Emiy Rizzo

January 1998

Straight Dreams for a Gay Child

Q. I've been out to my mother for several years now. Although she says she's accepting and regularly attends PFLAG meetings, she says that she still dreams that some day I'll turn straight and get married. I feel insulted that she still isn't accepting me fully as a gay man.

A. I understand your frustration with your mother. Many parents, with time, do adjust to having gay children and in the end keep the same dreams but slightly alter them. So instead of a white wedding, they'll hope for a commitment ceremony, and instead of biological grandchildren, adopted ones. But the trappings of the middle-class American dream are otherwise all the same.

It's wonderful that your mom is attending PFLAG meetings; she's bound to come into contact with other parents and also gay and lesbian people who can help her face some truths.

First, she has to understand that sexual orientation is not changeable; no method of "conversion" has ever been proven to succeed. If she isn't convinced by the literature she can obtain from her PFLAG chapter, then perhaps you can try to explain it by analogy. Does she believe that she could be "converted" to homosexuality? Did she feel that her heterosexuality was a conscious choice? If so, when did she make that choice and why?

Another thing she needs to understand is that your sexual orientation is much more than whom you sleep with, it affects every aspect of your life and goes to the core of your identity. If you were straight, you would not be the same person you are today, by a long shot. Many parents come to appreciate that their gay children have had to go through a good deal of self-examination which straight people can bypass.

Finally, she needs to come to an appreciation of the wide variety of lives which gay men and lesbians can lead. She may not yet realize that you can come pretty close to that dream, although until gay people are allowed the right to marry, they will always be second-class citizens. Many people who are older now grew up with the image of gay men as lonely outcasts from society and here's where meeting other gay people can help your mother.

Ultimately, however, your mother has to learn that your life is your own and that she must allow you your own dreams and not expect you to fulfill hers, especially when they are not appropriate. This goes to the heart of the parent/grown child relationship and is a problem for straight children as well as gay. Parents tend to want to see their own lives replicated by their children because it's what they know and presumably made them happy. It takes a bit of a leap to say, "I want you to be happy, but by your definition, not mine."

Please send your questions to Emily Rizzo at rizzoe@fasecon.econ.nyu.edu. Also Check out the PFLAG-TALK web page at www.critpath.org/pflag-talk/

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