I wrote this in 2015. Even though I knew I wouldn’t share it just then, I wanted to get the words down while they were fresh. Now that all the processing has been long since done, and I finally remembered that I had written them down in the first place, here they are:
Our 14-year-old daughter came out to us last night. Tom and I came home from date night to the familiar sight of our two teenage daughters stretched out on the couch watching TV. Not moving from her horizontal position, nor really even bothering to make eye contact with us, 16-year-old Ciara announced, “Aoife’s got something to tell you”. Aoife continued to watch TV too. “Yup. It’s no big deal – I’m gay,” she said. Or something along those lines. My husband and I exchanged quick startled looks, while otherwise exuding total nonchalance.
We hope that we have made it clear to our children that they will be loved no matter what, and we’ve also been very public in our support of gay rights. Our kids know that I (a touch judgmentally, perhaps) pigeonhole people based on their attitudes towards gays; if you support the suppression of human rights and civil liberties based on sexual orientation, then you’re no friend of mine. That’s the house we’ve raised them in. But even with that, honestly, we were a bit taken aback.
Maybe Aoife’s penchant for wearing a superman costume day and night as a toddler should have been a tip-off? I had put her attraction to boy clothes down to the fact that she had a new baby brother and felt he was getting too much attention. Also I realized the cross dressing was not necessarily related to sexuality, and Aoife had been happily dressing as a girl for a long time since then. She had even talked about boys in a way that had would have dispelled any suspicions I might have had. She did play golf, mind. Could that have been a clue? Mostly though the question was how had we, such hip cool parents, managed to be so totally oblivious to this important piece of information about our child?
Back to the announcement; Tom said, “For real?” and upon a nodded confirmation from Aoife, continued, “Good for you. We love you,” and headed off to bed. Bastard. I had questions but I certainly didn’t want to be the less cool parent. I sat on the arm of the couch, all casual like, and asked Aoife some, “Are you sure?”, “How long have you known?”, and “Who’ve you told?” type questions.
It turned that just about her whole high school knew, and had for a while. Our eldest, Ciara, was a bit pissed off to get the news from a friend earlier that day. I was a bit pissed off that I, her gay-hugging mother, was hearing it only after some 3000 teenagers at school had heard it first. I told her that I was happy for her that she was being her authentic self (or some such thing), and that I loved her, and I too shuffled off to bed. Confused.
Next morning, I’m in this strange space of watching my thought process relative to now having a gay daughter, or at least, now knowing I have a gay daughter. I’m worried about what that means for her while also giving thanks that this child is as self-assured and confident as she is. I’m grappling with a new reality. Tom’s gone on shift. Aoife is the first of our three kids to get up that morning, and she suggests that she and I go out for breakfast. I take that to mean she wants to talk things through with her hip, supportive mother.
On our walk to the restaurant, I offer silence, hoping Aoife will fill it with information that helps me understand the nuances of her announcement. Crickets. We walk in silence – me biting my tongue – and Aoife volunteering nothing. After we get to the restaurant, and have ordered, unable to contain myself any longer, I say “So, let’s talk”. Aoife looks at me with a degree of frustration that makes me realize this breakfast really was only all about breakfast for her.
“I can’t believe you are making such a big deal about this,” she sighs.
What? Me? I’m beyond cool, young lady. I’m supportive, and loving, and a BIG fan of gays, that’s what I am. You have seen my rainbow shirts, right? How is this me making a big deal? (internal dialogue).
“I don’t think I’m making a big deal, Aoife”.
“Well, compared to my friends you are”, she tells me. “When I told them they basically were all, yeah – whatever, and that was it”.
“No one at all was surprised by it?”, I press. I need validation.
“Nope. I even told my homophobic friends, and they were fine with it too. It’s not a big deal anymore, Mom. You’re the one who thinks it’s a big deal”.
Great. I’m even less cool than the known homophobes.
Our conversation goes on to reveal that she’s always felt this way, and it just seemed like a good time to be open about it. None of her friends were surprised at all. I feel like a bit of an idiot.
I ask her if she plans on announcing to the family. She says she doesn’t feel compelled to. No one in the family has announced that they’re heterosexual, she says, and she doesn’t feel her sexuality is really anyone’s business but hers.
My clever girl. It turns out that she, in her fourteen years on this planet, has got the sexuality thing way more figured out than me in my forty plus. She just is who she is, and that’s it. And, it seems that her generation are pretty much on the same page as her. My generation is the only place where a problem exists.
It gives me hope for the future.
So here’s what my first few steps down the path of being the parent of a “freshly announced” gay child have taught me:
- If anyone has a problem with my child being gay (and that includes me), it’s their problem, not hers.
- Nothing at all has changed. She is exactly the same person she was before I became better informed about her sexuality.
- My child’s sexuality, like anyone else’s, is not the entirety of who she is, but a component of who she is, and is, actually, her own business.
- Gay or straight, she still won’t empty the dishwasher until the fifth time she’s asked.
It appears that despite my claims of high levels of sensitivity on the subject of gayness in the past, I still have a thing or two to learn. I’m glad that I have such an incredible daughter to help me see the light. And it’s a bright light. The kind that tells me that soon there will be no more closets to come out of.
UPDATE: Aoife is now 16. She was recently elected junior class president; her third year in a row as class president at her high school. She recently was selected as one of two students from her high school to participate in the school district’s Leadership Council, and also won the district’s Slam Poetry competition – all that while maintaining great grades, working a part-time job, and being an all round excellent human.
5 thoughts on “The Light in the Closet”
WoWzER Cathy! I am so impressed with you and your family. The struggles are real within all of family & community dynamics. I think it’s important to recognize that you too have come out….on the other side of a generation that pounded the way for today. At best, Aoife is not encountering or receiving any negative push back. I hope it continues this way for her, other teens & the LGBTA population as not being set apart by sexual orientation.
However, I know the fight is not over and for all the progress made, very discriminatory laws are at risk.
I applaud your candor and outreach to address a very real American family dynamic in today’s ever changing world.
Thanks, Stacy. A lot has happened since then. We’ve had Pulse, and the reaction to Pulse, and an election. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, for sure. I do feel lucky that we live in a particulary accepting community, given it’s Florida. I have friends in similar circumstances who live in parts of Florida that aren’t quite as enlightened and their journey is far more challenging. Here’s to a future where this is a total non-issue!
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Thank you so much for writing this. Your daughter is beautiful! I have very open communication with my daughter and I found out in a round about way at the age of 12 that she says she is gay. I have had a difficult time with this & not because I could not accept this. I worry for the same reason I believe you were initially concerned. I worry for her safety. I worry about her being bullied. I worry about not just the kids but the parents that have known my daughter forever. Will they not be comfortable if she has a sleepover at their house? She has told a couple close friends and that is all. They have been accepting and nothing has changed in those friendships. She is very introverted & because of that, I worry as well. It is the path that I see as more difficult and possibly extremely hurtful made that way by people who want to label her by her sexuality and not by the wonderful, caring, talented, beautiful soul that she is! I am probably the only mother who wishes their child could fast forward in age because I see her really happy years in college. I just don’t want to see her hurt so I struggle.
I totally relate, Lesley. Anything that runs the potential of causing hardship for our kids is going to make us struggle as parents. Short of wrapping them in cotton wool, the best we can do is support them in being self-confident and in loving and valuing themselves. I had the exact same worry about parents and sleepovers, but it just has been a total non-issue. I know we’re lucky in our community – and Aoife just picked some quality kids for her friends. I hope your daughter’s journey out is a positive one for her, and that she feels that same support.