Question: I’m at my wits end; my mother has been pretty bad about my coming out. At points she acts all loving, then she says really mean things about it. I don’t know what to do, what should I do? – Max, Ind.
Your mother is reacting within normal limits to learning about your being gay. I always remind my GLBT clients that we often are hard on ourselves in the beginning once we recognized we were gay. It took time to learn and understand that there was nothing wrong with who we are.
An initial homophobic and negative response is common and understandable. Many of us are socially imprinted to be homophobic and heterosexist from birth. I remember holding my first nephew when he was born and the family saying things like, “He will grow up and meet a nice Jewish girl” and “He will grow up to be a ladies man” and I said, “Or he will grow up and meet a nice Jewish guy and be a man’s man” to which my family responded, “Why would you say that?”
This is a great example at how from birth we are taught to be negative and prejudicial about someone being anything other than heterosexual. Any out and proud GLBT or gay-friendly heterosexual person who says they don’t have some hidden homophobia and heterosexism is lying to himself or herself. This is where your mother sounds like she might be right now.
You mother needs time. She needs to learn that it is not her fault. Believe it or not there was a time when the mother was blamed for creating a gay child by making her son into a mama’s boy. Ridiculous as this sounds, many therapists still believe this myth today and your mother may have that in her mind as well.
She may feel she caused this to happen to you.
Many mothers I speak to—and fathers as well—tell me they hope their child is not gay not because they are anti-gay but rather because of the difficulties they fear their child will face. As a parent they don’t want to see them go through hardships.
I would sit down with your mother and let her know that it is important to you that she find peace with your being gay. Be willing to talk with her about anything—even if it is about things in which you disagree. This isn’t about making her accept you or forcing your opinions on her, it is about you stating your opinions and she stating hers and both of you engaging in dialogue together.
Tell your mother that while you are interested in hearing her feelings and her point of view, you will not tolerate name calling or mean statements. That is off limits for both of you.
You both need to contain any reactivity as well. In other words, you can have your feelings, but it is never okay to “emotionally vomit” all over each other. Nothing productive comes from yelling, screaming, blaming or over-reacting.
Both of you need to agree to control your emotions while engaged in dialogue— which might not feel so good if you are listening to something she says with which you disagree.
Another thing to do is to validate her feelings. Tell her that it makes sense that she is having issues with your being gay, because it does make sense. This isn’t agreeing with her point of view, it is saying to her, “I hear you and you make sense to me”. You need to ask her to do the same for you.
And finally, give her as many resources as possible starting with PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays). I find this group is the most loving and accepting group of all the GLBT ally groups around. Give her a reading list. There are many great books for parents whose children have come out of the closet.
Good luck to you both. I believe that if both of you are able to follow up with these suggestions that things will get better and be hopeful.
Joe Kort, MA, MSW, is a therapist who specializes in gay affirmative psychotherapy, relationship therapy, sexual addiction and sexual abuse. His website is joekort.com.