Being the parent of a gay parent

On Being a Gay Parent

by Brett Webb-Mitchell    
Published: October 29, 2011 in On Being a Gay Parent

While it would’ve been helpful at times to have an operating instruction manual in raising children, it simply did not come with the arrival of my children. I hunted for it in all kinds of places, but never did find it. And, while my parents often seemed to raise my brother and I effortlessly at times, I now know that most parents do what we do as parents with our children from the seat of our pants. In performing arts terms, parenting is all about the art of improvisation, day in and day out.

Coming out is a similar process: there is no operating instruction manual in the art of coming out of one’s closet as an LGBTQ person. I still find it fascinating that those of us who are LGBTQ have gone through the process of coming out at one point or another — or often in different contexts — even though there is no step-by-step plan, ritual, ceremony or party to celebrate such an achievement in one’s life. I’ve yet to find a holiday card for such an occasion, though I’m sure some entrepreneur has already thought about this niche market. When I came “out” of my “closet” to my family (though the metaphor of armoire is a better description in talking about the closet’s portability) my family network included not only my former wife and children, but my mom and dad as well. As a fan of family system theory used in the therapeutic community (I’ve used this theory in both academic and church contexts), I watched in awe as news of my being gay hit the watery surface of my family, with a ripple effect carrying news of my self-revelation and identification far and wide, catching the ear of various extended family members in my family of origin and my former wife’s family. Soon, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and second cousins were “in” on the hot gossip of the day. Once the gay was out of the armoire, there was no longer a secret about who I was. After all, the quickest way of killing a secret is telling everyone what the secret is.

One of the unexpected results of baring my soul and stepping out of my armoire is that my mom has become a point person for other older parents of out-LGBTQ adult-children who are in the process of coming out. Gossip sometimes works for the good of all. (The root of the word “gossip” is “Godspell” or the “Good News.”) The gossip in my mom’s community in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, is that her son is a parent of two young adult children, book author and Presbyterian minister who is gay. Lo and behold, neighbors — some of whom she has said little more than “hi” to — stop her on her daily walks around the community and simply said, “Liz, can I ask you a question? My 40 year-old daughter just told me she is a lesbian, and I don’t know what to make of this news.” My mom — who is by vocation and self-identification a nurse — then simply shares her experience of learning that I was gay. She is quick to let others know, first, “it’s going to be OK,” or in her own way to let the other older parents know “it gets better.” She has spoken up and out at our home Presbyterian church and other churches in the area, encouraging them to become part of More Light Presbyterians (an LGBTQ and straight ally in the PCUSA). One of my friends in her home church calls her his favorite fruit fly. “What’s a fruit fly?” she asked me. “And, is that good?” “You’re fine,” I assured her, chuckling to myself that my mother was called a fruit fly.

While an operation manual would’ve been helpful at certain stages of this “coming out” journey, my hope is such stories like mine, like our families, provide a map for others who would like to know what may be coming their way. It is an open-ended adventure that continues to amaze me, each and every step of the way. : :