My brother Michael has always been my best friend. After all, growing up, he was the one with whom I played Barbies, choreographed and performed synchronized swimming routines, belted out every song from Annie and argued about what we liked best about a young Jason Bateman.
Michael was totally fabulous, slightly effeminate and possibly gay at a time and in a place where it wasn't discussed, let alone embraced. Growing up, he felt stifled and shameful, like he had to hide his true self because he was a "sissy."
I remember the night when Michael told our mom that he was gay. My mom was crying. She told him not to tell anybody else, just in case he changed his mind. She told him that he was going to Hell. I started to cry too. What was happening to our family and my reality?
Now I get emotional with our mother when she cries and feels like a failure because of her reaction when Michael came out. Once things are said and done, they can't be unspoken or undone; it's one of life's tragedies.
Our mother also regrets showing me that having a gay family member was something to hide, for being less than brave and for placing such importance on trying to please other people. She's said that, at times, her love for her kids didn't triumph over what others would think or say. We've talked about all of this, and I promised her that I'll do better, that I won't repeat her mistakes, that the lessons that she has learned will be put to use by me for the sake of her grandchildren should they be LGBTQ.
I have two boys. My youngest son C.J. was 2 and half when he started, as he explains it, being "a boy who only likes girl stuff and wants to be treated like a girl."
How could it be? How could our family have another boy who liked everything about being a girl? It's history repeating itself, to a certain extent. I have to make sure that only the good parts of the history live on.
Since C.J. started revealing his inner princess, Michael and I have had numerous talks about our childhood and what a child like C.J. -- and Michael -- needs from a parent. My brother and I have grown even closer than we already were, which I would have never thought possible.
Even though I was right there growing up with Michael, I was oblivious to a lot. I talked to him about our childhood. I learned that he felt like he was in survival mode for much of his life. He had secrets, he had shame, and he felt like he made every family photo ugly, all because he loved girl stuff but didn't love girls and felt like he was wrong, a freak and a mistake.
One year after my son started showing signs of childhood gender nonconformity, I got to thinking about the coming-out process.
Is it possible for a homosexual person to never have to come out of the closet? I don't mean staying closeted forever; I mean never even entering the closet.
A lot of people have told me that it is possible, especially in a family like ours. The thought of my sons bypassing a good amount of the guilt, shame, fear and secretiveness that my brother grew up with makes me feel happy, and like my husband and I (and the rest of the people in our lives) are doing something right. If one or both of my sons are LGBTQ and don't want to step foot in the closet, they don't have to.
I'm careful how I phrase things. I ask my oldest son Chase if he thinks anybody in his class is cute. I leave it open so that he can answer honestly.
For years that's how we've been raising our sons. We make no assumptions about their sexuality, in an attempt to avoid a coming-out process. We always act like a gay person is in the room, just like we always act like a straight person is in the room.
Then, a few months ago, Chase felt the need to come out to me... as straight.
We were talking when he mentioned that one of his buddies and a girl from their class were dating. I asked if he was attracted to anyone at school.
"Mom, I'm straight," he said. "It's time you faced the facts."
"What?" I was shocked by his directness.
"I know what you're doing," he continued. "You always leave it open, like I could be gay. But I'm not."
"OK, but you know that if you were gay or are gay, that is totally cool too, right?"
"Yes, of course, but I'm not."
"OK, but if your feelings change--"
"Mom! I'm straight!" He said this with firmness, a smile and a shake of his head.
I called my brother. "Chase came out," I told him. "He says he's straight."
"What do you mean, 'He says he's straight'?" he asked.
"Well, things could change," I said.
"Babe, he just came out to you. He told you that he is straight. You have to listen to him and work from that for now and acknowledge it and believe it. That's it. He's straight. You have to honor that, just like you would if C.J. told you that he was gay. Both of your kids know that you love them and support them and accept them whether they are gay or straight. But when they tell you like that, you have to believe them."
My brother was right. I want my kids to know that their sexuality would never change the way I feel about them. They can be anywhere on the spectrum of sexuality and still have my unconditional love, acceptance and support. But when they stake a claim on the spectrum, like Chase did, they have to know that I hear them and believe them.
By trying to eliminate the need for a gay son to come out, I created an environment where a straight son felt the need to come out. As I try to learn from my mother's mistakes, I may be making some new ones of my own. I guess that's how it goes with parenting.
So I am the proud mother of a 10-year-old, straight, cisgender son and a gender-nonconforming son who is 6 years old and has yet to declare his sexuality. I'm also the proud sister of a very youthful gay brother who is doing just fine and leading an amazing life. He's found support outside our parents and now dresses life-sized Barbies. We also still belt out Annie tunes together when the mood strikes.
This story appears in Issue 67 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Sept. 20.
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