January 17, 2012

Reality Check

So, first things first. We have dates for this semester's Man to Man meetings! Check them out below and mark your calendars. All meetings will be at 7pm in the LGBT Center.

January 31st
February 28th
March 27th
April 17th

I hope to see you a lot of you guys at the meetings. I'm so incredibly excited about this! If you have any questions, feel free to email me at ajb56@duke.edu.

Now, on to the real post...

I've been out to my mom for about 4 years now, however, it's not something we talk about. At least, not in casual terms. Whenever the topic of my sexuality comes up, it's in hushed tones that weigh heavy in the air making it incapable for me to catch my breath from the immense weight that I feel on my shoulders from those hushed tones. The conversation always references God, hell, sin, and, worst of all, choice. So, when I decided to tell my mom about my boyfriend, I knew that I'd be in for the same thing but was hoping that it would be a little better.

I wanted to wait until probably the day before I left to come back to Duke to tell my mom about my boyfriend. I was hoping for a decent reaction but preparing for the worst. However, fate did not let it happen that way. We were having a conversation about Facebook and privacy when she just asked me: "Do you have a boyfriend?".

I was so shocked that she asked that I didn't know what to say. I never expected my mom to ask me. I was supposed to tell her. The role reversal had my mind spinning. What did this mean? Was she asking because she was genuinely interested or does she believe that me having a boyfriend is a reason for all of the changes she's seen in me (My mom believes that Duke and being gay has changed me from the son she once knew to this new person. Blog post on that coming soon. Stay tuned folks!)? It could mean that she wants to know more about my life and wants to be involved or she could use this knowledge as a weapon against me.

"...Yes, I do have a boyfriend..."- Me

"Ok, tell me about him."- Mom

We began to talk about him and she could sense my hesitancy and how uncomfortable I was talking about him. She didn't understand why I didn't feel comfortable talking to her about my sexuality. I began to cry as I explained to her how hearing I'm a sinner, a pervert, suffering from some sickness or disease every Sunday makes it difficult for me to talk to her about my life. When her life centers so much around church and religion, I just can't casually stroll into the house and talk about my boyfriend.

"Well, yes. I think that you choosing to like men is wrong but it's your life. You know what the Bible says about that. You can choose to do whatever you want. I don't have to agree with it or like it, but it's your life."

Hearing her say that hurt me so much and caused me so much pain that I felt my heart turn to stone. At that instant, I knew that we would never have a great relationship again. I didn't want to have the argument with her about how my sexuality is NOT a choice. I didn't want to ask her about the teachings of love and acceptance in the Bible. I didn't want to discuss it with her ever again. She wasn't going to change her mind or even try to hear my side of things. When my mom makes up her mind, it's done and no one can tell her any differently. I knew that I lost the argument before it even started.

"But, you know, at the root of it all, I just want you to be happy. I've learned that people should be happy in life. As long as you are happy, that's all that matters. Are you happy?"

"Yes, very."

"Good. That's all that matters."

UUUMMMMMMMMMM ok? To say I was thrown for a loop is an understatement. So she doesn't accept or agree with who I am but it's ok because I'm happy? Eventually, I understood what she meant. She wants me to make the choices that make me happy and if one of those "choices" is being gay, then so be it. My heart turned from stone to wood. I knew that she didn't hate me and wanted me to be happy but wishes that I found happiness in a different way.

And therein lies the rub. If I could change what makes me happy, everything would be fine but I can't do that. She keeps saying I haven't found the right girl and that it's just a phase but it's not. It's just not. There is no right girl for me. But I can't make her see that. And I've realized that now. We have fundamentally different views and we're not going to agree on them. It's sad but it's the reality of the matter.


  1. I understand that the relationship between you and your mother isn't perfect or ideal (i.e. she wants you to be happy but isn't fully OK with your sexuality), but I appreciate that your story DOES show how parents can change, even slowly and imperfectly. It's important to recognize, because it takes "it gets better" into a more 'real' perspective. I think sometimes people use the phrase 'it gets better' to imply a monstrous and dramatic shift in thought, i.e. you graduate high school and your once-homophobic family/community are showered in fairy dust that makes them realize their mistakes......when really, 'getting better' can happen via smaller, more incremental changes, like a mother simply acknowledging that her son might have a boyfriend. Again, I don't want to gloss over the darker side to your story, but it's important for you to have shared this with everyone. It might be impossible for some closeted folks to believe their uber-religious parents would ever come around to understanding and embracing their child's sexual orientation. Therefore, your perspective -- real and raw, sad but hopeful -- is much appreciated.

  2. Hi AJ!

    Mothers can feel the love that other mothers have for their children. We can feel one another's pride. We easily sense another mother's worries and sadness. Through your post above and your BDU posts of the past, I certainly feel your mother's pride and love for you, and I certainly sense her worry about you. What I do not sense or feel is that she has any negative feelings about you, as her son.

    This may not be the best analogy, but think of all of the people in the world that still believe you can get sick from not wearing a hat or coat when it's cold outside. They grew up with this belief so engrained that, even though they may know science doesn't support it, they still pass this belief on to their children. They still wear their hats and coats just because, and they still make their children and grandchildren do the same.

    I think your mother's religious beliefs are a lot like the beliefs about the weather making people sick. They are so engrained in her that any amount of change is going to take a lot of time - but guess what? Your mom has just unbuttoned that coat a little, and she's probably figuring out that she's not sick yet. Eventually, she will hopefully unbutton a little more, maybe even take it off, and someday, maybe even lose the hat.

    Your mother has chosen to peek inside your world by asking if you have a boyfriend. Your job now is to show her that what's inside really isn't that scary and is actually pretty wonderful. She really does want you to be happy. She's fearful that your world won't be a happy world, because she's grown up being told that it's not. It's time to start sharing some things with her, to show her that everything really is (and will be) okay.

    One of the very best things I did as a mom was to start reading the BDU blog. I'm certainly not saying that your mom is ready for that step now, but providing her with some information might be quite comforting to her. For me, some important things were knowing there is a "Janie" for help, knowing that there are a lot of quite happy, quite gay, quite successful students at Duke, knowing about all of the LGBT organizations there, knowing that the center is a Duke center with faculty involvement, and knowing that my kid feels very accepted by his straight friends there, as well as his gay friends.

    The world is changing. I see it every day. Your mom can change too. It won't happen overnight, but don't give up. Even if you can't talk with her about relationship issues yet, talk to her about ways the world is changing, and especially about the world at Duke. That's a safe place to start. Don't give up on your mom. Let her in, even if she peeks in and then withdraws sometimes. She wants to be there. I promise. She's scared, but she loves you very much.