I am not afraid to share that I lived in the projects of Chicago and ate government cheese.
I am not afraid to share that my left leg is about two inches longer than the right because I fell out of the third story window at age five.
I am not afraid to share that I snap my neck frantically to hip-hop when I’m deadlocked in traffic to beat the damaging effects of road rage.
But for the first half of my life, I was afraid to share that my mother is a lesbian.
As a youngster, I remember being terrified of friends coming over for fear that they would see the photo montage of women kissing or the rainbow-colored candles sitting innocently on the living room table. I recall my grandmother telling me that I shouldn’t live with my mother because she had “nasty ways.” I got sick to my stomach at church when the pastor vehemently condemned homosexuality, inadvertently sentencing my mother straight to hell. What happened to love thy neighbor and judge not or ye shall be judged? As a teenager, I remember hiding inside of my mother’s tent at the beach (in ninety-degree weather), all because I was too ashamed to decline my mother’s invite to the annual Pride Parade. I painfully swallowed the terms “that’s gay,” “dyke,” “faggot,” “sissy,” and “bulldagger,” all through my adolescence. These hateful words came from friends, family members, teachers, pastors, and at times, from my own betraying lips. I never contested this heterosexism because society told me that homosexuality was wrong, and before long, I began to believe it. Many Black folks have never been open to homosexuality publicly, so why should I be any different?
The National Center for Lesbian Rights reports that there are over 3 million children in America with lesbian or gay parents. In summer 2000, five Black researchers, nine Black Pride organizations and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce conducted a Black Pride Survey which reported that at least 40% of black lesbians/bi women and 15% of black gay/bi men and black transgendered people have children. Me and thousands of other black children grew up feeling fearful, ashamed, confused, and angry; angry at the world for demonizing our parents, angry at our parents for being “gay” in the first place, and angry at ourselves for not being able to accept that choice (at least not openly). I was not able to accept my mother’s sexuality until I went to college, away from family and friends. It all came to a head when an ex-boyfriend commented that he wished he could put all gays on a hot air balloon and blow it up. Before I realized it, I had back-handed him so hard that even Bishop Magic Don Juan would have been proud. I slapped him for all of the times I bit my lip in class when the teacher allowed students to openly pick on the gay kid. I slapped him for every person that told me that that my mother was destined to fire and brimstone. I slapped him for all of the gay jokes that permeate the Black community. I slapped him for all of the brutality and hate crimes that gays have faced. While in college, I learned to face and accept myself – my poverty, my thin frame, my “ghetto” ways, my virginity, and my hypersensitivity. As I became more comfortable with whom I was on the inside, I learned to embrace myself and my own experiences. I think that accepting my mother had more to do with me accepting myself because I couldn’t do one without the other.
Now I realize that my refusal to accept my mother’s homosexuality had little to do with me thinking that it was wrong or harmful to my development. I denied her the right to be lesbian because of my own needs. I feared that her stepping out of the closet meant that I was exposed too. I was a fragile kid, seeking acceptance from my peers and family and I thought that this new curve ball would jeopardize that. However, this silent stance was painful and lonely. The silence was killing me. Something had to give. I needed to choose between love and fear. While I think that fear is a natural emotion, it became unhealthy because I allowed it to dictate my actions. I believe that my fear enabled me to accept the truth, to understand my life experiences, and to embrace my mother. My faith in God allowed me to let love be the determining factor in my beliefs and actions.
I began to accept my mother, not as a lesbian, but as a woman whom I loved very much. And with love, there are obligations. You do not hurt the ones you love and you’re supposed to advocate for them when it’s necessary. I learned to challenge society’s ignorance and support my mother in being the beautiful, intelligent, woman-loving, caring, quiet, construction-working lesbian that she is. In loving my mother, I came to love and know myself even more. Now I know which values are important – love, faith, honesty, compassion and a commitment to all things wonderful and true.
My mother is a beautiful woman. She is my friend and mentor. She has taught me to be strong and self-empowered. Most importantly, she has given me the courage to use my voice to advocate for harmony, individuality and human rights. Finally, I am not afraid to share that my mother is a fabulous lesbian. She is out of the closet and I am right beside her.