by Kim Barker
Pause. “You are?”
I was terrified when those words fell out of my mouth, terrified of the conversation as much as what would happen. Coming out is scary, even more so when telling a parent whose reaction could be completely unpredictable. My mom straddles the line between Southern Baptist and Scientist, having held various biology, research, and teaching positions all while being a pastor’s wife when my father was alive. This phone call could have gone one of two ways, depending on which side of that line she found herself. Would she be understanding? As our conversation continued, each response was prefaced and followed by a period of silence in which I could tell she was sorting out what to say next. I stayed on the other end of the line, barely breathing.
“So what was that whole Daniel thing?”
I was engaged once. A boy showed interest in me while I was trying desperately to fit into a very specific narrative in the South. I thought this was my one chance at getting the love and happiness I was told I could have. Go to a nice Baptist college, work at a nice Baptist camp in the summer, meet a nice Baptist boy and get married. My mom helped me plan the wedding, but I’m thankful never happened. We bought my dress together, we anguished over whether we should use round or rectangle tables for the reception, and what color linens would be appropriate. But, although I had the “safe” life I though I wanted within reach, things thankfully ended between us for reasons entirely unrelated to my super gayness.
“I was trying to not be gay.”
Pause. “Oh.” Pause. “What do you see your life looking like from now on?”
In this moment, I froze. This was a good question, and very thoughtful of my mom. It was, I realized, exactly what I needed to hear her ask me, exactly how I needed her to respond in this moment. But not at all what I expected. I had been planning for the worst case scenario; I really had no idea that this conversation could go well. I had built a contingency plan for surviving on my meager graduate student income if my mom cut me off. If she wasn’t accepting of me, I had compiled a list of books and documentaries to subject her to. Yet in this incredibly vulnerable moment, my mom responded with compassion and thoughtfulness. I froze because her question was not expected at all, though it was the best possible question to ask. My outing was met with genuine curiosity about how I saw myself, with thoughtfulness, not the wall of doctrine or inappropriate questions that I had prepared for. I share this to brag on my mom, who I think is a complete and total rock star anyway, but also because I know with first-hand experience that if your kid ever comes out to you, this is a great place to start dialogue. Find out who they are and who they want to be now that they have stopped hiding this from you and made an official statement on the matter.
“Well, I want to get married and adopt some kids.”
“Okay, you know artificial insemination is also an option if you decide you want to carry your own.”
In that moment, I knew “Mom the Scientist” had officially won. I said I wanted kids and she immediately began talking about different ways to get them. The fact is, my sister has made it clear she wants no part in birthing spawn, and seeing as my mom wants some grand babies, the responsibility defers to me. She mentioned this no less than five times during the conversation! At one point, she assured me it did not matter to her how I acquired these children, provided the method was law-abiding, but I did, in fact, have to get them somehow. Seeing as I do genuinely want to raise at least three kids with my future partner, I chuckled all through this part of our phone call. I can handle being strongly advised to provide grand kids if it means my mom accepts me.
She told me she loved me more than once throughout the conversation and my sighs of relief became more pronounced with each repetition. I had dreaded telling my mom that I was gay because I could not predict the outcome or her response. I have a pretty strong commitment to authentic living at my seminary in California and started coming out to my friends and church in mid-March starting with the people who walk through life with me the closest, then moving outward to those on the periphery. My mom was the last hurdle. Not being honest with her was affecting my mental and emotional health. I was scared to disappoint her. I was scared of being asked invasive questions. But I was also exhausted of feeling like I was back in the closet every time she and I spoke. Still, while I was assured of her love, she wasn’t thrilled.
“I’m sorry I’m not jumping up and down excited right now. I’ll get there. I need to mentally adjust first.”
As it turns out, she was not all that surprised by my announcement. Moms just know these things, man. I was a tomboy growing up, and the bulk of our arguments in my adolescent years were concerned with my wardrobe. My complete and total lack of interest in dating any of the good ol’ boys I grew up with, went to college with, or even the ones at my seminary probably didn’t help my case. I got the vibe she had been waiting for me to make an official statement on the matter, and now that I had, she needed some time to reset, to acknowledge what she had suspected but hadn’t allowed herself to admit, then continue life as the mother of a gay woman.
She wasn’t celebrating yet, but gave me a promise she would get there one day. For some people, the process of acceptance is just that: a process. There was hope and assurance in her words that I was her kid and she loved me and was proud of me, which was reaffirmed when she sent me a letter in the mail a few days later saying those same things along with a few dolla dolla bills, y’all, to keep my bank account afloat until my student loans were dispersed. (Thanks again, momma!)
Not long after I first began coming out, I had a chance to reconnect with an acquaintance from high school who recently married her partner. We hadn’t really spoken in eleven years, but after seeing her wedding photos pop up on my Facebook newsfeed I knew I had to contact her. In our initial conversation, she told me two things which have greatly influenced my process. 1) Have as much grace on myself as possible; and 2) allow people to surprise me. I now take these words seriously every single day, and they have become such a gift, as well as the outcome of living by them.