It’s an awful thing to find out that you – who claim to be enlightened and open-minded – are a bigot deep down inside. Or worse – a homophobic bigot.
I grew up a child of the protest years of the 60s and 70s. I stuffed envelopes for George McGovern’s presidential campaign because he was all for ending the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam immediately, and so was I. Civil rights, women’s rights, and the freedom to do just about anything you wanted to do was on my list of acceptable opinions.
So was racial equality, which didn’t sit well with my parents. You need to know that my family background was white, Lutheran, middle-class Scandinavians in the middle of America’s heartland, Minnesota. Until the bussing that was meant to address segregation in our schools, there were no students of color in my junior high school. I remember when the first group arrived – all four of them. I immediately made friends with all of them; partly to spite my parents, I think. But I discovered that just because someone was different from me didn’t mean they had to be left out of my world. Quite the contrary. I have a someone eclectic personality, and everything from my clothing to my taste in food and music is quite jumbled up. (My Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa albums were stacked right next to Barry Manilow and John Denver.)
As a teenager, I was proud of the fact that I had accumulated a diverse group of friends. But sadly, they weren’t welcome at my house. In fact, the day my new boyfriend, whose mother was Lebanese, showed up to get me for a date, my dad exclaimed that he wouldn’t let that (insert derogatory word) in the house. My parents would probably roll over in their graves if they knew that after I had moved away from home I dated a couple men of color.
My family’s opinions on homosexuality were just as vehement. I recall watching the Beatles in their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Even though I was only 9 years old, the memory of my uncle jumping up and turning off the TV because we weren’t going to watch those damned (insert your choice of a homophobic word). I had no idea what he was talking about, but I got the message it was a bad thing to be whatever that word meant. Being raised a fundamental, hell-fire-and-brimstone Protestant, condemnation of gays and lesbians was almost required. Except I knew a few gay men, and they were my friends. And I couldn’t figure out what was so objectionable about them. What they did in their personal lives didn’t affect me, and I didn’t care. Or so I thought. But sometimes those things that are ingrained in us as very young children tend to be hard to root out, especially if you don’t know they are even there and that they affect how you think without you even realizing it. But then something happens and the real you comes out.
The inner workings of my subconscious were revealed a couple of years ago when my pregnant daughter announced she was breaking off her engagement because she was ready to admit she preferred women and not men. It was a rather casual statement when I asked her when the wedding was. “There isn’t going to be one, Mom,” she said. “I tried to, I really did, but I don’t like men that way. I’d rather be with a woman.” She said the thought of a life with that man just to give her baby a father made her miserable.
We were sitting on the edge of her bed in our guest room. She had come to visit before she was leaving for an Army assignment in Germany. For a moment I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even speak. I wanted to throw up. Surely she couldn’t be serious?
Why this hit me so hard I still don’t understand. In the past, she had one slightly serious lesbian relationship, but I told myself it was a phase. She’d had a couple of bad relationships with men, so I could make excuses in my mind for her taking a break from the male population. But I knew I was on shaky ground with that argument and I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her in case she could read the shock and disbelief on my face.
At that moment I realized that what I said and did next would be crucial to our relationship and to where she was emotionally. She had just discovered she was pregnant and was in a panic about what it would do for her Army career. She was seeking advice as to whether she should tell her commanding officer before she got to the base or whether to keep it a secret. So far she hadn’t told anyone but the father and my husband and me. She needed me to be her mom and help to make things all right again. That’s what moms are supposed to do.
So I steeled my mind to deal with what was for her the most pressing issue. The subject of her sexuality wasn’t even important in her mind, just her pregnancy. Sometimes as a parent that is one of the hardest things to do - focus on what’s having the biggest impact on your child, not what matters to you. (And by the way, for all you parents of young children, that only gets harder as they get older, and it certainly doesn’t stop when they become adults.)
Talking about her options regarding notifying the military of her condition bought me some time to deal with my feelings on what she had told me about finally coming out as a lesbian. I didn’t even have any thoughts to process at that point, because what I was sure I believed and what my gut reaction was were at odds. I felt some relief at not having to engage that conflict at the time. It was far easier to help steer her through her emotions on unintended pregnancy. For her, that was a more difficult thing to admit to us than her sexual preference. To her, that was no big deal. Pregnancy as an unmarried woman, well, in her mind that was a much bigger deal. To me, not so much. I had been there as an 18-year-old who was ostracized by my parents. I knew the impact that had on me, and I was not about to do that to her. We would support her in whatever she chose to do.
And then it hit me, hard. How was it that I could accept her being pregnant but not being a lesbian? Why was one okay and one wasn’t? And if I were indeed willing to support her in one choice, why not in the other? I realized I had become what I had dreaded - my hypocritical mother. That thought was like a slap in the face. And now my stomach was churning for a different reason.
Did I have my daughter’s well-being at heart or maintaining my own deep-seated moral compass?
Ultimately, if you are truly a good parent, you want your children to be happy. I think that’s what did it for me. My daughter’s saying she was miserably trumped any inbred judgmental thoughts I might have held. At that moment I had two choices: to hang onto a belief system I didn’t even realize I held, or to support my daughter in whatever she chose to do to find happiness.
I’m still a Christian, although the fundamentalist part has fallen by the wayside. Instead, I choose to hang onto the basics: For God so loved the world. God is love. A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I think you get the idea.
She’s now married to a wonderful woman I am pleased to call my daughter-in-law. I say ‘pleased’ because I have never seen my daughter so happy and at peace. It almost surprises me at how easy it has been for me to accept her wife into our family. We recently ‘met’ for the first time on a video chat, and it was awkward at first. She admitted she felt uncomfortable, unsure of my reaction. She said she hadn’t told her dysfunctional family yet. “Kiddo,” I said, “all families are dysfunctional.” She laughed, and the tension melted away.
My granddaughter has two moms, so she’s doubly blessed. My husband and I (as well as her brother and sister) are very supportive of her. In fact, to her siblings, it was never a big deal. They were more concerned when she was about to marry the guy they thought was a real jerk. It seems like our friends are all supportive and encouraging. And if they weren’t, well, it isn’t their decision and it isn’t their place to say anything. It isn’t even mine. Although for those who might judge her, I vehemently let them know that I love my daughter unconditionally. A friend told me that she would pray for her to find the right man. I told her my prayer was for her to find a partner who brought her happiness. And she has, which to those of us who love her is the best thing yet.
The inevitable conclusion I reached is that my choices are mine alone and that I do not have the right (or even the desire) to dictate to others what theirs should be unless my opinion is asked for. And even then, I would hesitate to offer it. I don’t have to understand or even agree with something to accept it. At least, that’s how I think it should be if love is what governs your heart. She’s an adult, so she doesn’t need my approval. And any disapproval would be out of step with my love for her.
Do I approve of gay marriage? I don’t have to. Do I disapprove? My vote on the topic doesn’t count. All that matters to me is that my daughter is happy in her gay marriage. And it appears my granddaughter seems very happy with things the way they are, too.
That’s enough for me.
Katie Schweiss, has been a story teller since she was a small child who needed to blame something on a sibling. Her somewhat eclectic interests and natural wanderlust have given her a wide variety of subjects to explore. Majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota, she has put her thoughts in writing in a variety of ways. Her creative outlets include an autobiographical novel she's been working on for 10 years, as well as short pieces based on her life - some deeply personal and reflective, with others being a fond, nostalgic look-back at the world of her youth growing up in the 50s and 60s. She also explores the effects those experiences have had on her adult life. You can read more of her stories by following her Facebook page, "A Child of the East Side." https://www.facebook.com/childoftheeastsideStPaulMN/?modal=admin_todo_tour