Telling Mom

(Originally posted on May 11, 2012 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)

I love my mother.

I came out to her eight years ago, in an email, with practically the whole nation of Canada between us. I had only come out to a few people by then; people whose reactions I could more or less predict with confidence. But telling Mom was proving to be a challenge. Months earlier I had tried to do it in person but chickened out.

I was genuinely unsure of what she would say. She grew up Catholic in a tiny east coast community where gays might as well have been mythical creatures. It’s only now that I can look back and realize that I grew up that way, too.

There was nothing special about the day I decided to tell her. I guess I just felt ready. But I wasn’t brave enough for a phone conversation, so I laid it all out in an email. I reread it a few times, and then I hit “send.” I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a good night’s sleep.

I had sent the email from my sister’s place, because my internet connection was down. When I woke up the next morning (at my apartment), I was unable to check for a response. (There were no iPhones in 2004!)  I dragged myself to work, all the while wondering what Mom was thinking and what she would say. I checked my email on my lunch break. No answer. I checked again just before leaving work. There, in my inbox, was an email from my Mom, re: my subject line.

Deciding that work was not the ideal place to experience this significant moment, I shut down my computer and headed for home.  My internet was still down, so I raced to my sister’s, where I read my mother’s words:

Hi Mo… Dad is home this week so he and I got to read your letter at the same time. It must have been very hard for you to keep this to yourself for so long but we are glad you decided to tell us. It came as a bit of a shock but it does not change how we feel about you. It might take me a couple of days to adjust to all this but don’t worry… I will be fine. You are still our daughter whom we are very proud of and we know it has not been easy for you keeping this to yourself for so long. We want you to be happy… everyone should be happy so I hope that by telling us you have lifted a big weight off your shoulders. REMEMBER THAT WE LOVE YOU AND YOU CAN ALWAYS COME HOME!!!!! We will be talking to you this weekend for sure. If you want to call before then, we will keep our eyes open till at least 9:30 PM. Love, Mom and Dad.

I found out later, through a third-hand account, that my mother cried after reading my email. I’ve never asked her if that’s true. I think, if she did cry, it was out of worry (not disappointment). I also think she was upset to hear how unhappy I had been for so long. But I give her credit for not letting me know that she was upset. At the time, I was too fragile to know.

Lately, I’ve been telling people that I wish I had been courageous enough to come out to my mother in person. That even if the moment had been awkward or painful, at least it would make for an interesting story now. But having reflected on this, and having just reread this email from my mother that I haven’t read in years, I see that I unwittingly gave myself a gift that day. I don’t have to rely on my own stressball memories to relive this moment… I have it in writing.

For the first little while after the email, Mom was hesitant to talk about my being gay. She was certainly careful with choosing her terminology. Initially, my coming out was referred to as “my news” or “my situation.” A couple of years later, Mom managed to ask (in hushed tones) what the correct term was for a gay woman.

“Should I call you a lesbian?”

But time and patience can take you to unexpected places. Now, in 2012, I have a mother who talks to me about her ever-developing gaydar, knows the name of Ellen Degeneres’ wife, and jokes about being escorted from the Pride Centre by two burly women for tripping the straight alarm. We talk on the phone every Saturday and my gayness is not only an acceptable topic, but the one she most enjoys talking about. Our relationship is the best it’s ever been, because at long last we really know each other. The thing that I feared would drive us apart has actually made us closer.

Eight years ago, I surprised my mother. To this day, she’s still surprising me.


small mo

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