I recently received the following letter from a mom. Please read her story. It's all too familiar.
But she has a great idea. Let me know your thoughts.
Although in the beginning I felt I lived in an alternative universe, I have learned that my story is not unique. So I send you my story in the form of a letter as a way to connect to other mothers and fathers who are just beginning to navigate the uncharted land we religious parents of gay children inhabit.
I am the mother of an orthodox gay young man who came out to us a few years ago after many years of dealing on his own with the reality of his life. Needless to say, during the years when he was grappling with how he would lead his life while trying to keep it from us, even to protect us, our relationship with him was strained. There was a gulf between us, and while we didn’t suspect the reason for it, it disturbed us greatly. He never wanted to talk about dating, marriage or, in fact, anything that would give us any real information about his life. To every probing question we posed we got a vague response. We suspected that he was no longer religious, but we certainly never suspected he was gay.
Of course he sensed the strain in our relationship. He knew we were concerned about him. But while he wanted to tell us the truth, he worried about what would happen to our family. Could we and would we accept who he really was and embrace him fully?
Finally when the yom tov visits home became intolerable, he had to tell us.
So, on a beautiful, cloudless day that seemed to promise only happy things, he faced me and told me the real reason he had distanced himself from us. It was not a question of observance, but that he was gay. I remember looking at him in shock, not quite sure what I had heard. I was devastated. In that one moment, standing in the sunshine, my world shifted. Any expectation I had ever had for him as a husband and father was shattered. Any notion of who is gay or what kind of family that person would come from was obliterated from my mind. I was shaken and afraid, frightened for my son and what the world held for him, of course, but also frightened because I knew our lives would never be the same. I remember thinking, “How did this happen? How will I ever breathe again?” I certainly didn’t think I would ever stop crying. Sleep evaded me for weeks. No one I knew could relate to this. There was no template for behavior or response in my community for such a revelation. Yet, I loved him, and I knew that whatever the cost to our communal life, or the disconnect we might feel religiously, he was our son, and we would find a way to live with this.
Uncomfortable as we were, we were suddenly talking about all kinds of things. That wall of secrecy was down, and there was a mature adult talking openly about his life. Within a short time, my son told his siblings and they began the work of processing this new information and accepting him. But as good as their acceptance was in forging a more meaningful relationship with him and as happy as we were with the new communication that had opened up among us all, these things didn’t bring relief from the anxiety we faced each day when we would waken yet again to our new reality. And although my son insisted that there are many religious gay people in his world and although he remained observant, the Orthodox world we inhabit was not ready to deal with this openly. We knew no one in the same situation. There was no one we could share this with. And there was grief, a grief we would have to muddle through on our own without the comfort of community. We mourned the expectations and hopes we had to give up; we mourned the loss of our son’s expectations and the years he spent keeping this all to himself, and we dreaded the veil of secrecy that now surrounded our lives.
During the first weeks after my son came out, we read a great deal about homosexuality and Jewish attitudes towards it. It was not encouraging. We spoke to our rabbi who listened with sympathy and without judgment, but offered little help. We had long conversations with our kids, but there was no one else we could confide in. Often, I would start crying while in the middle of some task. I tortured myself with questions, possibilities. What would I do if someone found out? Now that I knew, how should I respond if someone asked me about him? What happens if he gets involved in a long term relationship? How can I live with this?
Yet from the very beginning, a great help in our struggle was the information my son gave us just a few days after he came out. He told us to look at a blog written by an orthodox parent of a gay son. We read the Kirtzono blog from beginning to end that same night, and a new world opened to us. Sad and bereft as we were, we saw we were not completely alone. There was at least one other family facing the challenges that now shaped our lives. Through the blog we connected with Saul David and after several emails, he put us in touch with another family who had recently learned their son was gay. This direct contact allowed us to start a meaningful conversation with each other. Their son had come out to them several months before so they were that much farther ahead in the coping process and could assure me that all the things I felt were normal and that despite the deep sorrow we felt, a day really would come when I would think about other things and be able to talk to my son about ordinary topics, when I wouldn’t cry in the supermarket line or feel desolate as I stood in shul on Shabbat, isolated and mute among my friends.
The knowledge that there are other people with the same issues has made an enormous difference in our lives. Years later we are still writing to one another. We cannot solve each other’s problems, yet we appreciate the emotional roller coaster of each other’s lives. She understands how my love for my son and my pride in the man he has become trumps all my previous notions. She knows the struggles he has faced and understands the courage he shows each day. Most importantly, I know she will get it when I say there are times when the sorrow comes flooding back again after months of coping if someone casually asks if he’s dating anyone or can they fix him up with this really great girl.
Thus, I make a modest proposal that this blog serve as a way for parents to make contact with one another, to establish a buddy system so that no parent feels s/he is alone following the disclosure that a child is gay. Perhaps we can develop a pairing of parents, so to speak, who are willing to communicate with one another. The questions, the problems, the comforts of a shared experience are ours to offer to one another in a context of sensitivity, religious commitment, empathy and concern for our children. We need to be supportive of our children, but we too need support and comfort. This can be done with a therapist of course, and that is a good option for many parents and family members. But less intense help can also come from another parent who has been in our shoes. Perhaps there are parents who are willing to write or speak to someone just beginning the road to acceptance and understanding. And perhaps parents who feel they would benefit from this kind of anonymous and discreet contact can write into the blog and find that other family who is willing to show them support and help them deal with the challenge of living with the knowledge that they have a gay child.