My son Jesse is 22 years old. He is 5-foot-7, has dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He's at the top of his class in business school, is a talented singer and actor, and has a beautiful soul. Oh, and he's gay. I don't mean that as a throw away, but I have come to realize that like all his other features — his height, hair or eye colour; his great sense of humour; his compassion for others — being gay is just part of who he is. Take away any one of these qualities and he wouldn't be him.
Jesse came out to us four years ago, on the morning he was leaving for university. I remember the day vividly. Jesse got up early to have breakfast with us and when he came into the kitchen, my husband asked him if he wanted a bagel and cream cheese. His response: "Sure, and I'm gay." His words came spilling out without warning, almost as part of casual conversation. He later told us he was scared he'd lose his nerve if he didn't blurt it out at the moment his courage was at its peak.
I am grateful for my husband, who, like me, immediately ran over and hugged our son. I'd like to say it was no big deal for us, two open-minded people who believe love is love and that everyone has a right to love or marry who they want. But I have to be honest, it was a big deal. As a parent, I think we all have our own idea of what our children's lives will look like. Above all, we want our kids to have an easy life, opportunities, acceptance and a family of their own. When their road has been on a straight path and suddenly takes a new turn, especially when it's a path you have no experience with, it's frightening.
And while we immediately expressed our love and acceptance for our son, inside we were reeling. Who was this boy I was so close with and thought I knew so well? What had he gone through in high school? And what did this mean for his future? What about marriage? Kids? My mind was going a million miles a minute, yet I didn't know the right thing to do or say. All I knew was that these next moments would have a big impact on Jesse and on our relationship, so other than hugging him tight and telling him we loved him, I didn't say too much.
The next hours were a blur.
I was also confused as to why he chose that day to tell us — an already emotional one when he was embarking on a new journey in life and leaving home. Why would he tell us then, knowing we'd be getting into the car with his sister (who he wasn't yet ready to tell) and dropping him off at his university residence, giving us little time to process this news or discuss it?
But off we went. The next hours were a blur — we got to the school, set him up, met his roommates, kissed him goodbye and headed home. Once in the privacy of our room, my husband and I cried. We cried knowing he wouldn't bring home a lovely girl and have beautiful children the same way we did. We cried for the lie he had to live until now. We cried with worry; what if he got bullied or his friends weren't accepting of his news?
Over those next couple of weeks, we did a lot of talking, reading and learning. In one of the first articles I read, the author stated that while she was initially shocked to learn her child was gay, a number of years later she not only accepts and supports it but she is grateful for it. Grateful for how it has impacted her, making her a better and more accepting person in general. I knew that I already accepted and loved my son unconditionally, but grateful he was gay? I couldn't imagine it at the time.
I realized, if only a fraction, how tough it must have been for him to keep a secret of that magnitude.
We learned it's very common for kids to come out as they embark on a new journey in life — often university — where they can start fresh and be themselves. I also think Jesse knew we needed time alone to process his news. He knew we loved and supported him unconditionally, but he also recognized that we needed a little time to reconfigure our own dreams for him.
Since Jesse wasn't ready to come out to the rest of our family or friends, we carried his secret for a few months. During that period I realized, if only a fraction, how tough it must have been for him to keep a secret of that magnitude.
It took several months for Jesse to come out fully — first to his siblings and friends, and then to extended family members. Everyone we know and love was supportive and caring. So, again, I am grateful. Grateful for our family and friends, but also for the generation he lives in. It's not perfect and has a long way to go, but coming out now is much different than it was. Our kids don't seem to have the same preconceived notions that we were brought up with and our world seems to be more accepting of diversity. At least our part of the world.
And finally, I'm grateful for Jesse — for his honesty, his sense of humour, his caring nature. I have learned so much from him about courage, about living an authentic life and the importance of being yourself no matter what. While we were always very close, once Jesse could truly be himself, it deepened our relationship. I am looking forward to his future — to the success I know awaits him. To one day meeting the lovely boy he'll bring home, seeing him get married and hopefully having kids. And you know what? I am grateful that he is gay.
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