Listen to Your Mother Survey: Some Excerpts

November 9, 2012

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.”
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