Graduation day for a gay-in-training who’s decided to come out to his conservative Midwestern parents
Within one month of moving to New York, I sat down at my computer and began drafting what I affectionately refer to as “the message of honesty and love.” I poured my heart and soul into this letter, offering answers to every question my parents might have regarding my sexuality. At twenty-one, I viewed it as a great literary work and fantasized that one day, years after my death, it would be framed, like the letters of Virginia Wolfe.
However, my mother diminishes this great literary feat, referring to it simply as “the gay letter.” That’s my mother: sweet but definitely to the point. I’ve reprinted the letter here with its original typos and grammatical errors, all of which she’s pointed out to me.
Hey guys this is the hardest thing I have had to do in my life. This letter is not something I ever wanted to write or never wanted to have to deal with myself. For the past 21 years I kept thinking that it would pass or that things would change I think I have been fooling myself and I can no longer lie to you because I love you both so much and feel that we are extremely close to each other that it pains me more not to tell you than to keep it to myself. I might as well just lay it on the line: I am gay.
You have to understand that just as I typed that I am actually welling up because I have never officially acknowledged to myself in black and white or let alone to another person. I know this is going to be very, very painful for you to accept your hopes and dreams for me may seem like they have disappeared in many ways. Believe me, they have not. I am the same Robert, Bob, Bobby, Berto that you raised so well. I guess I am writing this letter because I am much better expressing myself through the written word sometimes as opposed to physically saying it. I get all jumbled and nervous. Plus, I wanted to give you time to think about this and react and mourn and go through all the necessary emotions and then come talk to me about it when your ready.
I don’t expect you to understand or necessary accept it right away. It has taken me 21 years to accept. The best thing I could think of to do is to give you some basic question and answers that you are probably already thinking of that you know where I am coming from instead of me just rambling on and on and making much sense.
Are you sure you are gay? Is it just a phase? Is it the way you were raised?
Well I am 100% positive that I am gay. I have tried to date women and be sexual with them but it just never connected or clicked no matter how hard I tried or how many times I tried. I just am not sexually attracted to them. For so many years I just kept lying to myself and telling myself that it would pass and the attraction would come and I just inevitably was forcing something that wasn’t there and after awhile I felt like I was headed for a breakdown because I was feeling so tormented inside by the lies I would have to tell myself and to others. There were so many nights starting about 11 or 12 where I would go to bed praying that when I woke up that I wouldn’t be gay. I did this almost every night until about age 19 when I realized either God has fallen asleep or it wasn’t going to happen. I remember wishing that I would be anything but gay. I remember saying I rather be physically handicapped then gay. As much as I thought that my being gay would pass, the stronger it became the older I got.
Was the way I raised have anything to do with my being gay?
ABSOLUTELY NOT. I have always been my own person and have chose my own interests thanks to the freedom that you both have given to me. But with all the choices and opportunities that you both have given me the choice of my sexuality was not one of them. I wish it was because I never would have chosen this. I would never have chosen to be made fun of, discriminated against, laughed at, and ridiculed. This is something that I have known from a very early age.
Is this why you moved to NYC?
NO. NO. NO. My reasons for moving out to New York are because I want to be in the city that doesn’t sleep and where I can thrive on the energy and life of a city. I want to live in a place where there is something new you can do everyday. I moved to New York to pursue my dreams. It is very frightening and exciting for me to say the least. Not only with me being up in the air about a job but with keeping this secret that I couldn’t do it no longer. I felt that if I didn’t tell you in the next couple of months I would have seriously had a breakdown with all of the stress that has been escalating and that is no exaggeration. To say that I had a lot on my mind would be a grave over-generalization.
Why tell us now?
Good question. I don’t know why this week or this day or this particular year. I just knew that I couldn’t continue to lie to you anymore. I have been extremely open with you about every other aspect of my life. This guilt has torn me apart and I couldn’t stand the sleepless nights anymore.
I didn’t like lying to you about another major aspect of who I am. It hurts me so much to know that this letter is hurting you both. The last thing I want to do is hurt you by all this. I have so much love and respect for both of you that the last thing I want to do is hurt you by this. That is why I couldn’t bear to see the expressions on both of your faces. It would literally crush me. But for the last couple years it no longer was a question of if I told you, it was more of a question of when. For my own mental welfare, it was time to tell you. It is so hard to do but in some ways as I am typing this it feels very cathartic and up lifting that lies about this major aspect of my life can now end.
Does anybody else know?
NO. I knew that you two should be the first since you two are the most important people in my life. As far as me wanting to broadcast it to the world, its not going to happen at least not right now. I have to deal with this too. My immediately family is the only people that I am really concerned about it. I don’t think that aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents really need to know at this point. I mean if they ask I won’t lie nor do I expect you to lie, but somehow I don’t see it coming up. I am not of those gay people you see on TV or in the paper with their pink flags and marching in parades although I do believe gay people deserve the same rights as the rest of the human race.
Anyway, one the reasons I never really considered myself gay was because of the images that I saw on television were not me. I am not one of those images that the media was representing on the news etc. However, as more “normal” gay people came out and lead normal lives it makes me feel a little better that the tide is changing with the perception. But back to the question, none of my friends know with the exception of Laurie whom I had to tell because I really needed someone to talk to desperately. For the rest of my friends, I am sure I will lose 75% of them when they find out. I am in no rush to tell them in fact the friends that I truly care about most of them I will tell them myself, the others if they find out won’t come from me. I just don’t want to be the embarrassment of our family. I don’t want to be the one everyone whispers about and don’t want to bring shame to you both. Although, I know that people will whisper and judge and will discriminate against me. That will be my cross to bear I suppose. We all have them. All I ask is for your continued love and eventually your support and understanding and maybe ultimately your acceptance.
Well, these were just a few questions that I could think of that you might have but I am sure you will have many more and I know that you are probably in complete and utter shock. I am so sorry to put you through this but I just couldn’t lie to you anymore. I want our relationship to be open and honest. Call me after you have had time to take it all in. I am not expecting alot and I am sure it will be rough. Please know that I love you both so very much to my core and no matter what, I am proud to be your son as I hope that no matter what gay or straight your proud to be my parents. I love you and I hope to hear from you soon.
It was a regular Tuesday morning. I got up around five thirty, had my breakfast, and read our local paper. It looked like it was going to be like any other day in Bloomington, Illinois. My husband, Ron, went to work early that morning for a meeting. I ran some errands—the bank, grocery store, and then a quick stop at my mom’s house for coffee—and finally returned home around twelve thirty and sat down at my kitchen table for lunch. Just as I was about to take a bite of my sandwich, our dog, Barney, started barking like he was possessed. It could only mean trouble. But this trouble was in the form of the mailman. I put down my sandwich and grabbed my overweight, temperamental shih tzu before I had a lawsuit on my hands and made my way to the mailbox.
I thumbed through the stack of mail and made a note to myself to dispose of the credit card bill before my husband saw it. (Yes, even I have a vice.) I got to the middle of the stack and saw that there was a letter from Berto. I was excited to see it, because he had been in New York for only a few months and he was already sending me an update. The letter was unusually thick, but I didn’t think much of it. In retrospect, I was a little surprised to get an actual handwritten letter as opposed to an e-mail. He was very big with the e-mails. All I thought at the time was, “Great, he has a lot to tell me about New York City.”
Well, guess what? He did have a lot to tell me, just not about New York.
I went back to the table and excitedly opened the letter, expecting to read some fun stories about his new job working at a PR firm. As I read the first paragraph, I was in complete shock. I read it over again, and the words didn’t change. The neatly formatted letter was filled with paragraphs, but all I kept seeing was Mom and Dad, I’m gay.
I thought I had better keep reading. I couldn’t even imagine what else he might have to tell me. After reading it through, my heart ached so much for my youngest son. He was so far away, and I couldn’t see his face to let him know it was okay. I felt so much sadness for him that I didn’t even realize that I had begun to cry until the tears began hitting the paper. I cried not for myself, but for my son. He was alone and didn’t feel he could tell me face-to-face. Then again, if I had been in his shoes, would I have been able to tell my mom? I guess we are all different when it comes to the dramas in our lives. I suppose I am not sure what I would have done.
I worried about the hard times he would face for the rest of his life. I watched the news, and I saw how people viewed gays and lesbians. I also didn’t live in a big city, where one is exposed to gay people on a daily basis. I heard the nasty comments that people made, and what hurt most was knowing I couldn’t protect him from the abuse and discrimination that was yet to come.
I worried he would go through it alone trying to find his true identity. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he knew who he was and could start getting on with living his life. He didn’t need to be worrying about me.
I was a middle-aged stay-at-home mom, and I never really felt as if I knew who I was, but here was my son, who knew for sure who he was. I thought, maybe this experience would force me to find out who I was, too.
It never even occurred to me to worry about what other people would think. I had never worried about it prior to this, so why would I start now? I’d leave that to the TV movies of the week. This was one of my children, and he needed me right now.
I knew what my next move had to be, no matter how difficult. I called Ron at work and interrupted his meeting. All I would tell him was to get home right away because we needed to talk. I’m sure he wondered what was going on, especially when he heard the quiver in my voice, but I thought he should read what I now refer to as “the gay letter” himself. A big part of me wanted to call Robert right away and tell him it was okay; if he could handle being gay, so could I. But my husband and I have always worked as a team when it comes to our kids, so I needed him to read it before I made a move.
While I waited for Ron to get home, I composed myself and tried to keep busy. I cleaned up the kitchen, and then I took Barney out even though I had just done so twenty minutes earlier.
I sat at the table and stared at my sandwich. How couldn’t I have seen this coming? You would think, considering how close Robert and I are, that I would have known or at least suspected. Every talk show I ever watched said the mother always knows, either subconsciously or consciously. Not me—I didn’t have a clue. Robert hadn’t been the stereotypical gay guy I’d seen on the news or in the movies. He’d always been “all boy.”
Finally, I heard the garage door go up.
Copyright © 2011 by Robert Rave and Jane Rave