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December 7th, 2010

Hurting Mom (or) My First Gay Christmas

There is so much distance in my mother’s eyes that I fear she may never come close to me again. Circling her stare are wrinkles of pain, betrayal even, and in her hand she holds the watch.

It was December of my senior year of high school, and things had calmed down considerably after my having burst forth from the closet that Fall, wearing go-go boots to school dances and openly flaunting my twenty-something boyfriend. But these were all healthy choices, I told myself.

Christmas TreeIf there was nothing wrong with being gay, then there should be nothing defiant about letting my family know about it. And my friends. And my teachers. And people at church. Never mind that we lived in Bossier City, Louisiana. Or that it was 1977.

But there was something about that look in my mother’s eyes, in that moment. It took all my arrogance to protect myself from it, to seek refuge from the shocked stare, the battle in her face between heartbreak and fury. She was squeezing tightly to the silver watchband, and her hand shook imperceptibly.

The boyfriend had been my downfall, of course. He was both too old and too immature for me, and Mom knew it. She also knew that spending so much time with him that previous summer wasn’t usual for a 16-year-old. So when she spotted a letter I’d written to him, she figured it would tell her what she wanted to know. She opened it.

It never occurred to me to place blame for that indiscretion. I was relieved when my parents found out, actually, and once that suspense was over I could get on with the business of scandalizing my high school.

There were brief exchanges between us following my big gay reveal, tense moments crowded with frustration and unfocused love. “What’s your problem with it?” I would ask, adorned with multiple pooka shell necklaces or sporting a man-made hickey without shame, “What’s your problem with me being gay?” I possessed more self-righteousness than an HRC dinner.

She would sigh with resignation, hand leaning on the kitchen counter. “Mark, it’s just that I know this won’t be easy. It’s your whole life, and this will just make it… difficult.” There were no scripture readings or ignorant signs of homophobia. Just a mother’s perfectly legitimate concern that a child’s life could be tougher.

I didn’t appreciate her enlightenment. I would reply with a teenage shrug, just before some eye rolling and a saunter out of the room that must have made her want to strangle my pretty little gay neck.

Christmas GiftAs Christmas approached that year, I made it known that there was a gift that would be just swell for a certain high school senior. Something sophisticated, to show his increased maturity.

A watch.

But then, on my birthday two days before Christmas, I walked through the front door prancing like the Queen of Sheba ” meaning, more prancing than usual ” and on my wrist was a glimmering gold watch, a shiny new gift from my boyfriend. It was not a quality timepiece, not that I knew it, and the gold was destined to fade faster than the relationship. But it looked quite fabulous as I strutted and posed like I had just discovered that I could vogue.

Mother didn’t betray her emotions. She waited. And two days later, wearing a robe and a gold wrist, I opened a Christmas present from Mom and Dad that had been hidden behind the tree and saved for last.

It was a Timex, and it was beautiful. Silver.

Christmas Watch 1There was more than the standard holiday tension as I slipped off my gold watch to try on the Timex. True to form, Mom kept her own counsel, but something told me that I wasn’t simply being presented with an additional watch, but with a choice. And I didn’t want to make it.

All that year I had been trying on a confident young gay identity for size ” and that included a boyfriend who had given me what I wanted for Christmas. I valued him and I valued his gift. But family emotions were fairly clear: his gift was a bit much. After all, Mom and Dad could have had the man arrested for taking up with their 16-year-old. Seeing him shower me with jewelry had to push the limits of their patience.

Christmas Watch 2But such concerns were beyond a self centered teen like me. I was convinced that flaunting his gift was about my new-found gay pride, and about respect for my sexuality and all sorts of other lofty, misdirected ideals.

Later that day, after the mountains of wrapping paper had been cleared, Mom and I sat near the tree. “So, this is a bit strange,” she began, as casually as she could muster, “having two watches… what will you do?” She had never had to compete with a gift giver for my gratitude. Someone outside the family. And a man.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked, knowing.

“Maybe you should talk to your friend, and…”

“And what, Mother?” I snapped back, propelled with a little too much righteous indignation. “Look Mom, I have an idea…” I slipped off the Timex and handed it to her. “I think you and Dad should return this. Silver isn’t really my color. You should know that.”

It is then, that moment, which continues to replay in my mental catalogue of regret. I wanted to collect the words from the air and gobble them up, but of course it was too late.

MarkAnneOnDeckHer face was blank at first, and then a stunned, hurt expression flashed across it that was as heartbreaking to me as it was utterly foreign. She looked like she was the target of some cruel joke. And then suddenly her vulnerability was abolished for her usual calm. Her face made the whole journey in an instant.

I moved to say something more but thought better of it. Instead I reached for the watch in her hands and took it back, my face a silent promise never to give it up again. Mother withdrew without more words.

It was a milestone, a snap of the apron strings, a selfish or brave gesture of independence, depending on your point of view. I can consider whether it was an important step for a gay teen or simply the self-indulgent act of a child, but the debate doesn’t interest me. My minds eye only remembers her face.

Even now, more than thirty years later, I want to take it all back.

Comments

comments

11 Responses to “Hurting Mom (or) My First Gay Christmas”

  1. garry Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Atta boy, Mark, nice article. Thanks for writing it.
    Garry Allan Breul, SUNCOAST AIDS THEATRE PROJECT

  2. frank Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Mark – That is a touching story. I am reminded of the countless hurtful caustic remarks I threw at both my parents, who loved me dearly and didn’t deserve it. Having said that, ya know….straight kids are allowed to have a certain amount of adolescent swagger as they find their adult identity, which includes their sexual identity. Gay men generally find theirs later, and when we do it’s not well received. Isn’t being mouthy to your parents part of teenage life? I certainly witnessed it in my uber-hetero younger stepsister. Bottom line, you treated your Mom poorly in this instance, just as every adolescent does. You’ve had a lifetime to make amends and from the looks of things you have a great relationship. ps…if it were my parents they WOULD have had your boyfriend arrested!

  3. Anthony Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Mark,

    You never ever under any circumstances cease to amaze me. I am always blown away by your courage, humor, introspection, humility, talent and grace. Whenever you run for President, you most definitely have my vote.

    Anthony

  4. allen lee Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I came out in my mother’s living room in front of my wife and mom. I saw a broken woman. I figured it would be no surprise since i was so girly, but I guess she had hoped my wife ad n child could change that.

    We very rarely talked after that, and for 13 years i didn’t see her. They called me when she was dying and i took off my dress and went to take care of her till she died. Oh, i forgot to mention after the gay thing i came out as a transsexual. But in the end it didn’t matter; we were best friends again for 3 an half months. I still think often about the loss of her in my life (one of the many regrets). Now I’m back living with my father and son. My father doesn’t care if I’m gay and neither does my son. The point of whether I’m a girl or boy doesn’t matter. I’m with my family. Thank you for your gift. I think we have a lot in common.

  5. Patrice Dickey Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Mark,
    You evoked those poignant memories of adolescent idiocy SO well that I immediately harkened back to the slings and arrows between me and my mother.
    Thank God that in the fifth dimension such hindrances as guilt, shame and regret do not exist! Plus, you and your mother look very chummy and all-forgiven in that photo.
    XO, Patrice

  6. Sue Says:

    December 7th, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    As a Mom this made me tear up.

  7. MarshallB Says:

    December 8th, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Thanks — From 1970, I remember my mom expressing the very same “hard life to come” thought a few days after saying nothing when she found me in bed (at her San Francisco home) with my first boyfriend. I remember her some time later driving a 21-y.o. me to the airport to leave for an overseas military assignment. She said then how hard she knew what I was doing was. I didn’t understood her either time then, and I had a sub-rosa fun time in the service. Now, forty years on with DADT all over the news, her words still ring in my ears. Mom had been badly hurt, but her concern was for me. Incredible!

  8. Rev. Steve Says:

    December 8th, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Mark,
    How dare you peer into my soul without knocking. Would it have killed you to call first?

    Seriously, your story hits home for so many of us “of a certain age” who came out in our teens during the 70’s. For me it was my senior year in ’78. So full of ourselves with a newfound mix of confidence and obnoxious fabulosity. Our poor mothers trying so hard to understand, even though nothing in their life’s experience had prepared them for having gay kids. It’s a miracle that any of us survived.

    Good job.

  9. Ann-Marie Says:

    December 11th, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Mark,
    Your outward confidence as a teen really belied your struggle. I wish you could have seen yourself through my eyes. You have always been and always will be perfect just as you are. Thank you for so eloquently sharing your journey with everyone. God has blessed us all with you. [I’ll bet Miss Anne agrees 100%]
    love-love-love,
    Ann-Marie

  10. David White Says:

    December 21st, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Thank you Anne-Marie. I only wish my mother could have lived to say those words about me. I know in my heart that she felt just as you do, but never could say it. That’s OK with me though. My sisters have always been my friends and friends with my companion of 35 years, Sonny. He and I have had a wonderful life together. I am now 68 years old and look forward to many more “gay” years. I am also proud of your Mark. I feel he is a fine man who has done much for many people. It is truly a blessing when someone like him is sent to this world. God bless and keep you all and grant you a very happy holiday season.

    David

  11. westwood Says:

    January 6th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Your blog is rivetting. Thank you for all these enjoyable and quality insights.

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