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Nine Days with Mother

by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. Tuesday, Jan. 03, 2012 at 9:08 PM
leopowerhere@msn.com (619) 757-4909 P. O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

In this pioneering article from the December 1968 issue of Vector, an early Queer publication, Zenger's Newsmagazine associate editor Leo E. Laurence, J.D. tells his coming-out story and advises other Queer people on how to come out. Four months after this article was published, Leo co-founded the Gay Liberation Front in San Francisco and led the first demonstration against a private employer for anti-Queer discrimination in U.S. history in March 1969, three months BEFORE Stonewall.

Nine Days with Mother

A Christmas Story, Subtitled “How to Say I’m Gay”

by LEO E. LAURENCE

Originally published in the December 1968 issue of the pioneering San Francisco Gay magazine Vector.

“MOM’S COMING TO VISIT … OH, MY GOD, NO!”

Frantic feelings of horror often hit Gay kids about to be visited by their mothers. Lovers suddenly become just roommates. Physique magazines are hidden. Lesbian “dates” are lined up to add to the heterosexual illusion.

The whole affair becomes a phantasy “to keep Mom happy.” Tell her the truth? God, no, I couldn’t do that. Telling Mom I’m a homosexual would be “just too much.” From the day we first come out, Gay kids (male and female) manufacture dozens of reasons why their homosexuality “must” be kept a secret. But can there be real love in such a phantasy?

“If my Mother cannot accept me as Gay, then she couldn’t really love me,” a tall, blond, blue-eyed go-go boy in San Francisco told me recently.

Gay males typically have a very close relationship with their mothers. As youngsters, Mom seemed to always care, always worried about us, and provided comfort when things got rough. But as we matured, the scene changed. We started grooving on guys rather than girls. Secretly, we were “coming out.”

The “double-life” living pattern gradually developed. We started to live our private Gay life, while simultaneously maintaining straight appearances on the job and in our family home.

We fooled everyone but our own consciences. The guilt began to bug us with disturbed sleep, nightmares, and some even started the slow process of drowning in booze or drugs.

Christmastime only intensified the troubles. ’Tis the season to be jolly, yet for many Gay kids, it’s the bluest time of the year. We see love all over … except inside our own hearts. Those living the double life may sing, laugh, and be merry (Mary?), yet the tinsel and bright lights silently intensify the loneliness.

“There’s three ways of handling a disturbing situation such as this,” says the Rev. A. Cecil Williams, minister of Glide United Methodist Church in downtown San Francisco. “You can (1) run away from it, (2) leave it as is and live with the pain, or (3) you can change the situation.”

We’ve all tried running away. Most of the quarter-million Gay people in the greater San Francisco Bay Area come from other states. Some have run just by moving across town. But it’s all the same; we soon learn that the problems go with us … unsolved.

The second method of coping with our homosexuality is by avoiding any direct discussion with our families. Teenagers “coming out” can dream up the wildest stories explaining to Mom or Dad why they spend so much time with their male “buddies.” And it becomes a full-time job to somehow dodge all those probing questions at home from suspicious parents asking about girls, girls, girls.

Facing the issue head on and changing distorted parental ideas on homosexuality is a proven successful method of dealing with parents, but it’s also the most difficult. “It’s tough, baby, to look at ourselves honestly,” Rev. Williams said. “It takes guts, and you can expect some resistance, especially at first.”

The toughest part is making the initial decision to tell Mom like-it-is. Most parents know very little about their own heterosexuality, less or nothing about homosexuality, and never heard of bisexuality, says Ted McIlvenna, director of the National Sex and Drug forum at Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco.

That’s why I honestly expected my “Nine Days with Mom” during her vacation to be pure hell for me.

About ten years ago, my homosexual activities were “discovered” by my university. I was suddenly exposed. My parents were shocked. Obviously, I couldn’t run away from it then, ignoring it was impossible, so I was forced to face my family head-on. Still, I tried copping out.

Regular psychiatric counseling satisfied another college, and my parents. But I adopted the double life, since I stayed Gay. Life soon became shallow. I was restricting any open expression of the most important emotion in life … love. I wanted to give my love to another male, but it had to be kept secret from my family.

Remember how hard it was when you were a kid to keep a secret from your mother? It’s the same when you become a teenager, or reach 35. Mothers have a way of knowing, of sensing the truth … or lack of it.

This year, I decided things would be different. I wasn’t ashamed to be Gay, so during Mom’s visit, she was going to see her son as-is. I expected the worst.

During her first vacation days, she graciously met my Gay boyfriends, and seemingly went along approvingly as we toured the San Francisco Gay scene … shows, restaurants, and dances. She even saw me smoke and get high.

After two days of this, she became saturated and could take no more. She blew her stack and thoroughly “read me out.” She bitched about everything.

I just let her blow off the steam, then I had my say.

“If you came to spy on me,” I told her calmly, but with determination, “then your visit was a mistake. If, however, you came out to have a good time with your son, then try to understand my life, don’t try to change it.”

That statement was like a bombshell. Distorting its meaning and intent, she cried, sobbing that I didn’t want her here, that I didn’t love her, and she started packing.

Reminding her that I loved her very much, I simply repeated my original statement. She tried everything … crying, pouting, and packing. Difficult as it was, I ignored her carrying on, and said I’d drive her to the airport when she was ready. I meant business. I also meant my original statement.

An incoming phone call broke the suspense. I managed to stretch out that phone call to gain time, time for both of us to “cool” off … time for emotions to return to normal. It worked.

We were both hungry, so we headed for Señor Pico’s for dinner. Hardly a word about the confrontation was spoken. Mom soon became fascinated by the Mexican-American dinner, and the Gay waiter’s detailed explanation of it. Sitting at a neighboring table, I recognized a Gay bartender and his lover, both looking dapper in business suits. It all had quite an effect on Mom.

“I’m now convinced that all men have some homosexual in them” she said, as if just uncovering a deep mystery, instead of a basic, fundamental fact of life.

“I’m beginning to realize that there’s a whole lot I don’t understand about this [Gay life],” she said. Progress was finally being made. It was progress through truth, by facing reality head-on … difficult, but beautiful.

Three days of her vacation had passed, and our fun was just beginning. Saturday night, I “dated” a handsome young man named Kim. We went to the theatre, then the S.I.R. [Society for Individual Rights] dance.

Several hundred people were there dancing. Mom was surprised to see so many Gay “types.” I felt very strange at first dancing with Kim right in front of my mother.

The shock came a little later during an intermission. “It’s good to see you having such a good time,” Mom whispered in my ear. That comment I didn’t expect, but it felt so good I almost cried with joy.

Hallowe’en was the following week. Explaining that it was “the” night for drags coast-to-coast, I took her on a tour. Her eyes popped. “I can hardly believe it. They’re positively fascinating,” she said, watching the “girls” parade into the Fantasy in San Francisco.

I suddenly realized something profound had happened in our relationship. I was beginning to be proud to be alive … totally … for the first time in my life. She commented on this.

“I think a Mother and son should get together after the kid grows into manhood. You have to educate your Mother, just as the Mother once educated the son as a child.

“I’ve seen kids in Hippieland that would never try talking this way to their mothers. If the kid was scared as a child, he (or she) will be scared as an adult. Some kids run away even though they live in the same house.

“Kids should try to think of their Mothers as human beings, not as dictators … regardless of what happened in childhood. It’s not easy, though.

“I don’t think you Gay kids respect your Mothers’ intelligence. You can’t talk to your Mother as a grown-up. You think of Mom only as before, as a growing kid. Gay kids never allow their Mothers to grow up WITH them,” Mom continued talking.

“Mothers should be sent material about homosexuality: books, folders, the story as seen from the Gay life, not a psychiatrist’s couch. If she’s really loving, she’ll read them.

“I can remember when homosexuality was never mentioned in the newspapers, but times are changing. I can even remember when a pregnant woman was ashamed to appear on the streets.

“You Gay kids should give your parents a chance to be friendly. It may not work with all families, but if there’s love in the family, they will gradually understand … and accept.

“There’s only two lines in some dictionaries about homosexuality, and that’s all some parents know about it. An understanding of Gay life cannot be accomplished by reading the dictionary,” my Mother said. “It’s too diversified, too different, there’s too much to it.”

Inside my closet now sits a Christmas package. Mom carried it all the way from the East Coast to personally present it to me. Somehow, I already knew what’s wrapped up inside … a gift of love.

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