Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gay 102: Does Your Mother Know That You're Out?

Thank God for gay teens coming out of the closet, namely one Will Horton, who, on any day he's on, makes Days of Our Lives must-see TV. He even makes all that nonsense about Faberge eggs and Mad World Cosmetics tolerable. But Will portrayer Chandler Massey, who will take the Outstanding Younger Actor Daytime Emmy come June 23, if there's any justice in the soap world, doesn't get all the credit.

He has sturdy support from Deirdre Hall (as his grandmother Marlena), Alison Sweeney (as his mom Sami), Bryan Dattilo (as his dad Lucas) and James Scott (as his mentor/nemesis/former stepdad EJ DiMera), as well as some of the best dialogue ever uttered in daytime. On the May 15 and 16 episodes, in which Will finally came out to his parents, the writing was so good, I had to take notes. A sampling (in case you don't have time to watch the video below):

"You're not. You're not. I'm your mother. I would know if you were, and you're not." (Sami)

"Most of the guys I've talked to about coming out said their mother always knew, but I didn't expect you to really because the only person you're ever interested in is yourself." (Will)

"How could it be news to you, Samantha? You're his mother?" (EJ)

"I knew I shouldn't have told her. I knew she wouldn't understand.... I know how she feels. She didn't need to digest it. She was disgusted with me. She obviously didn't want to be in the same room with me." (Will, after his mother runs off)

"It took me a long time to come to terms with it. And now that I have, I feel that there's nothing wrong with being gay because it's just who I am." (Will)

"I feel like I'm the world's worst mother right now. I had no idea that my son was in that much pain.... I had no idea that he was struggling with his sexuality. It never even crossed my mind.... I feel like an idiot." (Sami)

"I have been the worst mother to him. I think it's my fault that he's gay." (Sami)

"Do you mind if I ask you something?... Well, it's kind of awkward. I don't know how to put this. What about Mia and Gaby [Will's exes]? Did you have feelings for them, or were you just pretending?" (Lucas)

"Well, I definitely thought I had feelings for them. And I was happy, for a while, because I thought that if I had feelings for them it would mean I wasn't gay, and I didn't want to be. I wanted to be like everybody else." (Will)

"Oh, Samantha, come on. Don't be absurd. People are born gay. You can't control whether they're attracted to a man or a woman." (EJ)

"Are you sure about that? Because he's been resentful of me for a long time. He always says that he can't count on me. Maybe I did something. Maybe he feels like women can't be trusted." (Sami)

"Dad, Sonny and I are just friends. Just 'cause two guys are gay doesn't make them a couple." (Will)

"When I found out that you were my son, it was the best day of my life. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. But I've gotta be honest with you. I didn't say to myself, 'I hope my son grows up to be gay.' I didn't say that. It's not the kind of life I expected for you." (Lucas)

"Honestly, I did not expect it either. But it's just the hand that I've been dealt. I have to learn that I can be happy playing it. My life can be just as full and just as happy as any straight person's." (Will)

The one aspect of the show that I found most interesting was the one I'd never before considered: Is it really a mother's responsibility to know that her child is gay? (On Days, both of Will's grandmothers knew long before he did, but neither of them will be winning Mother of the Year anytime this century.)

I can recall a number of times when I've warned someone who was contemplating coming out to his parents, someone who was considering never coming out to his parents, or someone who was out to everyone but his parents, that his mother most likely already knows, because, well, how could she not? But then, I've never been a mother, so I can't imagine what that experience must be like, what secret information a mother should or shouldn't be psychic enough, or observant enough, to be privy to.

When I came out to my own mother some 20 years ago, at age 23, I was shocked when she told me that she didn't have a clue. It's not like all of the signs weren't there. But that's me, speaking from the point of view of a gay man, one with near-infallible gaydar, not a mother who wants the best life (which usually translates to one that's as traditional as possible) for her son. Maybe mom, who probably figured she'd reached her gay-son quota when my big brother came out, simply wasn't looking for the signs with me. Perhaps she was just in denial.

Whatever the reason for that overlooked detail, I wouldn't dream of considering her not knowing to be a reflection of her mothering skills. And I can't imagine that anyone would ever call my mother self-absorbed, certainly not because she didn't put two and three together and figure out that a son who obsessed over female singers, beauty pageants, charts, lists and perfection must be gay.

It's what she would do with the knowledge that would count. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it took more than 24 hours for mom and me to work through our issues. There were some tears, a few bumps, an unfortunate comment or two, but she never made me feel like I would be a second-class child, or that she was disappointed in me -- at least not for being gay.

What bothered her most was the fact that I hadn't told her sooner. "We've always been so close," she said. "I don't understand why you didn't think you could open up to me before now." I had no answer for her, other than the ones that most closeted young people have for not coming out. I was too full of fear, afraid of what she'd think of me, afraid that she'd be disappointed, afraid that she would look at me differently. Once my secret was out, I never considered holding her not knowing against her.

If every mother should already know, then why should coming out to them be a process so fraught with angst? Is it because coming out is less about people knowing your sexual preference than it is about saying it out loud to the people you love?

I don't have any answers that can be applied universally. How much a mother should suspect before coming-out day depends on her and her child. But of one thing I'm certain: When your kid comes out to you, the last thing you want to do is run out of the room. Although it might make for an interesting episode of Days of Our Lives, like drugging unsuspecting nemeses, lying about the paternity of your baby, and confronting international illegal arms dealers, you should never try it at home.
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