I was a guest writer on this blog which explores motherhood. What an honor.. Enjoy!!
I knew early and I knew it was not a choice. Zac was two when we noticed he was making what a therapist friend called, “non-traditional” choices. He dressed up in girls’ dresses. He rejected yellow Tonka trucks for play with dolls, changing their fashions and hair. Oh, there are exceptions to moms knowing the truth about their children. Unlike Zac, some men come out in their forties, and surprise even the most attentive mom. But I argue that most moms know, and know early because, well, because we do, because we are moms. We don’t always know how or why we know. Maybe a mom’s way of knowing is an umbilical cord thing, a relational, hormone, oxytocin thing.
Zac, now an adult, tells me his gay friends talk about this “thing” with their moms, a unique bond that often exists between mothers and their gay sons. Authors write about it. Information on the web abounds. A video called “Mama Said: Gay Sons & Their Moms” tells of the intimacy that many moms feel toward their gay sons. “Mama Said” celebrates what the producers call the “fierce love” mothers profess.
The gay sons feel the connection too. “For many of us, our moms were the first ones who let us open up emotionally,” one gay man said. “Our moms gave us license to set down the pretense of how a ‘real boy’ was supposed to be and allowed us to just be ourselves.”
One not-anymore-friend told me that no doubt Zac chose to be gay in middle school. But no. Zac did not reach a certain age and say, “I decide to be gay.” I watched Zac dress in pink ballerina tutus, pull my formal skirts over his hair to which he added “product,” smear on stage make-up at age 3, and beg for dance lessons at age 4. These were happy places for him. I worried about his safety some, protected him a lot, and wrote reams and reams of journal entries filled with my fears for him. Fears because I knew how gay kids got thrown against lockers, were taunted with labels, “you fag.” get chosen last or not at all, and were not invited to parties. In the early 1980s anyway, in Maine anyway. And I wrote about my hopes for him, as if my fierce love could forge a bullying-free childhood for him, as if my fierce love could insure a pain-free path to adulthood for him.
Maybe it’s a mom’s intuition. We “get” our kids beyond gay and straight, beyond what reason can explain. We can tell from two stories down, which baby upstairs is rustling. I knew Zac’s infant cry, could distinguish his sneeze from his sister’s and discerned exactly what each cough meant. I’d say to my husband, “Hear him?”
My husband would say, “Um. I guess. That’s Zac? I’ll go.”
“Thanks. it won’t work. He wants me.”
“How do you know?”
“I can tell.”
A Mom’s whole body knows her children. How do we understand them so well? We can’t say. It’s a tone, a look, a feeling, a mother’s sense.
And when there is a rupture, both mom and son feel the tear. On a visit to twenty-nine year-old Zac, then living in New York city, my queasy stomach, the sign of a gut instinct, warned me, “You know he does not like to be nagged. Do not ask him again about those tickets.”
I knew better and I asked anyway. “Have you bought those tickets to the Broadway show you promised? Are we going to the theater?”
His usual flamboyance flattened. My belly churned. His deep brown eyes darted away. “I don’t know, Mom.”
I caught the bother in his voice, saw the gritted teeth, heard the silent and deafening gap between “don’t know” and “mom,” and the staccato “t” in “don’t.”
I skulked, “Oh.”
I knew he heard my frustration. My lower jaw gripped. At moments like this, moments of mother-son temporary disconnect, I stop. After a breath, I made a bid to reconnect. “I’m so excited to see you.”
He looked up at me and smiled, “Me too.”
I sensed he had relaxed some. How? His tone downshifted, softened. I could also feel his lingering annoyance. Body jittery and nerves jiggly, I opened my arms to reach for him. He hugged me, “It’s ok, Mom.”
In that full embrace, we then planned our few days. We’d sample hair products together, eat in funky cafes, walk to design shops all over the city, and talk fashion, facial masks and bronzers. His friends said, “He looks just like you. He has your smile.”
He put his arms around my shoulders. Both at the same moment, we made the same eyebrow-raising face, kissed each other. Being a mother is an affair of the heart.
I am married to a heterosexual man, had a heterosexual father, have four heterosexual brothers, and dated many a straight guy. I never wondered whether any of those males chose to be attracted to women. I never asked them, “When did you know you were straight? When did you come out as non-gay? Are you sure you like women? Why do you choose female partners rather than male?”
And I never asked Zac, “Are you sure you like men? Why do you choose male partners rather than female?” Because I knew. Of course he was sure. And of course it’s not a choice.
At age fourteen, when he came out to me, I did ask, “When did you know?”
He said, “I’ve known forever.”
I nodded. “Me, too.”
I know that straight men do not choose their sexual orientation any more than Zac chose his. And so I fought in Maine for the Equal Rights Bill, then I fought for gay marriage. I fought for love is love. I marched for fairness for all children. I rang doorbells and passed out flyers.
When I hear the words “democratic society of equals,” I feel the pain of the subordinated, dismissed, disenfranchised, pathologized and marginalized, the ones who get thrown against lockers and chosen last or not at all. Non-equality hurts my son, other sons, whose homosexual brain structures and gay genetic codes are their truth, like inherited curly hair or ruddy freckles, all genuine aspects of who they are.
I believe what is also hard-wired into our brains are our inborn instincts for compassion, empathy, justice and equal opportunity. I know I’m not alone; like most moms, my biggest fears and largest hopes are for my children, your children, and our children of this world which sorely needs our soft hearts, open minds and growing souls.