by Jayme Amann
Disclaimer: I’ve told this story to very few people. If you wish to contact me about anything in this article, please message me privately because I don’t want to run into issues with my family. Thank you.
I grew up in an extremely conservative household. Not only was my mother devoutly Catholic and Republican, but she also had very traditional values that dictated my role in life as a straight, Caucasian female. For the most part, I abided by the rules she imposed on me. By age eight I could cook, clean, iron, and do the laundry. My mother dolled me up in ball gowns and entered me in beauty pageants. To me, this was normal; to me, this was expected.
This is not an essay about feminism. My transition towards becoming a “strong, independent woman” (to quote my sorority) came much later in life and was a logical progression. This is about the moment that changed the entire trajectory of my life and made me rethink everything I knew to be true. When I was twelve years old, my brother came out to my mother as gay.
The typical family reaction in the late 20th century is supposed to be that of support and understanding. The first thing out of my mouth was, “what does gay mean?” At age twelve, I had no notion of gender norms or sexual orientation. My experience with gender did not extend far beyond the bounds of the kitchen, and my religion had failed to teach me that a human could be attracted to the same sex. Instead of sitting me down and explaining this new phenomenon to me, my mother disowned my twenty-year-old brother and kicked him out of the house for coming out of the closet.
At the time, I could not comprehend why she called him “the devil” and “an abomination.” I was only twelve years old, but my mother told me that I could no longer see my brother; no longer say I loved him. But I could see that for the first time in my brother’s life he was unconditionally happy, and I wanted to be happy for him. According to a Q&A by the American Psychological Association, “All young people who come out may experience bias [or] discrimination…Supportive families, friends, and schools are important buffers against the negative impacts of these experiences.” My brother did not have this support. My mother abandoned him when he needed her the most. Further, my mother did not succeed in one of the main duties societally designated to her as a “mother”: educating her children. I could not comprehend what was happening, and she made no effort to alleviate my sadness.
Years of crying myself to sleep later, I now understand that my mother’s judgmental, hateful actions and words were wrong. Thus, when I turned 16 and “came out” to my mother as an Agnostic, Democrat, feminist, and LGBT* ally, my solution was to move in with my brother and his long-term boyfriend. Although it didn’t end up working out (because of the whole minor running away from home thing), I ended up moving in with my father who let me be whoever I damn well pleased.
Everyday of my life I learn something new about myself, my peers, and my notions of society as a whole. I learned the hard way that ignorance is not bliss and that I needed to strive every moment to understand more about this world. Sometimes I slip up. On more than one occasion in the recent past I have said things that I immediately recognize as misinformed notions from my childhood. Breaking down these engrained teachings can be daunting for most people. It took me four years before I began to truly question my mother’s beliefs and became comfortable with who I was as a person.
The most terrifying concept for me to grasp is that my mother is far from alone in this thought process. Thousands of members of the LGBT* community are rejected by their families and have to fight for a support system. There are few things I know for certain in life, but one thing I do know is that sexual orientation is complicated and emotional. The sooner children are exposed to the realities of gender in society, the sooner they are able to understand the importance of supporting those struggling through this transition.