A mother is not easily convinced that her daughter is okay in the head when she admits to being gay. She thinks that there must be some underlying psychological and emotional problems.
I feel extremely fortunate to have a little brother (okay he is older than me, actually 29 years old - so perhaps not so little) who is accepts me as a lesbian and my work in the human rights world.
The day I came out to him, many years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, he simply told me that he already knew. Then he asked me if I was seeing anyone, which I wasn't at the time. Since then he has made three statements with regards to my opinions and my work that have given me food for thought.
Once, not long after I came out to him, he and I were watching Sadaam Hussein's capture, trial and execution on television. I admit to having had double standards with regards to capital punishment, justifying it on people who have done heinous criminal acts whilst being against it for more 'innocent' people. I voiced my approval of Saddam’s execution that day.
Then my brother turned to me and said something I would never forget. He said that I should be careful how I judged others, because capital punishment is in some countries also used against people like myself.
I was temporarily lost for words. He had a point - though at the time it seemed to me that his logic was a little off. His point was of course that, whereas some of us may see justice in executing persons charged with numerous human rights violations, other people may feel equally justified in executing gay and lesbian people because of the perceived 'moral degradation and threat to society' that they pose.
A moderate, sensible thinking person might see huge differences between crimes against humanity and 'moral crimes' but the main point is the taking of life, which, in a just and ideal world, should not be allowed to take place - ever.
The second thing that my brother told me was over Christmas in 2008 after our mother had passed away three months earlier (our father had passed away two years before). He complained at my getting involved in this 'dangerous' human rights work - wasn't it enough for him to have lost both his parents? He didn't want to lose me also. I was deeply touched.
The third thing he said to me was when I shared my CV with him not very long ago. He was helping me format and improve it. He was hugely impressed with the contents and he said so - three times. I was very proud and happy.
That having been said, mothers are a different matter altogether. A mother doesn't always understand or accept her daughter being lesbian or bisexual. Neither do all fathers, siblings and extended family for that matter. When I decided to come out to my mother, it was after my secret had weighed on my mind for a long time. I was in my late-twenties and had decided that I was ready emotionally and psychologically for the consequences of possible rejection and the long challenge ahead trying to make her understand me. How I thought that I could possibly be ready for rejection is beyond me - considering how close I was to her at the time. It would have been crushing. Still I pushed ahead cautiously.
I asked her if her love was unconditional. She said it was, though perhaps not completely. I wasn't sure what she meant. Anyway, I proceeded to ask her to sit with me and then told her that I was gay. She was quiet for a while. Then she asked me if I meant that I was bisexual, to which I nodded.
Perhaps a daughter being bisexual is a softer landing for a mother to digest than the fact that her daughter is an absolute lesbian. Somehow it conjures up the image that her daughter is not completely lost to her - that there is a possibility for the young woman to 'come back' or 'come to her senses'. That, perhaps, she is only trying to find her way around the sometimes difficult, sometimes confusing, often misunderstood and perplexing phenomena called sexuality.
Still it is often a shock to many mothers to hear for the first time that their daughters are lesbian, that they love women or prefer them to men. One of the biggest fears mothers have is that they didn't raise their daughters right - that they failed them in the process, in some way.
My mother actually asked me later if she had done something wrong in raising me. I was very surprised, of course, considering how well-rounded I felt I had become and how fortunate I was to have had such great parents. I assured her that she had done nothing wrong.
Then she asked if my dad had done something wrong in raising me. Again I couldn't think of a single thing that he had done. He had been the typical hardworking, kind, gentle and generous father that many daughters have the good fortune of having.
A mother is not easily assured that her daughter is okay in the head when she admits to being gay. A mother thinks that there must be underlying psychological and emotional problems that even the daughter doesn't know or understand.
Often the first thing that the mother proposes is that the young woman goes for counseling. She thinks that the daughter is probably more traumatized than she (the mother) is. It does not occur to a mother that pushing the girl into counseling might not help much. Many counselors are not well equipped to handle issues of sexual orientation. In fact, a young woman going for counseling for the first time feels that she has been sent there because she has serious 'issues'. It scares her.
It scared me, though I put on a brave face. I had felt perfectly 'normal' till I saw my mother's reaction. After a while, my mother calmed down. There were many days of not talking about it and several when we did discuss it. She would ask questions and I would answer the best way I could. Sometimes she would tell me what she thought and I would listen. I felt that my mum put up a brave front both for me and herself. She said that she had acquaintances and friends who either had gay colleagues at work or gay daughters and sons.
I think it gave her some comfort to know that there were numerous gay people out there and that her daughter wasn't the only one. Still, it must be a mother's big dream to see her daughter get married. I wonder why. I feel I have personally drifted away from the mainstream of hoping, expecting and planning for the day when that will happen to me. Somehow it seems so out-of-reach.
But a mother never stops hoping to seeing the wedded daughter living with a good man in a decent house and having her first baby. Perhaps because she herself went through it and it seems like the natural cycle of things. A mother fears that her daughter will grow up and be lonely.
She feels that other women cannot possibly give her daughter the kind of comfort, security and joy that a big, cuddly, warm man can give. She fears that her daughter may never have children and if she does, that the children will not be raised right or grow up missing something.
Is she right? I'm not sure. I suppose it depends a lot on circumstances and the efforts that we, as women, put into our relationships. Perhaps last but not least are the fears a mother has for her daughter's safety, status and general comfort in society.
She probably wonders, and rightfully so, how society will treat her daughter. Will it be kind to her or mistreat her? Will her daughter be subjected to violence and discrimination on account of having chosen a different path? Will she be accorded the same respect as others? A woman's journey through life seems so fraught with risks and challenges. How will the young woman manage, with this added 'disadvantage'?
Many societies lag behind in the provisions they give to single women, not to mention single lesbians or lesbian couples. And so the fears of a mother go on and on. If only mothers would stop killing themselves over-thinking the circumstances that caused the homosexual orientation, or the many important 'opportunities' the young woman will miss, or the hardships to come.
Mothers should rest assured knowing that their daughters are remarkably resilient, much as they themselves were. Lesbian daughters will keep getting up every time they have fallen down. They will fight back at a society that is unjust. They will create alternative opportunities when others pass them by. They will find love in other women and they will create homes that are filled with warmth, colour and laughter.
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