When I was eighteen I was pretty sure that my mother was gay.
Not that she’d ever expressed an attraction to women. Actually, she’d never really expressed an attraction to anyone (aside from George Clooney, otherwise known as Thursday Night Dreamboat Doctor Ross, although I was more of a Noah Wyle girl myself), and the idea of my mother as a sexual being seemed completely foreign to me. At that point she’d been divorced for five years, and as far as I was concerned she didn’t have sex. Or want to have sex. Ever. End of story.
But still, I was pretty sure she was gay.
See, I found this book. I was in her room, doing my best impression of an intrepid girl detective and rummaging through her stuff. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but you never knew what you might find – a nice set of fake pearls, the poncho my grandfather had brought back from Peru when she was a kid, a beat up old copy of Peyton Place. So if I happened to find myself home alone, I would often find myself carefully removing everything from on top of her big wooden chest (mentally cataloguing where everything had been so that I could replace it in exactly the same spot and she would never suspect) and then rifling through its contents. STEALTH.
On this one particular day, as I was moving her small television and our ancient Nintendo system off the chest, I noticed a book that I’d never seen before. It was called Home Truths: Lesbian Mothers Come Out To Their Daughters. Inside the front cover was a hand-written note – “Dear [my mother’s name], don’t forget – always tell the truth. Love, Gloria.”
Truth, by the way, was underlined twice.
What else was I supposed to take from this other than the fact that my mother had a lesbian lover named Gloria?
And I mean of course she was gay; the signs had been there all along. She hadn’t dated anyone since my father had left. She had short hair. She wore sensible shoes. How could I possibly have missed it? The fact that she’d had three kids with a man didn’t mean anything – my friend C____’s mother had come out shortly after divorcing C____’s father and was now dating a woman. They drove to Toronto every year for pride and had matching rainbow lawn chairs. Oh god, were my mother and Gloria going to get matching rainbow lawn chairs and matching Birkenstocks and whatever other matchy-matchy things lesbians have?
And then suddenly I felt really bad, because I realized that she was probably pretty worried about how my sisters and I would react to all of this. I mean, why else would she buy a how-to book? Maybe she was staying up all night thinking about whether or not we’d be cool with her being gay. Maybe she was wondering if her family would disown her. I felt guilty that I came off as someone who might have been judgmental of her sexuality, and I decided that I had to say something. I figured I would employ my stealth skills and start a super subtle conversation that would lead her to admit that she was in love with a woman, all without me having to admit that I’d been going through her stuff.
I had my chance that evening, as she was driving me to work. Please feel free to picture me in my vile Tim Horton’s uniform, with the maroon polyester pants and the maroon and white striped shirt.
Me: Mom? I just want you to know that I love you no matter what.
My mother: Thanks, Annie.
Me: Like, no matter what. No matter who you are or whatever.
My mother: Great. Thanks.
Me: Like, I don’t care who you love.
My mother: I appreciate that.
Me: I’ll always love you.
My mother (suspicious): What’s all this about?
Me: I just mean that if you’re gay that’s totally fine and I don’t care.
My mother: Why on earth would you think I was gay?
Me: Ok, I was in your room and I wasn’t snooping, I swear to god I wasn’t snooping I was just putting something in the hamper, and I accidentally saw this book next to the tv.
My mother: … what book?
Me: It was about lesbian mothers coming out to their daughters. And your girlfriend wrote you a note in it telling you to always tell the truth. And I don’t care, because I love you even if that is the truth.
My mother: (Dies laughing)
Me: (Sulks, because I hate being laughed at)
My mother: (Dies laughing some more. Like she is crying. Tears running down her face. She has to pull over because she can’t see well enough to drive)
Me: (SUPER SULKY)
My mother: Annie, that is a book my friend Gloria put together. She gave me a free copy and signed it. That’s all.
Me: Because I don’t care if you’re gay! You can just tell me, ok?
My mother: I’m not gay. It was my friend’s book, I swear that’s all. But I appreciate you saying all of this.
Now, looking back ten-plus years later, I’m the one who’s appreciative. I feel lucky that I grew up in a country that is fairly tolerant (although oh god there is still so much room for improvement). I also feel lucky that my parents were pretty laid back and liberal about everything, and worked hard to make sure that there was at least some amount of diversity in my life. When my father moved to Toronto, he rented a place on the edge of the gay village, and I loved visiting him and going off exploring on my own – there was such a weird frisson of excitement walking around in the middle of this culture that was pretty foreign to the rest of my life. I wanted to be like the girls that I saw there, with their half-shaved heads and facial piercings and boy’s clothes. Girls who held hands and kissed in public. I didn’t know any girls like that in Kitchener.
My father took me to my first Toronto Pride Parade when I was fifteen, and I remember being absolutely enchanted by a float of men wearing nothing but tighty whities and sailor hats. They were throwing bottles of water into the crowd. I was really excited when I caught one. I brought it back home with me like it was some kind of prize.
I think a lot about how Theo will view his sexuality as he gets older. I flip-flop from worrying about whether he might be teased or bullied if he deviates from traditional masculine ideas, to panicking over the fact that he might, against my best efforts, buy into those ideas and become a bully himself. The dice seem so loaded any way you roll them – like, I want him to be who he is, and I want him to be brave and stand up for marginalized and oppressed people, but I also want him to always be safe and happy. And I don’t know if I can have it both ways. Not that it’s really up to me – he’ll have to make his own discoveries and choices about himself, and while I can try to pass on my value system to him, I ultimately don’t have any say in who or what he is.
I just want him to know that, as I told my mother, I will love him no matter what his sexuality, no matter what his gender, no matter what, end of sentence, full stop.
I just hope that he always knows that I love him and I’m proud of him.