“I have a gay son. I have a GREAT SON!” That was my reaction when I learned my son was gay. It felt as though my brain was talking to me and I was just an outsider listening in. Once my mind shouted out the “GREAT SON” part, life moved on. It has never been an issue with me, my daughters or any family members or friends. Never.
My son is looked upon for the extremely kind, generous, compassionate and loving person he is. He is extremely successful in his profession and recognized among his peers as a creative, gentle/giving soul; I know this because so many of them have gone out of their way to tell me what he has brought to their lives as a friend, peer, boss, mentor. Kvelling moments for me.
I recently met a gay couple who live in my neighborhood. The two 50ish lovely men embody a happily married couple who have been together for many years and know each other thoroughly. They have shared their “coming out” stories with me and have been able to blend into their relationship what the ups and downs of their stories have given and taken from them. They thrive on completing each other. It’s a quality that most couples, gay or straight, would envy.
Several months ago they asked me to participate in a Gay Pride activity in our community for Gay Pride Month. They were putting together a panel of Straight Parents with Gay Children, where we would share our family stories and reactions in front of an audience for the purpose of letting others know they weren’t alone, whatever their stories may be. They wanted those in attendance to ask questions, find commonality, connect with sympathy and empathy for what they and their family members have experienced.
A group of seven people met to put together our agenda and plan our group discussion. We shared our personal stories and decided how we would proceed at the event. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: I got an email from one of the group members saying my story had no “meat” to it, it was a non-story story, no drama, and this person questioned what anyone could learn from my experience, that I had little to offer the discussion.
I brought this to the attention of the leader of the group who was appalled that anyone would think such a thought! She said, “Not all stories have to be bad! Some can start out bad and have happy endings and others can be inspiring so what’s wrong with a family having full acceptance? Isn’t that what we all wish for?” I told her I would remove myself from the panel and sit in the audience and offer my story if and when it seemed appropriate but she would not hear of it.
As the date approached for our gathering, with publicity from our community newspaper, we had no idea if anyone would attend, especially since this was the first time this subject matter had been included in Gay Pride events. We had no way of estimating how many chairs to arrange. I suggested rather than put the panel at a table in the front, we put the chairs in a circle to keep the group inclusive, make sure we had name tags and let the facilitator share that this is an informational/non-judgmental discussion with the opportunity for anyone to share or just listen.
We were thrilled that more than 50 people joined us! After an hour and half of discussion, half from the panel and half from the attendees, it was a coming together of comradery, shared experiences, new stories, happy and sad ones. Every family had its unique perspective, actions and reactions. But there was one very interesting thread that caught my attention and surprised many!
A few days before the event, several original panel members dropped out at the last minute, and by coincidence, and not evident until the day of the event, our panel was now all Jewish! And, NOT one of them considered rejection of their gay child; NOT one of their families threw their kid out of the house/family; NOT one of them embarrassed them to other family members or community; NOT one of them disgraced, disowned or showed shame for their child; NOT one of them made up lies about who they were or who they were dating; NOT one of them made up excuses as to why their child had not been home to visit for years!
And let me say, these above statements were shared by many people in the audience when their child came out to them! These were reactions, without the NOT, given by parents who were appalled and embarrassed, while rejecting their own flesh and blood, when they learned that their son or daughter was gay. I heard it with my own ears!
And, NOT one was Jewish! They identified themselves as being non-Jews, Christian-faith-based, most generally from the central part of the country. A pattern of acceptance came from Jewish people and people from the East or West Coasts. The entire audience and panel members were all silent for a few seconds when I pointed this out and asked if anyone could dispel the information we had all heard. No one could.
Please note this pattern was particular to this group of people, not a fact written in stone for all over the country.
While listening to the different scenarios, my mind was racing as to why Jews and people from the Coastal states were more liberal. I asked the group if anyone thought that the history of Jewish persecution aligns us with the “others” who have been targeted and has empowered Jewish people with more tolerance, empathy and sympathy. Some agreed that could be a contributing aspect and agreed that where people come from has a big influence on viewpoints, but religious upbringing was the greatest impact on perspectives and beliefs. (Also, it was noted that Middle-America is where most “anti” voices come from.)
One very interesting response came from a retired rabbi who shared that it was not his son being gay that tortured him, but that being gay went against all his Orthodox teachings and training. His reaction to his son was, “I loved you at breakfast this morning, why wouldn’t I love you at dinner tonight?” But he has spent years trying to reconcile his religious doctrines and beliefs with the gay community. He said, “Many years later, it is still a struggle but has not interrupted my relationship with my child.”
It was considered a successful and enlightening afternoon with many people asking for another gathering to share more information. Plans are in the works.
All agreed more tolerance for WHO our gay children are as a PERSON without the gay part defining them as the most important element of acceptance, along with loads of love, respect and inclusiveness
I’m excited to say that my son and his partner of 10 years — who I LOVE and ADORE! — are engaged and getting married December 2020. I look forward to walking my son down the aisle with excitement, pride and an abundance amount of love!
PS: Proud of my youngest granddaughter, Kami, who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah with our Temple in Israel last night! Mazel Tov to her and all her accomplishments! Off to New York with my oldest daughter and two teenage grandkids and then to Paris and Amsterdam with my youngest daughter and two teenage granddaughters (after they leave Israel). Such a treat to experience the world with the grandkids!
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21 Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family’s past in order for them to live their future is all the muse she needs!
She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir and is completing her first novel.
Her grandmother’s journey to America and life is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism.