My son Jeff as a small child was sensitive, gentle, preferred to play with girls and disliked the rough and tumble teasing of some of his boy friends, father and brother. In middle school he was tormented by neighborhood boys who wanted to fight etc.
At age 13 ,circa 1970, he asked me how he could determine if he was homosexual. I had no idea but my search for understanding and information began at that moment. I grew up in a loving, fundamentalist church going family where the emphasis was on a loving God. His father and I never doubted our son's goodness or our love for him, but we did wonder if we knew how best to raise him, if we were doing something wrong. Jeff was a very unhappy young man and it broke my heart to see him struggle. I offered therapy for the purpose of helping him find happiness and he took me up on it. It took several changes in therapists to find one that truly helped. I admitted that I hoped he was not gay but wanted him to be happy if he was.
Jeff dated girls throughout highschool and tried to be straight. At age 20 he told me it was useless to try to change and that he accepted his homosexuality. His only regret was that he really wanted to be a father and have a family. Since I knew he would make a great father this saddened me. My main concerns were for his safety and happiness. He shared books with me, helped me understand and enjoy his gay friends and reassured me that he avoided risky situations and people. At this point his father, older brother & sister were told. His dad accepted it now. His brother was uncomfortable for awhile and his sister had expected it and was fine. Before long we had told other relatives and friends. Jeff was enjoyed by most of our relatives and friends and his gay friends were included in family gatherings and ski trips etc. His nephews and niece, his brother's children, adored him and accepted and enjoyed his boyfriends. His grandmother wasn't thrilled but she loved Jeff and liked his friends.
Jeff had some very good years until he discovered he was HIV+ in '88. He was stunned, as were his father, his lover (thankfully negative) and I. Apparently he had contacted the virus during his college days before safe sex ruled. We all did our best to enjoy the days we still had and give him as much love as he would permit. Jeff was a funloving, playful and thoughtful man who was also fiercely independant and in '93 he ordered flowers to be sent with a "thank you" to friends and family members and took his own life at the point where he knew there was no more hope and before he became helpless. We all miss him terribly, me the most, but we have some wonderful memories and feel enriched in so many ways by the life he shared with us.
Now What Do I Do? I sought PFLAG in '90 as help for a friend but found it to be a great place for me to enjoy the "community" and to help others respect and enjoy their gay family members as we did. Outside of PFLAG I get special satisfaction through opening the minds of parents of young children to the importance of encouraging their children to appreciate diversity in themselves and in others. Facilitating rap groups at PFLAG allows me to see how it pains parents to realize that they weren't"there" for their children during very trying times. --Liz Armstrong
The Beginning After The End...
Today I leave Wisconsin and return to my home in Colorado. I am a new person. I am free and I am me for the first time in my life. Three months ago I was plunged into the greatest pain and grief I had ever known. Today I am soaring with the clouds. Not because I am in this airplane but because I have experienced so much love in the past few days.
I wish Dave, my partner, could be sitting right here next to me sharing this moment because he is part of the reason I am having this experience.
Dave was killed in an auto accident on May 15, only 3 and a half months ago. I loved Dave more than anyone and more than anything and his death was a shock and a pain I shall never forget. As a gay man I was not out to 'anyone' in my life and I was struck with the sudden realization that I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to, no one to help me with the pain and loss. The grief was devastating and I felt so very much alone.
I reached out to my community but there was nothing to be found easily. No grief group for gay men, no hotline - just an answering machine. I couldn't work and I couldn't eat. And sleep (when it finally came) was the only relief from the tears.
I got through the funeral with the help of Dave's family and friends and the ever present support of his wonderful cousin. I reached out on the internet and have met some extraordinary people who could share my pain and who stood by me even though we never met.
One old friend bonded with me in this time of grief and together we have supported our local telephone companies to the tune of hundred's of dollars. During the first weeks after Dave's death she saved my life a little each day.
With no one in town to talk to I stumbled to the library and read a few books. The books told me I was not crazy and assured me that the pain today would be different tomorrow. There was light further down the road they said, but the road would be rocky. Yes, the road is rocky.
I scanned the local database and found one small entry which spoke of a grief group at a local hospital. I met the chaplain and the group began a few weeks later (on Dave's birthday). This little group (usually the chaplain, the social worker, and me) saved my life a little bit more. They were great.
I drove to various offices to seek help and I got referrals. Some referrals were no longer valid and other referrals produced only answering machines or people who were just going on vacation. A wonderful woman at a local university reached out to me with her heart and helped me find more help, a few more potential contacts. And one of these contacts lead to another person who has helped me even more.
Step by slow step, day by long day I continued to reach out to search for support. And person by person, little by little I found more of what I needed. Yet for all the love and support I was able to find there were still missing parts.
I was still a gay man who was just beginning to be out to himself. I was still a man in grief who had no family around to support him. I still lived in confusion and fear. Confusion about who I was and fear over what I was finding - would I lose my job, would I ever love again, would my family turn their backs if they ever found out about the real me.
Among the many things David gave me was a strong sense of what it was like to love and be loved. What it felt like to be genuinely happy. And what it sounded like when the walls I had built around my life and my heart came tumbling down brick by brick.
I can't go back into the closet. Dave would want me to be happy and I want to be happy. Therefore, I made the decision that I I needed to begin sharing my life with my family. I want them to know me fully and I don't want to lie any longer. And I need their support and love now more than ever.
With the support of my older sister (who I came out to two months ago-another fantastic story) I orchestrated a family meeting for when I would next be in Wisconsin. Rumors were flying but I kept my secret (all the while assuring my parents and siblings that I wasn't dying and I hadn't won the lottery).
The meeting began. My parents and most of my other immediate family were there. They waited for me to start. How can I put into words the feelings in the room. It is impossible. How can I share and do justice to the depth and the quality of each smile, each tear. All I can say is that the room was filled with 100% unconditional acceptance and 200% love.
As I told my story and shared my life for the first time with my parents, siblings and their spouses not a word was spoken until I finished. Each and everyone honored me with their silent and soft gaze. No one made light of my words or attempted to push away their feelings by drawing attention to themselves or other topics. They opened their hearts and allowed their son and brother to gently walk back into their lives.
The fact that I was gay was no surprise to many and was not a problem for anyone. They cried with me over my loss, they smiled with me over the many stories I shared. And as they looked at my pictures of Dave they mourned over their loss at never having met this wonderful man.
Each and every person - mother, father, brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law - held me and told me they loved me. They cried with me as we squeezed each other tight. They whispered words of love and support and they spoke from their hearts.
I was their brother, I was their son, I was important and nothing has changed about how they felt about me. The information of my being gay was only important because they were happy I had finally come to terms with a part of my life that I was able to share with them.
Hours went by and as I went from couple to couple to say goodbye we held each other, we cried, we laughed. Things were said which will forever glow in my heart. Beautiful things about me and about Dave. Invitations were made for me to come to their homes to visit and some reminded me that they were still planning to come and visit me.
The only thing which has changed in my family is that we are now closer to one another than before. We have shared thoughts and feelings which all too often go unsaid.
I have always loved my family and valued the qualities which made my parents and each of my 7 brothers and sisters unique. But until this weekend I never really knew how blessed I was.
And the joy did not stop there. As I hugged and kissed my parents my dad reminded me that they loved me and that should things get rough in my life or if I needed a place to stay I was always welcome to come and live with them. And my mother said that some day I would meet a man as wonderful as Dave and that when that happened I should know that we were always welcome in their home.
The day before and later that same day I met with my sister's children and their spouses. Again the whole experience from beginning to end was deeply moving and beautiful. Their love and respect for me was unshaken. (So much for that fear too). Even though they are so very young they spoke such wisdom. They shared thoughts and feelings that welled from their hearts. As with the first group, nothing was contrived or said out of obligation or out of a need to appear polite. Their smiles, their tears, their hugs, their words were unmistakably saying - you are our uncle Jerry, we have always loved you and we always will. I was touched beyond words.
I miss my Dave and I will process this grief for a very long time. Yet I must also thank him for impacting my life as he has. He played a vital role in hastening the emergence of the man I am today. The man I am proud to be. Beginning today, I am out to myself and I am out to my family. I look forward to the future.
August 27, 1995 --Jerry Albrent
On the first Sunday of May 1985, (for some reason parents remember this date the way they remember their child's birthdate) my 19 year old son asked me to meet him in Golden Gate Park. He had something important to tell me.
After he jogged eight miles around the Polo Field track (he later told me he was terrified of coming out) and we ate our picnic lunch, he showed me his poetry journal.
Page after page was filled with phrases like "fuck the world," and "what does it matter." We sat quietly for a few moments before I asked if there was anything else.
"Yes," he said, lowering his head.
"Are you gay?" I asked him.
I still don't know why I said this because I really had no idea that he might be gay. He didn't fit any of the gay stereotypes. He was athletic and he was not effeminite. If anything, I thought my heterosexual son might be gay because he seemed the more "sensitive" of the two.
The first comment I made was, "But you had a girlfriend." He said that they were never very affectionate.
"You've known for awhile, right?" he asked me.
But I hadn't. How would I know? Because he liked to cook and clean house?
After awhile I began to understand why he was sure I would know. This is something he has always been. Being gay permeates every pore of his being. If I suddenly had to come out to everyone as female, I would probably also say, "You guessed right?" because...how could they not.
I also began to realize that gay and lesbian people come in as many varieties as heterosexual people. Stereotypes are what we see on TV and in magazines - the man in a dress (he does wear dresses on occassion, but that's another story), the woman in a man's suit. These are all possibilities, but there are gay men who are football players and lesbians who are wear makeup and high heels.
I wish he could have expressed his gayness at a very early age. When I told my son I loved him, he breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Now I can lower my shoulders. Now I can raise my voice an octave." This saddened me more than anthing - that he was also trapped in the stereotypical belief - that if he dared to relax his posture or raise the pitch of his voice, then everyone would know he was gay and he would be ostracized.
I hope we are learning now that our children have unique and varied identities and we must love them not in spite of these variations but because of them. --Laura Siegel