Gay Sons & Their Mothers

The Pillar of Strength

Your mother sat by your bed when you had the mumps, came to the school play when you had only one line as a talking carrot, and argued with a lot of policemen when you led an anti-nuke march. Even when you took an apartment on your own, Mom stood solidly behind you.

But your Pillar of Strength crumbled the day you came out to her.

It was a phase, she insisted after she caught her breath. A pose. Another of your rebel stances. You were not to mention it again, certainly not to your father. Then she bolted from her chair and started dusting the living room in a sort of daze.

You said you just wanted her to know who you really were, that you trusted and loved her that much. Those words made her cry. You hugged her until she stopped. She whispered it must be her fault.

It wasn’t anybody’s fault, you tried. It was just life. Being gay was a built-in condition, like eye color.

A few days later, you introduced her to your boyfriend. She continued to call him your “roommate.”

During the next months, she snapped at every little thing, but it was really over one thing, the only thing. And it crackled above your exchanges like a lightening in a dark thundercloud.

One day she was Windexing a framed photo of you as a Cub Scout, and she slammed the portrait down. How could you make her suffer this way, she demanded, after the good home and the quality time — and the love.

She turned sullen. It was that wrestling coach you had worshiped — he did this to you! It was the Boy Scouts, the summer camps, those damn GQ magazines!

At home your boyfriend told you to give her time. He had, after all, lived through this with his Mom. Remember how rough it was to come out to yourself, he urged. Your mother is coming out too, in her way.

Not long after, calm did indeed settle upon your mother. On her bed table you spotted a pamphlet from PFLAG and a copy of Consenting Adult, Laura Z. Hobson’s discreetly autobiographical novel about a woman who learns to accept her gay son.

That Christmas, she told you to bring your boyfriend to unwrap presents around the tree. She wanted your father to meet him. She hugged you at the door when you arrived, then hugged your lover just as hard. By the time you left, she was calling him her “second son.” Mom and Dad behaved beautifully that evening — though your mother did wince when she happened to peek out the window just as you leaned toward the passenger seat to kiss your boyfriend on the lips.

Today, your mother worries when you and your boyfriend fight. She has marched beside you in the gay parade, been the president of the local PFLAG chapter, and spoken in private — and sometimes from lecture stages — to mothers in the first wave of shock and grief.

“Your son’s entire self-worth,” she tells them, “may hinge on whether you meet his announcement with shame or acceptance. It may surprise you to learn that one out of every four families has a gay son or daughter. Yet in our society coming out to one’s mother is an ultimate test of love — for both mother and child.”

“I’m glad my son took that chance,” she declares. “I’m grateful he chose to live a full, open life. I’m here today to tell you I’m the mother of a gay son and I’m damn proud of him!”

You’re damn proud of her too.

All photos but one are by Horst and are available in Horst: Sixty Years of Photography.
The photo of Dovima (The Lady in White Gloves) is by an unknown Vogue photographer (perhaps Horst himself).