Though I can remember almost everything about the day I came out to my mother – from her facial expression to her subtle physical responses – only recently have I tried to understand her reactions and consider her feelings throughout my “coming out” process.
James Baldwin said it best: “Everybody’s journey is individual.” That was definitely true when I decided to “come out” to my mother. Inviting others into your personal life and no longer rendering one’s sexuality invisible is important and can momentarily leave one incapable of understanding what anyone else is experiencing. And justifiably so.
My only focus at the time was the need to understand my attraction to men. I spent hours – days – thinking about what that meant and how it would change everything around me. I was my only focus.
What I neglected to consider were my mother’s life experiences that would shape her reaction to my news – and her eventual acceptance. The typical narrative crossed my mind about how she was groomed in a southern Baptist church.
Yet in reality, how could I ever fully understand what that must have been like? So I became incensed when she rejected my sexual identity, and even more enraged when she rejected me even after she promised to make an effort. From my vantage point, I could not see her effort. That was the heart of our problem: We were both blinded by our own viewpoints. My viewpoint: a search for my own identity. My mother's: the vision she had for her only son.
Though I believe her past experiences had an influence, I now wonder if there were other factors affecting her reaction beyond that. I wonder about her contexts, how growing up Black/woman/poor in the patriarchal Jim Crow South might have shaped the way she views the world. I can only recreate a vague portrait of how hard it was to raise a Black daughter and son in the South. And I blindly muse about the ways being a divorced single Black woman may have impacted her life.
When I proclaimed I was gay – her second comment was, “you’re already Black.” Immediately I understood what that meant. As a Black man, I was born into the world with one unerasable strike. And the idea that her supposedly strong Black son would “intentionally” add another was unimaginable to her.
My mother grew up as a young Black female in the South, meaning she witnessed the manifestation of hatred directed towards a particular group of people. Segregation, hatred, and quite possibly death were the results. She was raised with and helped raise four brothers, so I can only imagine she observed, firsthand, that which the world had in store for a Black man. Maybe she understood that raising a Black son meant teaching him one of his most important lessons: How to stay alive. Though oftentimes I perceived our relationship as defined by favoritism, it was actually something much deeper. My mother kept me close in order to save my life.
My life was in her hands in more ways than I had the knowledge to understand then. And what mother wants to tell her son, "this world hates you," or that you were never meant to survive. I can only attempt to envision what she may have been thinking. Actually how could I fully understand? I can’t visualize living as a Black woman, being perceived as a “welfare queen” during the Reagan years; Or the family-destroying matriarch while Black women existed as the lowest-paid wage earners (as it still exists now); Or being objectified and caged into the myopic imaginations of others. All the while watching husbands, uncles, and brothers die or be treated as savages.
Then birthing a son.
Being a parent is inherently arduous, but to live in the U.S. as a parent raising a Black son is to live in constant fear, to live in a constant state of anxiety for what the world might throw at him every time he is out of your sight.
So how could I understand? Why would I imagine her history, when it was not mine? I can’t. But I’m trying. Mostly, I’m trying to understand why and how my choice of whom to love could rock her to the core and unravel a relationship that I thought was stronger than the Rock of Gibraltar.
The announcement of my sexuality was my effort to help her see me as an adult – an extension of her – and not the little boy whom she worked so tirelessly to save and protect. The generosity of her love was the sustenance that I lived off of as a child, and that I continue to use as I strive to define success for myself today.
I will persist to remove the space that still exists between us, which has been caused by years of uncertainty and heartache.
Now that she has accepted me, all of me, I can rest. Thankfully we allowed each other the space to cope with the external forces that shaped our interactions with each other. But I can rest only for a moment because we must continue to remove the space created by our perceived differences and replace it with love.
That’s been my big lesson in all of this: Love removes the space that causes our fears, insecurities, and inhibitions to keep us a part. Love is freedom. We can finally see each other for who we really are, as individuals who must now and forever do the work to understand the other person’s perspective, and respect – as opposed to inspect – every choice the other one makes. We must practice the art of viewing EVERYONE through the lens of love.
Our world will look vastly different when we do.
You can follow Davis on Twitter.