s infrared satellite data of Manhattan. When painted on the streets of Times Square, the artwork’s color and movement suggest rivers and natural forms, juxtaposing against their built surroundings and alluding to the early days of New York City. Superstorm Sandy came in last week as a powerful reminder of New York’s complex relation between the built environment and the natural.

We chose to donate to the Red Cross, an apolitical and trusted organization that provides shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy, as well as countless crises at home and around the world. You can also donate directly to Red Cross.

Thanks for helping support the effort to recover.

ArtWeLove team.