A Mother’s Story
Coming from a black family I always knew that homosexuality was frowned upon in our culture. I never thought in a million years that one day my lovely son would tell me he is gay, much less that I would have a gay child, I just can’t believe it, that it’s true, my son!! After my son told me, I hugged him and said I suspected he was going to tell me he is gay. I also told him that I love him very much and want him to be happy; we talked about it for a while.
My son whispered ‘I’m gay’ in my ear whilst hugging me, earlier that day he told me that he had something to tell me. I was scared because I suspected and had a strong feeling of what he was about to tell me!! I became weak and nervous I felt my heart stop for a minute, I couldn’t think straight and became panicky. Whilst in my bedroom I prayed and prayed that he was going to tell me something else. I didn’t want to hear what I knew he was about to say and tried to avoid the evitable.
I cried every day for three weeks and even today over a year now I am still struggling to accept the fact my son is gay and can become quite emotional.
What upset me the most is the thought of what he went through over the years prior to telling me – anxiety, depression, weight loss, moody, itchy body and at times not even speaking to me or his older brother, he even got baptized perhaps to wash it all away. It must have been extremely hard for him keeping his feelings tucked inside and coming to terms with his sexuality knowing that it is frowned upon especially in the black culture and the thought of having to tell his family.
There were two separate occasions that caused me to suspect my son was gay, the first one I dismissed it and forgot about it for a few years. The second occasion made me realise for certain that he might be gay, from that day forward until the day my son told me he was gay, I prayed, I prayed hard. I didn’t want it to be true!!
I thought it was my fault my son is gay; I thought I’d done something wrong and wished my son was still a little boy. I just couldn’t understand it and kept asking myself ‘Why’?
Other than my family, I have not told a sole about my son and struggle to tell anyone for fear of my son being rejected, friends being shocked and his sexuality discussed among so called friends as ‘gossip’. My family have been extremely supportive, caring and understanding; they have embraced my son, he is loved by us all.
Being ‘gay’ in the black culture is not easy, it’s deemed to be repulsive and just not accepted. I don’t want my son ridiculed and I am forever fearful for his safety and pray every night that he will not be harmed in any way whether verbally or physically.
I want to say to the black families that you don’t have to suffer on your own. Many months after my son told me, I searched the internet for a support group for parents of gay children and came across Families Together London (FTL) which is part of FFLAG. FTL is a support group who meet once a month and has helped me immensely; you don’t have to feel isolated or alone. You are among parents in the same situation who can identify with your pain, your thoughts and feelings.
Its early days for me but some day I hope I will get through it and you will too.
A mother who loves her son dearly - name withheld
14 April 2014
A father's story
There wasn't a Damascus moment. It was more like osmosis - a drip feed of information about our daughter's lifestyle that led us to the conclusion that she was gay. She hadn't come out to us when we contacted FFLAG. When she did finally come out to us at 17, I didn't overreact but just told her how much I loved her. The Families Together London meetings had helped prepare me for this moment! I didn't show any other emotion but inside felt a deep sense of bereavement. A loss of my daughter who was still alive, who at the time showed little respect for us and was breaking my heart with each and every action she took. Through Families Together London meetings I have unburdened myself of all the grief. I understand far more and have learnt to accept that I have a different daughter to the one I once thought I had. Families Together London has liberated me and helped to mend my broken heart. Oh! And I have a much better relationship with her too now!
A mother's anguish
I originate from the Caribbean where many people hold deeply religious beliefs which informs their views about homosexuality.
My Christian fundamentalist mother and my Presbyterian father brought me up. My father did not play an active role in my religious upbringing and my mother was the more dominant with the religious education of my siblings and myself.
As a young girl growing up within a mainly Christian fundamentalist home, my early views about homosexuality was that it was 'sinful', the liberal traditions familiar in European liberal societies were non-existent in the Caribbean. During my teenage years, I remember the ridicule that gay men faced for daring to be 'out'. I did not hear much about lesbians until I came to the United Kingdom in 1975.
Since coming to the UK, I have worked and interacted with gay and lesbian people on a social and professional level and this has made me realise that we share many of the same goals and aspirations, the only difference being that gay and lesbian people are attracted to people of the same sex. Gay people are ridiculed and hated because of this one difference.
About 2 years ago, my then 18-year-old son confided to me that he was gay. For a number of years I had considered the possibility that my son might be gay, but having it confirmed still left me with a sense of bereavement. I never imagined that having a gay son would bring up such strong feelings of powerlessness, sadness, loss, fear and loneliness in my husband and me. The questions that have run through my mind then (and now) were: What do we say to friends and relatives? Whom could we trust with such disclosure? Who would support our son and us? Who would be non-judgemental and the opposite and want to distance themselves when they knew? How best to support our son? I continued thinking that if the issue of disclosure presented so many problems for my husband and I ,what must it be like for our son? I speculated that my son could have been feeling a deep sense of isolation, distress and insecurity.He may have been thinking who can I trust if I share my secret and can I deal with losing friendships, family relationships now? I feel so helpless that I cannot protect my son from the entrenched homophobia which exists in society and also from the religious homophobia of my mother, siblings and their children.
When we first found out my husband and I only talked to each other, as we were unsure about whom we could trust and we were worried about the anticipated hostile reaction from others. We were subjected to years of extreme hostility and anger from our son and at times, it has been very difficult to support him in the face of unbridled aggression towards us. Our son talked about being 'full of rage'. We now know that he was having difficulty talking about his inner turmoil.
We sought professional counselling as we were concerned about the irretrievable fragmentation of our family but we did not disclose to the counsellor that perhaps our son's hostility and anger might be related to his own difficulties in coming to terms with his sexuality. Despite the counselling, difficulties within the family continued with my son blaming my husband for his unrelenting hostile behaviour towards us and culminated in us asking our son to leave home following his disrespect, threatening behaviour and verbal abuse.
I felt that I was giving unconditional love and in return only received anger, abuse, disrespect. At times the overwhelming anger paralysed us. My husband and I felt 'empty'. We often said to our son 'we want to help you with the difficult issues you have to face but please do not abuse us'.
Our son has recently moved out of our home to be closer to university, and we are in contact. However, the relationship remains a difficult one, which saddens us.
My husband found the FFLAG website and information and passed it on to me and I contacted Hatta from Families Together London who was extremely helpful. I felt such relief to be able to be honest with another parent like myself who empathised with me. Initially my husband and I did not speak to members of our families or friends. Our son was himself coming to terms with his sexual orientation and was angry with us as he was not ready to 'come out' to us or anyone else. We suspected that he might be gay and asked him, which forced the issue when he was not yet ready.
I have spoken to Hatta many times and have found our chats very helpful. I was able to talk with her in a frank and open way. Hatta has visited my husband and me to offer support and she invited us to the Families Together London meetings. We have not attended any meetings yet but hope to go in December. Hatta has also introduced us to another mother who lives close by. I have met with this mother and found our meetings supportive. It was amazing to hear about the similarities our boys faced growing up and at school. I am grateful for the support from Families Together London. I was at the end of my tether and did not know whom to turn to. Since speaking to Hatta and to another mother, I feel able to share some of the issues that having a gay child have on a parent. I have recently also shared with one member of my family and a few friends who have also been supportive.
Despite all the anguish that I have experienced, I do not give up hope that someday my son would realise that he does not have to fight with his Dad and I anymore. We love him yet he continues to hurt us so much.
When we have children we know that things will happen along the way, as they grow up...
... which we possibly hadn't planned for like swimming with sharks, jumping from planes, living on the other side of the world but no doubt finding a partner along the way, setting up home and having a family - just like us! Well, the story I and many other parents have isn't quite as we might have predicted.
When my son Rob was 12 he told me and then my husband that he thought he was gay. Obviously we were rather taken aback, especially as he was so young but we didn't flinch and said that children of his age, both girls and boys, were going through a topsy-turvy time with hormones flying in all directions and that this was called puberty. We told him not to worry, just put it on the back-burner and if he wanted to chat about how he felt he should talk to us. He settled back down to life at school (a boys only school), socialised very happily and it wasn't until he had done his GCSE's that he brought the subject up again. He was very relaxed about his sexuality and so were we. He went from aged 16 to Outzone, a wonderful youth group which met on Fridays, where he was able to mix freely with like-minded people. He never came out at school but it never appeared to be an issue anyway. He knew he could always talk to my husband and myself and also his older sister, as openly as he wanted.
At 18 he went to Cambridge and has just finished his degree. He met his partner when he started at Cambridge and they have been together now for over 2½ years.
What I want to say really is that things may not pan out just as one thinks they might but your son/daughter is still your son/daughter, whatever their sexual leanings might be. We have a wonderful son who through being gay has opened our eyes and the eyes of family and friends to the 'gay society'. What your children need is your support and understanding, whatever the situation, and they will hopefully go on to become rounded adults who in turn will be able to support the next generation and yes... there is no reason why they too can't become parents.
Brenda Oakes is a founder member of FFLAG.
About three weeks before he was due to go to University in 1983, Mike dropped his bombshell and announced to Jim and me that he was gay.
It was quite a shock as we had never for one minute suspected that he might be, though looking back, had we known more about this issue, we might have guessed.
Jim and I were both upset and confused, though for Michael's sake, who was about to leave home for the first time, we tried to cover it up and look cheerful. I don't think it worked. We just didn't know anything about homosexuality except for the rather negative images that the media was giving out at that time, and of course we knew only too well of the prejudice and bigotry caused by prevalent religious ideas.
We were very frightened for Mike, and imagined he would have a terrible life, lonely, isolated and possibly attacked.
We knew it had taken a lot of courage to tell us, and there was no doubt that we would continue to love and support him, but we felt that it was hard enough for him to go away to university, and being gay seemed to us at the time like another cross to bear.
We did what most parents seem to do, and thought it must be our fault. We traced back through his childhood looking for clues but found none. I brought home books and we searched in vain for a cause, eventually realising that there wasn't one, and that he is simply as he is.
We went through a kind of bereavement process, partly as he was going so far away, and partly the feeling that he was now a stranger whom we did not understand. Slowly the realisation dawned that he hadn't changed at all, we simply knew him better, and it was us, the ancient parents, who were having to go through a metamorphosis. We examined everything we had ever been taught, much of it anti-gay, and most of it from religious ideas based on fear and ignorance. We recognised the enormous gap in our knowledge. For example, as a policeman, Jim had only seen gay people as criminals. None of what we knew in those early days was helping us, it just made us more confused, as we knew our son, and we knew him to be a kind, loving, honest, hardworking and intelligent young man.
Eventually I learned about a parents' group in Manchester, and things really began to look up. It was a wonderful opportunity to share all our concerns and our ignorance with other parents, and we were greatly helped by those who had been there before us.
We didn't tell the other children for almost two years as we weren't sure what Mike wanted us to do, and we didn't like to put pressure on him.
Eventually he told Jackie himself and she insisted on the other boys and their wives knowing as well. She was upset and felt that her family might become divided, so Mike gave us permission to tell them as he went to Berlin for his year abroad. Steve and Graham and their wives were surprised, but, as we hoped, totally supportive of their younger brother.
Mike enjoyed his time at Essex and made some good friends. Gradually, as we learned more, our fears for him disappeared and we were very proud of our gay son. It wasn't something he chose, but simply was, and he was coping admirably with his life.
Since retirement we have enjoyed lots of holidays, some abroad and some in the U.K. We have become interested in bird watching, but can't really be called 'twitchers' as we're just beginners, but we've joined the R.S.P.B. and try to visit the bird sanctuaries when we can, especially those in Norfolk, where we like to go, and we stay with Mike at his home in Norwich.
A parent's story
The shock of hearing our son say he is gay is one we will always live with. Although I had my suspicions, until he put it into words, you hope it will just not be true. My husband had no idea and was utterly devastated, as too, was I. My son wanted this kept a secret for the moment so there was no one we could talk to and felt there was no way of sharing this sadness and our unhappiness, and being Jewish made it no easier. We adore our son and still do but we didn't know which way to turn for help.
We went through all the possible emotions you could think of and I even went to see a psychiatrist to see if that would help me over the depression I felt. I read in the paper an advertisement for a help group called FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). In desperation I 'phoned the number and without giving a name told a very nice man about our situation. When I mentioned I was Jewish, he gave me the number of the Support Group for Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians. Eventually I plucked up the courage to 'phone, all the time wondering what if I know the person on the other end? What if this person knows my son and tells someone?
I had no need to worry because everything I told the lady who spoke to me was in the strictest confidence. At that time, I didn't give my surname or my son's name but that wasn't a problem because she let me tell her what I wanted to, and when I felt ready to reveal more she was there to listen. She asked me if we would like to come to a meeting that took place every two months in different peoples homes, but at the time I wasn't up to that and my husband didn't want to go.
It took us eighteen months for us to be ready to go to a meeting and by then my son had told most of his close friends, though not his work colleagues, and we had told some of our family. They were very supportive but they couldn't really understand because they were not in the same situation.
When we went to our first meeting, of course, we were absolutely terrified - we didn't know what type of people would be there or, again, if we would know someone. We arrived and sat outside for ten minutes trying to pluck up the courage to go in. Eventually we did and we received a very warm welcome, it made us realise that we were not the only family in the world going through this, also it wouldn't have mattered if we would have known anyone (which we didn't) as everyone was in the same boat and had had the same experiences to lesser or greater degrees.
We went round the room and everyone there told their story. We thought we wouldn't say anything, which would have been fine too, but halfway through we found ourselves speaking about our experiences and we were relieved to find out that we could talk to people without being judged and who knew exactly what we were talking about. It was such a relief to be honest with a room full of people for the first time in a long while without having to make excuses about why our son wasn't going out with a nice girl.
We will go back to the meetings to join in again with other people like ourselves, ordinary families who just happen to have a gay child. I hope that we can also help others to see that there is help out there if you want it. Nothing can ever take the sadness away of not having grandchildren or not seeing our child get married, but we are learning slowly that there are worst things in life that can happen to you and we still have a son who we love and respect and always will.
That was quite a few years ago and now we have learnt to accept our son and love him for the wonderful human being he is. Now we just would like him to be happy with his life and find someone who he can share his life with.
Even more stories...
Click here to find more stories on the Birmingham Parents Support Group website.