My son, Justin, is left handed. It’s not something I ever expected for any of my children. I first became suspicious of this when he was very young, but I didn’t acknowledge it, hoping he would eventually start using the right. I didn’t really care if he was a lefty, but knew what a challenge it would be in life, and wanted to protect him from anything that could cause unneeded pain or issues. Like most parents, I just assumed he would be right handed. We didn’t raise him any differently than our other four children who are right handed. We considered trying to make him use his right hand- simply to see if maybe it was just a phase, but he always ended up reaching for a pencil or fork with his left. When he played baseball, we could see the looks from others when he stepped to the other side of the base when he was up to bat. I remember the day he asked to be on the outside of the restaurant booth because it was easier for him to be who he was and use that left hand. I realized then that it didn’t make a bit of difference which hand he used. He didn’t just accept who he was, he owned it. Now I often forget he’s a lefty. It’s just a part of him and regardless of which hand any of my children use, I will support and accept them.
This may sound ridiculous, but it is basically how I feel when it comes to being the parent of a child who is gay. It is part of what they’re made of. It’s simply who they are. This isn’t to say there weren’t challenges and concerns, especially those early years– there were plenty.
“Mom, I’m gay.” It’s not what any mother expects to hear from their child and I’ve heard it twice. Both my twin sons came out fifteen years ago when they were in high school. It wasn’t really a shock, and it certainly wasn’t a disappointment, but as a parent, it was a worry and a concern.
I have five children, including two sets of twins. Three girls and two boys. All are now grown and on their own. We live in southeastern Idaho. It is small, rural, and a great place to live and raise a family, but it’s also very conservative and I worried what affect that would have on my sons. While there have been examples of when my boys were treated terribly because they were gay, more often there were experiences where my boys found kindness and acceptance.
When my boys came out, I was working as a television news anchor for the NBC affiliate here in Eastern Idaho and because of my job, I regularly worked with young people from all over the country. Many of the newly graduated reporters take jobs in this area to start their careers, so along with a new position as a journalist, they were also adjusting to a new and different place to live. For most it was their first job out of school, and very different from the bigger cities they were used to. Often they were very lonely and felt out of place, but I saw their resilience and their ability to adapt to their new surroundings. I saw them build friendships and find an appreciation and even love for this area. Most were really sad to leave as they went off to bigger cities to further their careers. I too had lived in many different parts of the country and had experienced both the good and bad in people. Gaining awareness and empathy for other people made a huge difference for me not only in being a parent, but as a person. This along with my own upbringing in a very supportive and encouraging family, better prepared me for what would be a challenging and often heart wrenching first couple years after my boys came out.
I’ve never told my children to be someone they are not, and yet I found myself wary of my boys being out, especially at school. All of their siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles were supportive of them. They also had a few friends who were aware, but as time went on, there were a couple of events and issues involving other students and even teachers, that varied from snide remarks to flat out threats. I wanted to protect my sons and considered telling them to keep things to themselves. But I didn’t, and my boys refused to not be who they are. Even with some of those hurtful situations, they ended up having many wonderful experiences and made lifelong friends. When they graduated and left for college, again, as a mother I was worried about sending them out into the big world. However, both boys learned a lot about themselves and while they’ve still faced challenges in life, they’ve grown from those experiences and are now both in long-term committed relationships and are happy. Which makes this mama very happy. Isn’t that what any parent wants for their child?
I’ve seen the struggle of not only my own sons, but of other people all over the country who have faced issues dealing with marriage equality, job and housing discrimination, and even brutal violence. And yes, it’s hit home and has made me a more vocal and determined ally. I was the co-chair of the Fair Pocatello non-discrimination ordinance and during the campaign there were a number of debates, letters to the editor, and discussion on social media. It was an issue many didn’t even know existed until it was presented and discussed. I’m proud that the people in our area supported and passed it with an overwhelming number of votes.
Being a Mama Dragon has helped me see that we have similar stories and also very different ones. In other words, there is no blueprint on the right way to parent a gay child. After all these years, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to be there for them and to listen. Like anyone else, what they really need is a safe space to figure out who they are and what they want in life. It’s no different than with my three straight daughters.
Years ago when speaking to a group, I was asked if I treated my sons any differently from my other children. My answer is the same today. They are no more or less special. Being gay is similar to having hazel eyes as opposed to having blue or brown. It’s something they were born with and it’s simply who they are. All my children are unique, and I love them all (however, Justin will tell you being a lefty makes him just a little more unique).
In addition to being Justin’s mom, Brenda is the author of several books and cookbooks.