Our son came out to us when he was 16. We were standing in the kitchen, and he said he had something to tell us.
He said he thought he was gay; he said he wanted us to know. I remember being startled and moved; I remember thinking how brave it was of him to say this to us.
I wanted him to feel loved, to not be frightened. I wanted him to feel safe. He asked me to tell my mother. The rest of the family, he’d take care of himself, later. He’d speak to them.
Later that night, my husband and I felt bewildered. We hadn’t seen this coming. I guess you could say we were surprised; we felt we had perhaps missed out on something.
For a while, we were puzzled. And then things shifted into place, and there was no more confusion. Our son was still our son. The fact that he was gay was not an issue. It never would be, to us.
Telling friends and family our son is gay
At that point, we hadn’t realized that revealing our son’s homosexuality was at times going to be problematic. Not only with some of our friends, but also within the bounds of our own family.
My mother was the first to be told. She looked at me point blank and said that this didn’t change a thing for her and that she loved him exactly the same. Things didn’t go so well with other family members.
We were told that our son should undergo a medical treatment and get married, which would cure him. Others made us understand that this was just a phase and that our son would get over it. We grew to live with this.
It was tricky with friends. One close friend expressed his sympathy in the strangest way. We must be so terribly disappointed, he murmured. And another suggested that I must have done something wrong, because it’s always the mum’s fault, when boys turn out gay.
‘Small talk was occasionally excruciating’
Little by little, we learned that with some people, it was best to not bring the subject up at all.
Small talk was occasionally excruciating. When table guests at dinner parties asked what our children did, in which country they lived, and if they were romantically involved, I heard myself saying that my son had a very nice person in his life.
I had once uttered the word ‘boyfriend’ to a woman sitting next to me. She said she hadn’t understood and could I repeat what I had just said?
I did, not realizing the mess I was getting myself in to. She stared at me as if I had gone blue. Did I mean to say that my son had a boyfriend? Yes, I replied, blankly, an alarm going off in my head.
She had another gape at me, lowered her voice and whispered, did I mean that my son was a …. She struggled to pronounce the word and I could tell she how arduous it was for her. So I helped her, by ending her sentence: indeed, my son was a homosexual and he had a boyfriend.
I said it loud and clear, bracing myself for what may come next. She nodded, patted my hand and remarked with genuine sincerity, that my son was very brave to have chosen to become (lowering of the voice again), a homosexual.
I replied that he hadn’t chosen, he was born that way. She replied, tremulously, how brave I was, embracing all this, that such unconditional love was admirable, like those mothers whose sons were in jail and who still loved them, even if they were criminals.
It helps to talk with other parents of gay children
Yes, we learned and we are still learning. Meeting other parents of gay children was a key step. We felt we were not alone.
Many have similar tales to share with us. Some stories are amusing, and we can all laugh together. Others are tragic. One woman told me her son had killed himself because his father, her husband, had been incapable of accepting their son’s coming out.
Another sad story is this one. I met a charming lady at a writer’s lunch, about three years ago. She has two homosexual sons in their early 30s, one is a successful lawyer and the other, an up-and- coming designer.
Her friends don’t speak to her anymore, and her husband left her on the spot when they came out, stating he would rather have two sons in wheelchairs than two gay sons.
I never thought parents could be subjected to homophobia because of their offspring’s sexual orientation. How wrong I was.
The Rain Watcher, by French author Tatiana de Rosnay, explores the intimate repercussions of coming out within a family. The book is out now, published by World Editions, price £11.99 paperback original.