MAMMAS, DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE UNHAPPY, REPRESSED COWBOYS by Angelo Andreatos

Becoming a parent forces you to examine your deeply held beliefs; it can also force you to confront your deeply held prejudices. 

We want to teach our children tolerance and love, but what if we suspect they might be gay — can we practice what we preach?

ANGELO ANDREATOS wants to have a word or two with all parents in the hopes of saving everyone a lot of heartache.

This article was originally published in the May 2006 issue of The MotherHood magazine. It is reprinted here with loving permission from the author.

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WHAT IF you start noticing that your son always washes his hands, or desperately wants to soon after getting them dirty? What if all the men of your family gather talking in one room, but your boy always winds up in another room, with the women? What if your ten year-old son asks if it’s okay to love his friend Kennie? What if your son goes to the football game with his older male cousin and, when the girls in the stands form a kickline, he joins in and kicks just as high (or even higher) than the girls? And he has a blast doing it, because he’s too young to be conscious of gender issues?

What if you suspect your child is going “over the rainbow”? Could your love follow?

What is it like to have a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child? My mother told me when I was quite young: “Mommy and Daddy will always love you, no matter what — you can come to us with anything and it’ll be ok.” And: “There isn’t anything you could ever say to us that would make us stop loving you.”

I first came to grips with being gay about twenty-four years ago. I started dating my first boyfriend when I was twenty-two, although I didn’t verbalize my sexuality to my family for several more years. But I brought my boyfriend to their house anyway. I was proud of him, proud of me. I was happy to be bitten by the love bug. When I did come out it was dramatic — like when Scarlet pulls the carrot out of the ground and declares, “I swear I’ll never be hungry again!” (Or was it something about birthing babies?) In any event, I was Scarlet, and it definitely was a scene.

Since then I’ve been told by these same parents, the people who are supposed to love me the most in the world, that (a) I’m abnormal, and (b) my partner is not on an equal level to my sister’s husband. In fact, on several occasions they have described Stephen — my partner of fourteen years — as a “friend of the family.”

In my mother’s eyes there is a pre-gay Angelo, and he’s only a memory to be conjured up when reminiscing about loved ones who have moved onto the next world — the world of the dead.  My parents, and possibly my sister too, mourn the death of “the straight Angelo”.

Does my family really believe there is a pre-gay Angelo? 

I’ve come to realize that if parents have spent any time at all with their child – even one day – they will know that their child is gay long before the child figures it out. Whether or not the parents choose to accept that reality will determine how much pain everyone will feel — how much therapy & Edy’s ice cream will be needed.

What if my parents had chosen to accept the fact that I was gay? What if I had the chance to tell them how they should have treated me when I came out to them, and how they should treat me today? Perhaps the tears my parents and I cried don’t have to be in vain, and will serve you. Perhaps there don’t have to be so many tears — perhaps none at all.

Well, this article is my chance. So here goes:

Don’t love us any less. That’s my plea.

Don’t grieve for yourself, or your child. Love your child no differently than you did before you realized they were gay. All children need these things to grow: unconditional love, respect, acceptance and support. The unconditional part is most crucial.

A child’s need for unconditional love is just as basic as the need for food and water.

Love your child.

Never treat your gay child differently than you do your other children. Instruct your other children not to change the way they treat their gay sibling. Tell all of your children that as long as they live under your roof, you’ll put up with no less. And while you’re at it, let your extended family know that you will not tolerate any mistreatment of your child. Your child’s emotional health should be more important than what anyone else thinks.

Just love your child.

I know you mean well, but don’t pressure your boys to play baseball, or football, or hockey, if they don’t want to play. It’s not the end of the world for you, or them. Support them in participating in any school activity or civic organization that they do like.

Remember that your child is not sick and does not need to see a shrink. If you’re having a problem dealing with your child’s sexuality, take yourself to a therapist.

However, you may ask your son or daughter if they would like to see a therapist. Not because they’re crazy, but as a means of support in navigating a cruel and biased world. Explore with your child the many support groups that exist, like The Gay/Straight Alliance and P-Flag: Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (See list below for additional resources.)


Explain that they need to start forming their own support networks. When they come out to the world, they might start losing friends. Let them know that you will always be there for them. Mean it.

Love your child.

Stay strong, be a role model for your entire family. It’s not easy growing up with very few positive gay role models, although there are more today than ever before. But love from one’s parents will always mean more than anything a role model can provide. And you could wind up being a role model for another friend or family member facing a similar situation.

Parents, family members — you did not make your child gay.

Your child is not gay to spite you or the rest of your family. Which brings me to my final point, on the question of choice. As a gay man the only choice I’ve ever had was the choice between accepting my sexual orientation and denying it. And to deny it would have been tragic and suicidal. I could have gotten married — fought over who was going to wear the dress, had 2.5 children — and totally screwed up everyone’s life.

Parents: love your children. Proudly, whole-heartedly.

Tell them to hold their head up high and think no less of themselves because of their sexuality.

It’s not going to be easy. But what’s the alternative? To lose your son or daughter, forever?

Just love your child.

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FINDING SUPPORT IN YOUR COMMUNITY
There are many local and national support groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and families. Following is a partial list.

These groups were found on The New Jersey Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Youth website.
To find support groups in your area, we recommend searching under “gay support groups + city name”.

Gay and Lesbian Political Action and Support Group offers an opportunity for individuals in isolated areas to be politically active and establish support groups where they are needed.
 
NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition offer resources for LGBT youth. Helpline numbers, housing information, legal resources, physical health agencies, etc. are incorporated in this site. Call 732-828-6772.

HiTOPS is a New Jersey organization that offers health services and group support resources for people ages 13 to 26. They developed two support groups called “First & Third” and “PFLAG” for the LGBTQ youth and their loved ones.

Hetrick Martin Institute, Newark is based on the services for LGBTQ youth operated for over 30 years by the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City. Offering counseling and crisis management, health and wellness programming, academic enrichment, job readiness and arts and cultural programming, HMI has implemented its first out-of-state direct service program.

The Pride Center of New Jersey offers numerous social, supportive, educational, entertaining, and fun events and groups for the LGBTIQQ community every month.
 
Garden State Equality is an organization dedicated to bringing same-sex marriage equality to New Jersey. It is the organizer of campaigns, primarily to get the legislature to pass a marriage equality bill and to accumulate enough votes in the legislature to override a gubernatorial veto.

NJ Gay Life gives a listing of local events happening throughout New Jersey to connect the LGBTQ community members. Also this website provides an online directory of New Jersey businesses as well as a support group calendar that is organized by issues and geographic locations.
 
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a national non-profit organization located in Washington, DC. The non-profit provides support for the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends. It offers support, online information, events and programs, as well as scholarships and advocacy opportunities.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is dedicated to make sure that students in schools are being respected regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or expression. The network strives to create school settings that valued differences for a more powerful and diverse community.

Equality Federation is a national alliance of state-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organizations.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
 advocates on behalf of GLBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about GLBT issues.
Outreach to At-Risk Youth (OTARY): The OTARY program is designed to prevent crime/juvenile delinquency and deter gang involvement by providing enhanced recreation, vocational, educational, outreach and/or supportive services to youth ages 13 to 18, with the option to serve youth until age 21.  The programs are located in communities with demonstrated high crime and gang violence. These programs have a proven track record of making a difference in the lives of youth, including “at-risk” youth.  The programs are open to youth regardless of their involvement with DCF.

In New York City:
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center
208 West 13th St.
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 620-7310
Deaf and hearing impaired callers can reach the Center through the NY State Relay Service: (800) 662-1220 (TDD/TTY) (800) 421-1220 (voice) Email: info@gaycenter.org
Web: http://www.gaycenter.org

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