Family outing

Someone handed me the microphone. “He’s tall, dark and hunky,” I heard myself saying, nervously. “He sings and plays bass guitar. He’s incredibly talented and really, really sensitive.”

The crowd that encircled us in Stanford University’s White Plaza kept expanding as curious students pulled up on their bikes, listened for a moment, then dismounted and stayed on to hear the stories that were being told. It was one of those gorgeous, high-sky autumn days, and the rainbow ribbons that fluttered from many backpacks added a pronounced sparkle to National Coming Out Day.

“I had such high hopes for him,” I said, remembering the little boy who had loved to play dress-up. “He seemed so gay,” I said, floundering. “But he turned out so straight.”

Students affiliated with the LGBT Community Resources Center had gathered to share their individual coming-out stories. I’d gone to support them—visibly but silently—as one of several staff advisers to the center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Then the mike was in my hand.

“Freak,” I could hear my son saying, off camera. Then my clever response: “Son of Freak.”

We call each other names. Freak. Het. Weirdo. Straight weirdo. We crack up, and move on with the jokester hand that life has dealt us.

What was my coming-out story? At age 51, I told my 16-year-old son that his mother was a lesbian. 

It wasn’t a real fun afternoon when we sat down in the living room to have our little chat. His dad already knew and was there to help us both through the conversation. I was tense and dry-mouthed, terrified that Jonathan would despise me. That he would run away from home. That he would never speak to me again.

So I said what I had to say, and he replied not a word. Asked not one question. Stared at the floor. As I’d feared, he left the house. With an exclamatory door slam.

It was not going well.

He came back an hour later, with his girlfriend, the daughter of a large and devout Mormon family. Suddenly I had two snarling nonspeakers in the kitchen. It was not a promising start for the new life I was trying to launch after so many years of painful denial.

Maybe I could have cried and retreated once more to the dark, oppressive closet. Instead, I strong-armed Jonathan and his girlfriend into the family van and drove to Paramount’s Great America amusement park. We started with the bumper cars and crashed into one another, head-on, over and over, with all the power we could wring from the wimpy little pedals. Then came the stomach-turning Drop Zone. “Next?” I asked brightly, in spite of the “No more!” that my body was screaming. We rode monster roller coasters, and I hated every minute of it and kept asking for more. If it killed me—and Top Gun almost did—I would get a reaction out of my son. Somehow we had to begin talking again.

Aboard some horrendous ride, as we were hurtling toward certain death, I must have turned a bilious green. My color—certainly not my bravado—made Jonathan laugh. That got the conversation started. And we have been mostly laughing ever since.

At 21, he is gently amused by his status as Son of Freak. For Mother’s Day this year he gave me two tickets to a k.d. lang concert so I could take a girlfriend. He endured my dithering while I tried to decide whether to buy the obligatory lesbian motorcycle. Then he carried our grocery bags for months, after I injured my arm in my first collision. He has crewed with me on the AIDS Ride, and he shows up for Pride Parade each June, wearing some manly, rainbowed accessory.

But where was I headed with my story on the Stanford plaza? Just this: coming out to your family, your friends, your spouse or your child will likely be the most excruciating conversation you will ever have. It may take a screaming roller coaster of a ride to get through it. But our experience suggests that you will, and that your loved ones ultimately with love you—and laugh with you. Especially if you can only do pathetic, old-lady wheelies on your Honda.



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