Sunday, April 29, 2012

It Begins At Home

Recently, a young woman I know reached out to me for help in coming out to her friends. I hadn't even known that Cath (not her real name) was a lesbian. I really hadn't given it much thought. I like Cath but I don't know her well. At 20,  she's someone I think of as a "nice kid." I was touched that she chose me to talk to about something so important, and that she wanted my advice and support. Not only is our relationship more of an acquaintance than a friendship, but I'm not in any way an expert on this topic. I'm no longer young.  I'm not a social worker or counselor. I'm not someone who's experienced any significant struggles in this area.

What emerged, as Cath told me about her situation, was that her parents know she's a lesbian, and have known for a while. She disclosed to them years ago, assuming they'd be fine with it. Cath's parents, you see, are very liberal. They have lots of friends in the gay community. They've advocated for the rights of homosexuals. They raised Cath with the idea that people are people, and that homosexuality is just as normal as anything else.  In fact, Cath was born and raised in San Francisco, where her parents always took her to the annual Pride parade.  So, when Cath - then in her late teens -  disclosed to her parents, she did so with the expectation that she'd have their full support.  Sadly, this has not been the case.

Cath's parents did not take the news well, at all. Now, several years later, they're no closer to embracing who and what she closer to supporting her as she prepares to disclose to her peers. Let me make this clear - Cath's parents are decent people. They love their daughter. They support, in theory, the equality of homosexuals to heterosexuals. They just don't seem very good at coping when faced with theory becoming a reality within their own family. They want to know where they went wrong. They want to know if they should have raised Cath differently. They've witnessed, first hand, how difficult life can be for homosexuals, and wonder why their child has "chosen" such a difficult path to tread. They are not bad people, but they are cliches. I hate to say it, but these good people are not being good parents. They're certainly not being friends to their daughter, when that's what she desperately needs, right now from them: friendship.  They probably don't realize it, but their lack of support is actually a rejection. And their rejection of who and what Cath is has undermined her self-confidence. She tested the waters with her parents - her nearest and dearest - and they blew it. Instead of finding the waters warm and calm, her parents' initial reaction and continued rejection has been as cold as an Alpine lake. This is one of the reasons she's turned to me - someone she barely knows - for friendship and support.

This morning, I woke up to this story, about a father who contacted a radio show, upset to discover his daughter may be a lesbian, and the radio show host suggesting that the father have one of his friends "screw her straight." Somewhere in America, some idiot father is getting advice from a shock-jockey, instead of sitting down and assuring his gay kid that she'll always be his kid, and that he'll always love her. Somewhere in America, some animal is suggesting rape as an antidote to female homosexuality.

This upsetting story made me think about Cath. While her parents are not fundamentally bad people, they're behaving badly. Their rejection has had a profound impact on her. They need to step back and realize that this is not about them, that Cath didn't open up to them because she wanted to punish them, or send them into a 4-year exercise in self-pity and self-absorption. She opened up to them because she thought she could count on them to be there for her. Sadly, they've failed her. They've failed her so badly that she's finally turned, after years of just quietly living with her parents' rejection, (Cath tells me her parents doubt she's really gay, and expect she'll "snap out of it" soon enough) to someone who is practically a stranger for friendship and validation.

I like Cath. I'm happy to be a friend to her. As I said, though, I'm not a social worker or a counselor. More importantly, though, I'm not a parent. I'm not Cath's parent. In her frustration, this young woman has turned to me because she likes what she knows about me and figures I won't insult her or question her decision to start coming out to her friends. And I won't. But I'm no substitute for a supportive parent, and a young person in this position who has parents shouldn't have to look for surrogates.

This stuff is supposed to begin at home, and it's not charity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Being There

A few days ago, I got back from visiting family. It was a great visit, but a difficult one. It was my first time visiting since losing my mother. Life without my mother has been so hard, at times. I don't mean to get all dark - I'm actually very happy in my life, right now - but there are moments when I don't even know how I manage to get by in a world without my mother. She loomed large for me.

While visiting, I spent a lot of time with my nephews. Their parents are going through a pretty messy/nasty break-up. Their dad - a man I always loved as a brother - has decided that a break-up with his wife means a break-up with his children. The children he was always so close to. The children who he always said were his best friends. The youngest child - my beautiful, 6 yr old nephew - can't understand why his dad never calls, never picks him up for visits, anymore, and doesn't respond to the many phone messages he's left him. In his six year old mind, he's done something to cause this, and there really is no way to let him know that nothing that's happened is his fault.

There's no way to explain to a six year old that the father who was always such a great guy has recently turned into a self-centered asshole who is more interested in pissing off his ex-wife, than in loving his children.

Witnessing what this abandonment has done to this precious boy made me think about my own parents. I adored (still adore) my mother. She was my best friend. When I think about why losing her has had such a profound effect on me, the reason is ridiculously clear: I miss her because SHE WAS THERE. She was there for me. Always. Every day. She offered unconditional love and support. She never walked away. She always answered my calls. I knew, absolutely, that I could count on her. That's it, and that's everything. She was always there, and now, she isn't. Of course there's a huge, gaping hole. When I made mistakes, she was there. When I was obnoxious, she was there. When I needed bailing out of situations, she was there. When I did anything that warranted recognition, she was there. When I was sick, she was there. When I woke up in the morning and needed someone to talk to over a cup of coffee, she was there. When I said I was in love with a woman and was going to move to the other side of the planet to build a life with her, she was there.

I am not saying that we never argued, or that we never got on one another's nerves.

I'm not saying that my mother was a saint.

If anything, I'm saying that she was so very human.

What I'm saying is that she was there. She didn't walk away. She didn't turn her back on me, ever. She was always there, and I always knew she'd be there. I could count on her to be there for me. Because real parents don't leave. They just don't. I'm 45 years old and, if my mother were alive, today, she'd still be there for me. I was so blessed, for so long, that not having her makes me ache.

It's natural for a 45 year old to ache like this. A six year old isn't supposed to. A six year old shouldn't have to ask himself what he's done to make his father leave. A six year old shouldn't be having dreams about telling his dad not to cut into a friend's birthday cake, and then having his father walk away in anger over being denied a slice of cake.

You probably won't read this, but in the slim chance that you do: Be as mad at my sister as you like. Hate her, for all I care. Call her whatever names you like. But, be a man, when it comes to your kids. Be there, asshole.

© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves