My Christian Parents Try to Pray the Gay Away (It Hasn't Worked)
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Wes was right on both of these counts, and it dawned on me as I sat there watching him cry that he was right about one more: I was a fairy.
That’s the tricky thing about bullies: They’re often telling the truth. It’s not what they’re saying — that you’re fat, or black, or feminine — it’s how they’re saying it; it’s the hate behind their words, the fact that they see the truth of the situation as a problem.
Wes made tearful promises not to call me names, especially not that name. Again Dad prayed. Again we marched across the driveway, and that night as I slid between clean sheets in a house that smelled of Pine-Sol, and nutritious food, and righteous indignation, I thought about what had just happened.
Mom and Dad also had a problem with the truth of this situation. Instead of saying, “Son, we love you no matter what,” they decided to march next door and let it be known they agreed with Wes: that even the idea of me being gay was a huge problem. Such a huge problem, it couldn’t be said out loud. Ever. So they out-bullied the bully into silence. Sure, Mom and Dad were distressed about my pain at being picked on, and certainly their conscious motivation was love for me. Still, it was what my parents didn’t say that hurt far worse than the slur Wes had flung in my direction during choir practice.
By addressing the surface situation of a seventh grade squabble instead of the silent elephant crocheting in the corner, Mom and Dad unwittingly colluded with Wes. All three of them offered an unspoken message that I heard loud and clear: “Being gay is not an acceptable option.”
Several years later, when I finally came out, Mom broke her silence on the subject. “It would be easier to go to your funeral than to know you are going to spend the night with that man.” This was the fevered pitch of the bullying, the loudest it ever became. Since then, the noise has subsided along with any meaningful communication between us, buried beneath the shallow serifs of her email italics — cheerful updates about the weather in places I’ve never lived, and people I’ve never met, at churches I’ll never attend.
Growing up means learning to hold two opposing views about the same thing. It’s not that I’ve stopped loving Mom and Dad — I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve accepted the fact that they may be as powerless as I am to change. Turns out unconditional love is a two-way street, so I protect myself with a few well-placed guardrails — one of which is the relative distance of communicating with Mom mainly by text and email.
Not long ago, one of her messages arrived in my inbox while I was on the phone with my youngest brother. New York had just legalized gay marriage, and he was planning his wedding to the man of his dreams. Turns out two of three boys in our family are queer as a football bat. With odds like these it would appear that either the Almighty is ignoring my parent’s prayers on purpose, or the Mormons are worshiping the One True God.
My brother groaned when I read him the email. “Mom and Dad’s anniversary is coming up. What are you going to get them?”
“Not sure, but whatever I decide I intend to make it myself.”
“Is the 39th anniversary coral or jade?” he asked.
“Neither,” I said. “I’m pretty sure, it’s ‘crochet.’”