To My Son,
When you came out to me last year, it was kind of an awkward forced situation. We found some things on your social media device and we wanted to make sure you were safe. I told you then “You don’t have to tell us anything you’re not ready to but we just want to make sure you’re not trolling anyone.” You flushed furiously not so much, I think, at us asking about your sexuality but more about the fact that we thought you’d troll gay men. But it was now on the table and we assured you we loved you. Period. That there was never any shame in desire and love. That you had our support. We all hugged and you went back to your room. Your father and I looked at each other relieved that you were gay and not a homophobic troll. “I’ve known since he was eight,” I told your father and he laughed.
Our lives continued on just as they had before. Except now we sometimes commented on some guy being hot, amused at the similarity in our preferences. I sought out groups for you because I knew the importance of support and finding people like you. Eventually, we landed in a budding group in our town. The first time we went it was only us and the leader. We spent an awkward bit of time with her and then went home. Both disappointed. You’re homeschooled so we depend on these outside groups to meet people. The next meeting two kids showed up and you went off with them to talk alone. When ya’ll left the room, the mother leading said “At another meeting I went to they said it was normal to go through a grieving process when your child comes out.”
And I froze. I’d heard that narrative before. When they told me your sister had Down syndrome, they told me it was normal to grieve for the perfect child I’d not be having. “They” being everyone from the doctors to the internet. No one told me I should celebrate her. Be joyful at the coming of her existence. Just “You’ll mourn the child you thought you were having.” I wish someone had told me that she’d be a lovely baby with shining brown eyes wide and perfectly almond shaped. That she’d smell delicious as new babies do and that her soft black hair would be the most perfect spot to bury my nose. They didn’t tell me how she’d laugh and dance. But you did. When we told you and your sisters that Jude had Down syndrome, you all shrugged. “So what?” you said. And then you loved her with all the love you could give. You spoke up against people who used slurs that referred to people like her. You found your voice in defending her, I think. But there was never grief. You were never sad that your sister was different.
And I opened my mouth to tell them “I never grieved that my son wasn’t straight.”
“Well, I mean some people do.” She stumbled over the words. I wasn’t supposed to react this way. I could tell. The other parent had already launched into his grief narrative.
“But why?” I said.
“Because you’re losing the child you imagined in your head.”
I remembered after your other sister received her diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) being asked if I felt sad. I didn’t feel sad. I’d known for a long time. It was good for both of us to know. To be able to help her find her identity. But no, I didn’t mourn the perfect child I’d imagined. She was twelve. I’d already known her a long time. Just as I’d known you for a long time. Being gay didn’t replace some image in my head. I tried to give you the space to grow into yourselves without being burdened with my expectations of what you should be. Sometimes I failed and pushed too hard like I did with you academically. Then you had a seizure. I remember that night. We thought you were dying and I was wailing on the porch calling 911. I couldn’t even go into the room with your father because I knew if I found you dead I’d never recover. It’s a horrible feeling. After that moment, I never wished you to be anything but breathing and in my world.
Thus when people tell me about mourning the perfect child, I want to ask them what they mean. How can they look at the lovely being before them and not see that they are perfect without our interference. Without our preconceived notions of what perfect might mean.
Everyday I want you to see that you are good the way you are. Your father and I never mourned your gayness. What a silly thing to mourn. We celebrated although we kept it low key so as not to embarrass you. We were proud that you took time to learn yourself and then embraced what you found there.
Our children are perfect, people; it’s our world that is broken.
When I held your baby sister in my arms the night she was born, I made a decision that I wouldn’t grieve for her. She didn’t deserve grief. Neither does your sister with ASD. Or you for being gay. You deserve joy and celebration. You deserve to live a life that has its ups and downs for sure. You deserve to fall in love. To break some hearts. And have your heart broken. You deserve to live the fullest life possible. I’d never mourned that you were born Latino why would I would mourn your gayness? Or your sister’s Down syndrome? Or you other sister’s ASD? These things are all part of what defines you and the definition of you is what I love—the constant defining that comes as you live life. All of you are a beautiful mystery opening up in unexpected ways every day.
What I will grieve is this broken world. What keeps me awake at night with worry has nothing to do with the central aspects of your being. It’s how the world reacts to these things. I worry that the police will kill you because you are not white or that they will hurt your sisters; both who sometimes struggle with communication. I worry that you will go out with your boyfriend and someone will beat you up in an alley. That local boys in the town who fear your difference will crucify you on a barbwire fence. I worry that someone will rape your baby sister who statistically is more likely to be raped than her non disabled peers. I worry about the everyday little cuts that come from presidential candidates who spew hatred for Mexican immigrants. The cuts that come from listening to people call each other “fag” as an insult. I worry about the ways that violence and homophobia become legislated into law. The world is not a kind place for people who are different, and you my beautiful son carry so much difference. You carry it with a careless grace, a fierce pride, and a burning anger. I see you walk into this world like a warrior and the pride I feel is as fierce as your own pride but my pride carries with it fear.
Tonight I read about a mother whose last text from her son was “He’s in here with us.” Her son was killed by a homophobic man with a legal purchased assault rifle. I can’t stop reading those words “He’s in here with us”. Oh what that mother must have gone through. Her son died. In that bathroom. I can’t help but feel like I am kin to this mother. Because it could have been you. It was Latino night at the Pulse Club in Orlando. Latino night during pride week. This is grief, my son.
I won’t waste any tears on wishing you were straight but I’ll shed tears that someone murdered 50 people and injured 53 people because they were gay. Because he lived in a world that sees people like you as perverts and as sinners, he decided to take it upon himself to kill people like you. I am crying tonight with those mothers because even my pain is nothing in the face of their gaping loss. I am crying because the community was once again reminded that some hate them so much they’ll seek to eradicate their existence. Oh this world, my son, I fear what it will do to you. I fear that you might want to hide yourself.
When I asked you for permission to write this you just nodded quietly. We talked all day about this slaughter. It was a horrible wake-up call for you. I could see it in your eyes and I heard it in your angry words. I am not sure if you realized up to this moment how deep the hatred toward LGBT people run even though we’ve talked of it often. Once again I assured you that in our home your gay identity is something to be affirmed. I don’t want you to hide even though I fear for your safety. It’s not you, son, who needs to change, it’s those out there who hate and fear difference.
How can I grieve you? Someday you’ll attend those clubs and I want you to attend with joy. To dance in the face of oppression because dancing is one way to freedom.
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