Bruce Parker

Coming Out (Constantly) as Queer to My Mom

Filed By Bruce Parker | August 26, 2007 6:08 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: coming out of the closet, LGBT families, queer

I haven't posted in over a month because I have been moving south and adjusting to life in Louisiana. This move was in preparation for my PhD studies in curriculum theory at Louisiana State University located in Baton Rouge. Moving across the country and starting what will be a three to seven year chapter in my life and hopefully the final chapter of my student life, has led to serious reflection and consideration of my past as well as what I want from my future. Once I moved in and life started settling into some sort of routine I was confronted with one of my primary worries prior to moving: what would my social life look like in the rural conservative South?

I identify as queer for several reasons. The fact that I never stopped dating women even after I very publicly came out in high school and had intimate relationships with women through the early years of my undergraduate studies are some of the personal historical reasons for my motivations. The more recent realities that shape my queer identity are that I was lucky enough to fall in love with and date a transgender man for a long time and he continues to play a big role in my life. The stigma that this relationship brought on with my gay male friends made it clear that gay male identity is constructed in rigid and often unyielding ways that leave no space for the contours of my desires if genitalia is not a defining trait in who I love and fuck. I have also dated, lived with and had sex with lesbian identified women. The image in some of your minds of heterosexual intercourse happening between me and these women in gender appropriate ways would fall sadly short of the wonderful truth. Some of the best tops that I have ever encountered only worked with their hands. All of this is my longwinded way of getting to the point that I don't get offended when people assume that I am or refer to me as gay or bisexual even though neither of those labels captures my desires or my dating history. On a very basic level, my attractions are not tied to genitals one way or another; thus claiming a gay male identity without having a penis-centric erotic imagination seems to fall short of my truth. Although bisexuality fits me more comfortably than either straight or gay, I resist the ways that it reinforces the binary gender system. The idea that I am attracted to both men and women seems to erase the reality that gender is not an either/or proposition. Honestly, I don't spend lots of time puzzling over how to make my attractions, desires and identity palatable to anyone else and just focus on enjoying them and living my life. To do this seems as silly to me as the debate regarding whether someone is born gay or becomes gay.

I know that non-heterosexuals all struggle with how to talk to their families about their sexuality. Although I have a very close relationship with my mother, I have never really tried going into detail with her when discussing the nuances of my sexuality. While my mother and the rest of my family have been quietly supportive since I came out, they would just rather it not be an issue than accepting it as a reality. My mother is always nice to partners I bring home and has even grown to really care about some of them. When we do discuss my identity, we largely frame it in terms of gayness because that is a language that makes sense to her. My mother makes sense of all this by thinking that she has a gay son and gets puzzled when from time to time I end up romantically involved with women. This is usually a perception of hers that we just don't discuss.

This silent acceptance left me feeling very alone when my long-term relationship with my above mentioned, first serious transgender love came to an end (do these things ever really end?) and I was left to deal with it without being able to call on my mother for emotional support. She had recently lost her second husband after being together two years (one year less than my partner and I were together) and was beginning to date the man who would become her third husband. The breakup found me at home visiting my mother around Christmas just after she had moved in with Kenny (third husband) and his youngest son. Kenny's mother was passing away with lung cancer so it was a very sad and very exhausting holiday for everyone involved. I was grieving the end of a relationship that had forever altered my perceptions of my life and myself and desired nothing more than for my mother to reach out to me about it. She is strong and supportive until issues related to my sexual identity emerge; then, she prefers to stay on the periphery of my life thus skirting uncomfortable conversations. At that point I bowed to my situation and stopped pushing her to talk to me about my life in real ways, accepting the shallowness of this component in our relationship.

It wasn't until three years after that breakup when my mother, step dad and two friends began making the journey from Indiana to Louisiana that I started desiring a more authentic connection with my mother. I am paralyzed with fear that this amazing woman will die without knowing who I am or how much of my life has been inspired or guided by her example. My mom and I talk at least three times a week, but more often every day even if only for a few minutes. She is short, thin, smokes a lot, has a lot of attitude and raised me by herself in spite of some oppressive financial and life circumstances. We were always close and have only got closer now that I no longer live at home or in Pikeville, Kentucky. My mom is very upfront that she thinks in regards to her children absence makes the heart grow fonder.

So when about a week and a half after helping me move she called to ask how I like Baton Rouge and I launched into talking to her about my fears of not finding a queer community and the possibilities for my love life while studying here, she was shocked. Without missing so much as a beat, she told me that she hopes I meet a girl to help straighten me out. I was floored and asked her if she meant that she hoped I would be happy. To which she responded, "You do date girls, so why can't I wish for that?" This only highlighted to me that something wasn't translating to my mother or my family the way that it needed to. I think that aging and getting closer to my mother and missing my family more and more is only increasing my need for them to able to recognize me as a complete person. As my life is dedicated to doing activism, researching, writing and teaching about queerness and gender identity, it seems that beginning to understand me in those ways is essential to developing a real understanding of me in any way.

We had a very heartfelt conversation where my mother talked about how she was raised, the Bible and her understanding of this part of my life. I was shocked at some of her statements, but warmed by her willingness to try and work on her attitudes and behaviors around this part of my life. She told me she wanted to know me as much as I wanted her too and that she would work on it. So early today when she called and said, "Okay, I am ready; tell me all about your love life," I laughed and told her that we didn't necessarily have to go that far that fast. But I was proud of her and that seemed like a good enough place to start.

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I can't imagine how long you kept her on the phone with THAT conversation. Your love life is legendary. *grins* Glad to hear you're settling into life in Louisiana. We'll miss you up here!

Wow, I'm amazed at how much of this I relate to. I've long identified as queer, but I had to come out to my mother multiple times because my relationships with straight boys seemingly clouded the issue. Initially, I worried a lot about how she was taking it, and I was very unhappy about the silence surrounding my identity. But eventually, I guess we got there. I also decided that I didn't need to share the most radical, out-there kind of stuff with her - although, actually, she was impressively trans-friendly - but knowing that ultimately she just wanted me to be happy was good enough, and I still remember the first time she actively asked me about a girlfriend. I miss her a lot every day, but we both made an effort to find common ground and I'm glad that ultimately I was able to share what I wanted to about my life.

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | August 26, 2007 8:00 PM

AWWW. I miss you too. Yea, I am like mom there is no way you want to know about ALL of my love life.

Great blog and good Luck here in Baton Rouge. You're going to fit in just fine!

Well said... great blog.

I'll admit I choked a little when you called Baton Rouge the "Rural Conservative South" but... truth is true, right?

I hope you find a community here and I hope you and your mother continue your dialogue.

I think we all seek to define ourselves, if only by our outer limits and boundaries. It's when other people place restrictions, labels, and definitions on us that we have a problem. I think this is because other people aren't looking for our outer limits or boundaries, but for the smallest box into which we might fit.

I hope we don't box you in too much here in Baton Rouge. I look forward to more blogs, and to having you in our community, rural and conservative as it may, regretfully, be.

Eric Georgantes | August 26, 2007 10:51 PM

From what you say, you sound like you are bisexual.

I've really had a lot of trouble understanding the relucance people have in labelling themselves. This is probably colored by my experiences, but it seems that if you primarily feel sexual attraction to your own gender, you should identify as gay, if you primarily feel sexual orientation for the opposite gender, you should identify as straight, and if you feel sexual attraction towards both, call yourself bisexual.

I've never really thought of it as "limiting," simply because what you call yourself doesn't change what you are. Calling yourself "queer" doesn't change the fact that what you've described sounds bisexual.

I think that I don't understand some people's reticence because I've never had that issue. It has always been the same gender, all the time, with no exceptions.

(I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ramble on like that, but...)

I think you'll find that underneath the hard, conservative crust of the Deep South flows a hot, liquid magma of eccentricity with many fissures and faults prone to spectacular eruptions. South Louisiana in particular has a reputation for it's otherness. Even at it's most oppressive, the South can be a fascinating study of human behaviors and tectonic interactions between contrasting cultures and concepts. Protestant/Catholic, Black/White (and every shade in between), Eurocentric/Afrocentric, modernity/antiquity, gay/straight (and all flavors in between). It all makes for a beautiful landscape.

I believe that coming out is as much a self-exploration as it is a public declaration. Similarly. through relationships we learn more about ourselves. I don't know you very well yet, but from this post it sounds as though you have re-examined and rediscovered yourself many times over. I expect you'll continue to do so. Thanks for sharing a slice of your journey. I look forward to getting better acquainted with you.