‘A Mother’s Story’
This testimony is the transcript of a talk given at a Changing Attitude/Courage Day Conference, 24th January 2004, held at Guildford Cathedral Education Centre.
The input you are going to get from me will be different from the other speakers this morning. As the mother of a gay son, I’m one step back, and the story you will hear is my story. If my son were here, I am sure that the story would be quite different, for as individuals we only have our own experience. I shall try to be as honest and factual as I can, and I hope that what you hear will be helpful.
Steve is 43 and we have come a long way, and certainly I go on learning all the time.
Steve was a delightful little boy (but what parent wouldn’t say that!). He was always an unusual child. He was a born ‘collector’, not a physically active child but drawn to ‘things’, and as time went on he had a very obvious interest in people around him. He related amazingly well to adults and loved conversing with them from an early age. He had plenty of friends around him but was never dependent upon them. He enjoyed his own company, and to be sent to his bedroom in disgrace was never an apt punishment for him – he would soon be engrossed in something and I would hear him singing!
He was often an embarrassment on a beach, where he would stand close to a group of people. He was fascinated by the dynamics between them and would always, even in later years, have observed so much more than we had.
When he was 15 (and my daughter 18) my husband died of cancer. It was obviously a very painful time. We had worshipped at our local Anglican Church for many years, where Steve had been a member of the choir from the time he was 9, and he certainly had spiritual awareness.
When he was about 17 (and by then my daughter was away at university) we were both going through a difficult time. For me, I was going through the pain of bereavement (slowly and not very well), and Steve – well I was very aware that he was unhappy and withdrawn. By then he was involved with a local Free Church as well as our parish church.
We had always communicated well and I urged him to share what was troubling him (a trouble shared is a trouble halved). He told me that he thought he was gay. My immediate response was denial. I had read articles and ‘agony’ columns, which indicated that this was a phase that many young men went through, and that it would resolve normally. I naively reassured him. But he was right.
At the local Free Church he had been blossoming spiritually, but it was becoming more and more difficult, as he confided in members he could trust about his fears of homosexuality. He was told that he must not take communion unless he repented and put it behind him. I was only aware of this at a later date, but it upset him and certainly pained me.
When he was 19, Steve left home to live in a flat in London where he was working. Life was not comfortable for him and he decided at 20 that he would go out to a kibbutz in Israel for 6 months. My daughter and I encouraged him in this and it proved an enlarging experience for him. He sorted out everything in life – except his sexuality.
He came home and soon started nursing training, but before long the sexuality problems came up and hit him in the face. His faith and all the messages he had received from the church created turmoil. He was going into the gay scene and he became severely troubled. He began to drink heavily and got as far as going to Alcoholics Anonymous, where they told him that his problem was not drink, but that he was severely depressed – and they referred him to Guy’s Hospital.
It was a painful time for us all. I feared that he was suicidal and I lived on a knife-edge. He had counselling, and at a later stage psychotherapy, and ultimately grew to know and accept himself; but sadly, the only way to accepting and loving himself was to accept the rejection that the church had shown him. He still stands with his back to the church.
For me, as I look back from where I am now, the years seem to kaleidoscope. It was a path of bewilderment, shock and grief. I realise that I moved from denial to reluctant acceptance. It was a very lonely place. There was no-one I could really turn to, for the whole subject was unacceptable to air for most people. Thankfully, my daughter and later her husband were beside me and were wonderful. They were brilliantly supportive of me and of Steve too. We were all so inexperienced, but it was a case of total unconditional love.
I went through various stages of pain. The initial and immediate one was that the path of happiness I had known, of marriage and parenthood, was one that would not be open to him. Then there was the guilt – was it my fault? And, of course there was the distaste – bred from the culture I had been brought up in. Finally, there was the intense pain – that the son who I loved so dearly was not acceptable to and respected by 95% of the population.
In the early years the pastoral care I received was loving and supportive, as far as it could go, but it was limited. For many years I was ‘cagey’ and had no real freedom to speak honestly about my son to many of my friends – only the close ones. But at the time when I had a breakdown myself, I felt the conviction that society’s attitudes (certainly the part of society in which I spend my life) would only change when understanding became greater, and that could be helped by me being open and brave!
The years passed for Steve. He grew strong and has been in a loving, committed faithful relationship for many years. He and Robert bought a house together about 10 years ago and Rob is welcomed with the open arms that we extend to the partners of our other children.
I guess that at this stage I should ‘fill-in’ the fact that I re-married in 1986, when Steve was 25. My husband had long been an Evangelical Christian and he has been loving and supportive of us both in this whole area right through. But of course he is not Steve’s father, so he does not have the direct involvement and emotions that a father would have.
Steve is a great chap. He has succeeded and is well respected in his chosen career.
I have gone through confusion of what I as a Christian should believe. A breakthrough came one day, when it hit me with great force that I was not to worry about Steve, as he alone was responsible for himself before God and all I was commanded to do was to love him. That was certainly no problem!
I said, when I began to speak, that I really want to be true and honest and I have to say that when viewing the options for Steve – of living a celibate life or sharing his life in a committed, faithful, loving relationship – I have no doubts. For I believe that celibacy is a calling and that when God created man He said, ‘It is not good for Man to live alone’. I know that some of you might challenge me on what God meant, but I have to say that before the God of love (who has seen me through so much) I feel totally at peace.
I’ll finish by sharing with you a vivid dream I had a few years ago – still as clear to me now as it was then. My hand was bleeding, and as I kept trying to wipe the blood from my clothes and hand, I realised that it was coming from a barb – a sort of fishing hook stuck in my finger.
I told my daughter about the dream and we both accepted that the bleeding represented pain that my husband and I were experiencing in a situation at church. But what about the barb? It was about a week later when I was talking deeply and painfully with our curate that I heard myself say, ‘I’m glad that God gave me a gay son’ – and I paused, and then added, ‘that’s the first time I have ever said that.’ But I knew it was true, and that I had removed the barb that had been paining me for such a long time.
Steve didn’t choose to be gay; that was, I believe, the way God made him.
Yes, I am so grateful that my son is gay.
I’m grateful for all I have learned in these past years. I only wish that I’d had greater understanding and wisdom to support him as he needed support in those early years. I was immature and unequipped … but such is the nature of life.
Thank you for listening to me.