Yesterday afternoon, amid widespread happiness following the first appellate court ruling declaring a gay marriage ban unconstitutional, I received an e-mail from my mother.
”Not being totally sure that you will get my comment on Wayne F—-’s ignorant Facebook post,” her message began, “I am copying it here for you.”
Wayne F—-, I knew, was a former student of my mother’s at her pre-school in southern California. He had recently reconnected with her to let her know that he was writing a series of books, and after that had requested her friendship on Facebook. My mother accepted, and their pseudo-friendship had progressed without incident until he posted a link about the Prop. 8 news yesterday along with a message.
“So much for suffrage!” he said. “The real headline for this story should be, ‘Judges rule right to vote unconstitutional.’ Apparently, giving ‘equal rights’ to a minority includes robbing rights from the majority, which is almost as un-American as same-gender relations themselves. In the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, who warned a civilization before it was wiped out, ‘the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and judges’ (Alma 10:27). Shame on all people, judges and citizens alike, who support this tide of perversion.”
“As un-American as same-gender relations themselves” — as a criticism this is ahistorical, and wishful thinking to boot, but not unrepresentative of the views of many Americans. Surely the 7 million Californians who voted for Prop. 8 believed some version of it. I wonder if even my own parents would have believed it at one time, before the night 11 years ago that I sat them down and came out. It was the hardest thing I ever did, telling Mom and Dad, and hearing it was hard for them. My mother struggled to understand; the news had come as a surprise. Mostly, she told me, she worried what others would think of me — people who knew me, who loved me. What would they think when they knew I was attracted to men? When my tears were dried and I stood up to leave, she gave me a hug. “I still love you,” she said. Still. The word stung.
But what do you know? It gets better. Six months passed before either of us had the courage to bring it up again, but then one day I did, and the sudden fact of a gay son began to take root in the household. Small, tentative jokes were made. A year in, maybe, or two, there was the occasional inquiry. Was I seeing anyone special? In time I brought a boy home to meet them and, gob-smackingly, they were perfect: greeting him at the door, accepting the vase of flowers he had brought, peppering him with questions. Treating him like a trusted friend.
More tears, right now, just thinking about that day.
In any case my parents have never been one to take up a cause. They belong to opposite parties but are in general agreement that American politics is a rotten business. Every four years they march to the polls and, with a spirit of real patriotism, cancel out one another’s vote. They have never put a candidate’s sign in their yard nor donated money to a campaign. When Prop. 8 hit the ballot they voted against it, angry at the mere fact of its existence, but didn’t exactly take to the streets in opposition. And why should they have to? Surely in a state like ours it wouldn’t prevail.
But it did, amid thinking like Wayne F—-’s. And yesterday my mother, having had some years to think about the whole gay-son thing, for the first time in her life took to Facebook to register an opinion about it.
“As the mother of one gay son and one straight son, this issue is personal for our family,” she wrote in a comment under Wayne’s screed. “We cannot wait for the day that our gay son finds a soulmate to marry and spend his life with, with equal rights, just as we are thrilled that our straight son has found his soulmate. We are happy with today’s vote.”
I smiled at my mom’s comment. But the moment was bittersweet — because of something I knew about Wayne F—-. When my mom first told me that among her former students was an author, I Googled him, and stumbled across a self-published work he was selling on Amazon with the following description:
“I am a gay Mormon. Well, sort of. I’m gay because I’m a man who is in love with men—not women. I’m Mormon because that’s the faith that I was raised to believe. I’m sort of because I’ve never acted on my homosexual tendencies, which makes me still in full fellowship in the church. But both sort ofs are on the verge of collapse. Especially when I leave home and fate leads me on board a secretive ship, where live a stern captain, an unattractive young woman, and someone else—the most beautiful man on the seven seas. It’s tough to be Mormon at sea.”
A Mormon at sea, indeed. Suddenly I saw Wayne in a new light — not as a bigot, but as a man adrift. I can only speculate, but I doubt Wayne had parents like mine, big-hearted enough to open their minds and accept a world in which men fall happily in love with each other. I don’t suppose I’d ever felt so grateful for the family I grew up in, reading that summary of Wayne’s potboiler. That’s the thing about love, whether romantic or familial: it gives you a sense of possibility, of hope for the future. My family loved me enough to let me spurn the young woman, and walk up to the most beautiful man on the seven seas and kiss him squarely on the mouth. While they applauded me from the shore.
I called my mom and told her that I loved her.