Coming Out, Again

“Of course our relationship hasn’t changed. I haven’t changed. I was always this person, you just didn’t know it.”

We are shopping for a prom dress—something simple yet elegant—when she says this to me.

We are having no success finding her a dress, which is frustrating but not causing any conflict. Our mother-daughter relationship is generally easy, not fraught with arguments and bolstered by affection. We calmly discuss other options—ordering online, borrowing from a friend—as each of us tries on second-hand jeans at a consignment shop. Then we decide to call it quits for the day.

Remembering the last time we drove this particular stretch of highway, when she first explained her sexual orientation to me, I tell her how much I appreciate the ease of our relationship, how I’m glad it hasn’t changed since she emerged as a young adult finding her own way in the world. 

Perhaps the only significant change is the location of our conversations. We used to discuss the events of her school day while walking the dog together. Now her schedule is tight with club meetings before and after school, tons of homework and a variety of appointments. Mostly, we find time to talk when we are driving somewhere together. 

She often brings me up short with pronouncements about life, but I’m forced to keep driving and unable to make eye contact with her. She is partially right that our relationship hasn’t changed because she hasn’t changed. Still, I sense that something has shifted. 

A few days after she says this to me, I realize what has changed: I have changed. My relationship to the world has changed. I feel more protective of my child, determined to make the world a safe and welcoming place in which my emerging-adult child will live. 

Since my daughter came out last summer, I’ve been attending SOJOURN’s Parent Discussion Group meetings, hosted by Gail & Butch Medwed and facilitated by Rebecca Stapel-Wax. I decided to attend not because I felt I needed a community of other parents like me, but because I wanted to signal my support to my daughter. Having already come out as a parent by attending and writing about Pride, I felt confident and competent as an advocate for my child. I didn’t think I needed a support group of my peers. 

Of course, I didn’t know what I needed.  

Although my daughter is comfortable with her identity—she was always this person—and I’m comfortable being her mother, I’m not always confident about what to say and do when confronted by people who are not comfortable with us. SOJOURN’s Parent Discussion Group provides a safe space in which to discuss the coming out process, which is a lifelong endeavor. After several months of meeting with other parents, sharing our stories and collective wisdom, I feel more confident and competent. I am empowered by my peers to say—or not say—that my daughter is going to the prom with her girlfriend, that I support Same-Sex Marriage, that I hope one day to officiate at my daughter’s wedding, that I love my daughter regardless of who she loves. 

While sitting at a red light wondering whether the prom dress hanging in the back of my car will need alterations, I discover that I have grown.

 

Rabbi Pamela Gottfried is a writer and teacher in Metro Atlanta, in addition to being a SOJOURN volunteer. Connect with her on Facebook here or follow her on Twitter: @PamelaGottfried.

Find more information on our Parent Discussion Group here.