Two recent trips, one to Los Angeles and one to my local movie theater, reminded me of — despite my best efforts in therapy and the benefit of years of separation — the role my mother plays in my life as a gay man.
You see, I don't remember a time when mother and I got along well. In fact, I have to say that the day my mother died of cancer late in the summer of 1990, I let out a deep sigh of relief. On one level, though I didn't have many fond feelings for my mother, I was relieved that her suffering was over. On another level, I was relieved that her antagonistic and critical presence would no longer be an active influence in my life.
As I mentioned before, I started thinking about all this when, on a recent trip to L.A., my partner and I were asked to participate in a forthcoming documentary about coming out. The task was simple enough. In a very L.A. moment, we spent the afternoon in a West Hollywood apartment being interviewed about our respective coming-out stories.
My partner and I frequently joke about the differences between his very stable Midwestern family and my convoluted family tree with its multiple divorces, multiple stepparents and numerous step-siblings.
That contrast was very apparent as we told our stories that afternoon. But today, more than 10 years after coming out, one of the hardest things for me remains the lack of support — no, make that active antagonism — that I endured from my mother, because she had such a problem with the truth that she and I both knew but never openly discussed.
So it was with great indignation that I read the recent Advocate cover story on "Fierce Mothers" who are "often the women who know us best, who love us no matter what, and on whom we can rely to protect us from harm."
Ha! I sniffed as I read about mothers ranging from celebrity mothers like Betty DeGeneres, the mother of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, to everyday mothers. This kind of maternal relationship was certainly nothing I have or will ever experience.
So it was with an equal dose of righteous resentment and fascination that I went to see the new movie The Deep End, the impetus for the magazine article.
In the film, a mother struggles to protect her teen-age son, who is obviously wrestling with his own sexuality, from his dangerous romantic entanglement with a club owner in his 30s. In the process, the mother readily risks everything from the safety and security of her family to her own life.
Now my teen-age sexual exploration was never this dramatic. I am certainly not suggesting that I needed my mother to take her parental role to this extreme. But what I will always wonder is what it was that never let my mother get past her own insecurities and other issues in order to play the role of parent in our relationship.
Perhaps if she were still around to witness the growing number of mothers taking up the fight for gay and lesbian rights our story would have ended differently. Unfortunately, I will never know the answer to that question.
But when it comes to mothers, there are a few things I do know. Despite how it looks to those of us on the other side, I do believe mothers do the best they know how. While I certainly would have preferred to learn it in a different way, my relationship with my mother is in large part what made me the resourceful, self-reliant, survivor that I am today. At the very least, I am grateful for that.