BY CINDY LINDER
When Ellen DeGeneres’ character, Ellen Morgan uttered the words “I’m gay” on primetime TV twenty years ago, it was history making. 42 million viewers, including myself, were tuned in that night. Concurrently, she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, her picture captioned with “Yep, I’m gay.” In the days before social media, this was the way to get a message out to the world.
Coming out, though, was risky for both Ellen’s career and her show. The television show lost sponsors and faced complaints but thankfully Ellen’s brave move was the starting point to putting acceptance and tolerance on the map.
Ten years after Ellen came out so publicly, I heard the words “I’m gay” again, only they were not uttered by a famous comedian, they were the words of my own daughter who was home on a break from college.
I knew these words were difficult for her to say. I could read that in her uncomfortable expression. I was painfully aware myself of how my reaction to her words would affect her. There was no parenting manual for this moment and many thoughts swirled through my mind. Initially I was very quiet.One who is normally known for not keeping my mouth shut, I felt I couldn’t form words from my thoughts. I was struck with the difficulty of dealing with my emotions and her delicate psyche.
Sensing my quiet and not really knowing what it meant, she started babbling. She told me of the times she found women attractive, yet wasn’t sure what that meant. Somehow I thought it was helpful to agree with her that I found women pretty too. When I was still quiet, she said, “Mom, you HAVE to accept me. I’m your daughter. You can’t hate me because I’m gay.”
“Actually, that thought never crossed my mind,” I replied.
But I thought about her comment for a long time. Why would she think I wouldn’t accept her or even worse, would hate her? For one second I put myself in the position of the parents who don’t accept their child’s news. I guess, as foreign as it felt to me, no one has to accept anyone. I’m truly sorry for those parents who can’t accept their children but I would never impose my opinion on their seemingly narrow-minded views. I understand that it’s an adjustment for parents too.
It took me a few months to grasp the depth of what my daughter was saying. I know I asked the obvious stupid questions such as “but you dated boys in high school” or “do I call her your girlfriend or partner.” I got to know the women to whom she introduced me and went in full board with welcoming and caring for them as well. And where I didn’t think it was a good thing for her, I said that too. I realized it was no different than I would have acted had she dated men.
I hope I had I assured her I loved her, assured her that she had not changed in my eyes and that while I didn’t personally understand her journey, I was willing to learn. I explained that my only concern for her was the judgement and narrow mindedness she might feel from others, not me. The thought of her being treated poorly, judged or denied an opportunity simply because of who she loves, made me sick to my stomach. That’s what frightened me for her. I didn’t know what her future held. Had we come far enough since Ellen’s declaration twenty years ago for this not to affect the rest of her life?
My daughter shattered stereotypes I had in my mind. She was incredibly tolerant, teaching me along the way while still allowing me to say my piece as well. Her lovable, hippy-dippy, love-for-everyone outlook on life softened my more cynical ideas that people were out to judge her. I’m not going to lie though, there were bumps along the way.
“Isn’t it sad to think you won’t have a wedding or grandchildren to share with her,” an older woman once said to me.
“Are you kidding? She’ll make a beautiful bride one day. I’m sure she will be married and last time I checked, her uterus still functions,” I replied.
These words quieted the woman even though it felt rude for me to speak to her in that manner. But I couldn’t understand the thought process. I believe where I can educate I will and where my daughter needs defense, I will defend.
I’ve come a long way in the last ten years with her. She calls herself my resident gay google because of all the questions I’ve asked her so I could learn more about her world. Who better to explain gold star lesbian to me than her? Looking at life through her eyes has me finding vaginas in everything; tortilla chips, trees, flowers – Freud are you listening? We share a lot of laughs, more her than me probably but she tolerates my seemingly absurd questions. And I find women for her everywhere; women I think would be perfect for her. (Shout out to the adorable grocery store clerk last week, I saw you checking out my daughter.)
Parents, I can’t tell you how to walk this path. I can admit it’s an adjustment. It took time for me to come into her coming out but never once did I take anyone’s side but hers. Non-acceptance for her never occurred to me. And I’ve learned that if someone can’t deal with her, that’s their problem.
Hearing about gay people being shunned or not accepted by their parents is a concept I struggle to wrap my head around. I hear and respect religious arguments and admit that was a struggle for me as well. My daughter was raised in the church. She was christened and confirmed in the church and as an adult; she is free to choose her faith. But the thought that the church in which she grew up, the church who accepted her all her life now doesn’t accept her and wouldn’t marry her was too much to handle. I had to stop going in support of my daughter. I still have a strong faith, that hasn’t changed, but the God I have faith in is fully accepting.
My heart breaks for those children whose parents cannot accept and love them. As with the Grinch, I feel my heart grows to make room every time I hear a new story of non-acceptance. I add those children to my virtual family so that someone out there is loving and accepting them until they find peace and their new tribe.
My daughter was raised knowing she could do whatever she wanted in life and that she should always follow her dream. I hope no one gets in her way and if they do, they’ll have me to contend with as I’m standing right behind her, loving and accepting her – her cisgender Mom. (She taught me that too).
And if she’d just let me pick her wife, her own personal Portia, I could save her a lot of time and heartache and maybe get those grandchildren sooner too.