Mom's Story #2

"My Story"
By Crissy Flores
PFLAG Parent

A month had passed since the transgender girl everyone knew as Ben had died. My son, Nat, was always sensitive to others so it was no surprise that he was upset; but I could not understand why he was taking Tesia’s death this hard. He hated his school and his peers. He distanced himself from friends; or maybe it was the other way around. He was angry and torn by what his father and I didn’t know. Our home was no longer the safe haven that Jon and I worked so hard to provide for our family. It was now a battle ground. I can’t remember a day I didn’t pray that this child would just tell me what was wrong. If he would just tell us, maybe we could help. There wasn’t anything that we wouldn’t do for Nat or his sister. Each time I provoked an argument it always ended with his insistence that I could never understand. He tried to leave subtle hints, but in retrospect I never picked up on them because that was never a possibility. Until one day, Nat’s reality became so blatant that I was left to discover it with no chance of escape. Christmas Eve, as he stood with the choir and sang songs of joy and hope, I sat in the middle of the candle light service looking up at Nat wondering to myself, “Why did God bring this to my family?” Christmas would never be same for any of us.

I can remember asking him, “Are you gay?” His eyes filled with tears as he turned to me and said “I don’t know. I only know that I am not straight.” He might as well have told me that he was dying. I couldn’t breathe or think. A million thoughts ran through my mind. He’s just confused. Yes. He’s just confused. Over and over, I kept reassuring myself. I’ll just have to assure him of what is expected of him, and then he will rethink this choice. “There is no way that you could understand the consequences that you will have to live with if you choose to make such a horrible decision. If you decide later on that you are gay, I will not accept you.” Before I could get another word in, he yelled at me, “Do you really think that I would choose to be this?! Why would I want to be this? Who in their right mind would choose…?” He was sobbing now. What he said to me was not said defiantly but truthfully. I couldn’t admit it then, but I knew at that moment that Nat, whether sure himself, was gay.

After his revelation, my family went into survival mode. We no longer lived. There was no life at my house. There was just the mundane madness that existed each hour of each day. We lived just getting by without revealing ourselves or our troubles to anyone. I wanted my life back. The life that was easier; going to church every Sunday, attending my daughter’s drill team meetings where Jon and I were board members, watching Nat from the stands at the football games on Friday night and hanging out with our friends. I would sometimes sneak into his room and sit on his bed and whisper to him, “Please come back to me. Please.” Who was this stranger in my son’s bed and what did he do with my son?,/p>

Every week I ran to our counselor’s office with Nat in tow. Not only did we hide everything from friends and family, but I hid the truth from my daughter, Shauntel. I didn’t share with her the real reason that we had to take special trips to Austin. She had no idea about Nat. “When you turn eighteen, and are out of the house you can do as you please,” I told Nat thinking he was getting the better end of the deal. I was not budging and Nat had little patience with Jon and me. He had six months before he turned eighteen and he would soon be a senior in high school. We still treated him like a 10 year old. He had to report to me every minute of the day and keep me informed as to where he would be. He was only allowed to attend school and work; absolutely no socializing with a gay crowd in Rockdale, and he was to tell no one else about his feelings. He was completely cut off from the outside world that he wished he could just make contact with. I even took away the internet. This was the only way to ensure our secret and his safety. Nat tried to make reasonable requests, but I shot them down. He tried to convince me to let him attend a place called Out Youth which was located in Austin. It was, he said, a safe place for “kids like me”. My answer to the counselor when requesting that I allow him to attend? “Absolutely not!” In addition, he wanted me to go to a group for parents. PFLAG? That group who has a bunch of parents that are fanatics about their gay children; even bold enough to be proud of them. “There is no way that I’ll ever go. I am not proud of this and you will never see me in one of those parades that they have,” I insisted. “Can’t I love Nat and not accept this?” My counselor scolded me, “No Crissy, you can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”

After that session, Nat left. He moved in with my sister with whom he felt more comfortable. He would not even talk to me. I was dumb founded. It was the most heartbreaking thing I had to bear. In my hopes of protecting my son I was killing him, myself, and my entire family. He left me and I was empty. I cried for days. I wouldn’t get out of bed and called in sick to work. I didn’t want to be around anyone and I didn’t want to hear from anyone. With no where else to go and no other alternative I reached out to a community that I had been denying Nat. When I walked through the doors of the little house they called Out Youth I knew that this would either be the biggest mistake I would make or the greatest blessing.

I never looked back since that day. That was a year ago this past August. Since then, through the help from others and because of our love for each other my family has overcome mountains of ignorance and has gained masses of acceptance and understanding for the GLBT community. Nat regularly attended the “drop in” nights at Out Youth and I would tag along. He finally came out to Shauntel. Her response was “Oh thank God that’s all. Mom, I thought you and Daddy were getting a divorce. I was so scared my family was falling apart.” She hugged Nat and said “So you like guys? That’s cool.”

The following January, Jon and I attended our first PFLAG meeting. Nat has never wanted to live in hiding of who he was and as we grew, neither did we. When we no longer could stand the restraints we placed on ourselves, we became active in advocating for our son’s rights. We became involved in the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. We attended media training and Nat participated in the Day of Silence. Wearing the t-shirt I made for him, he was the only student in his school to do so.

This past May, my entire family was invited to attend the GLSEN Respect Awards in New York City. Nat and Jon were asked to present an award to Chrissy and Richard Gephardt; a father and son who mirrored this father and daughter team that have done great things in the fight for equality for the GLBT community. As Shauntel and I watched from our table, we were so over whelmed with emotion. We had been through so much in that past year. It hit us all at once when we saw Jon and Nat side by side. The sincerity in their words was so powerful that there was not one dry eye in the house. Nat spoke of going to school in a not so supportive environment. Jon spoke of the hurt as a parent that he goes through seeing his son fight for the basic respect of just being who he is. They spoke of love, pride, courage, understanding, and support. They spoke of real family values.

Being a part of an important organization that strives to make school safe for our GLBT children, Jon and I have made public service announcements to raise awareness of the anti-GLBT bullying that students like Tesia had to endure. Perhaps, had there been a Gay Straight Alliance at Rockdale High School, she might still be here. There, but for the grace of God, go I. I could have lost my child, too.

It seems like a lifetime but it will only be two years since my life took that unexpected detour. I even marched in one of “those parades” that I was adamant about not participating in and I loved every minute of it. It has not been easy getting to a place where Jon, Nat, Shauntel and I are now. It does take time. I have had great hurts about losing some friends and family that cannot accept my special family, but I experienced great joy in finding new friends that do. If I do nothing else, please allow me as a PFLAG Mom to make a plea to all moms and dads out there who find themselves in the depths of despair from the recent discovery of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Whatever your feelings, know that there are those who have been exactly where you are. Allowing yourself time to grieve and heal helps you to adjust. At first, this new found information may seem to devastate most families but if yours is united by love, it can with time become a blessing in ways you just cannot see now. Our GLBT loved ones go through so much to come to the point of wanting to share a very important aspect of who they are with us. To be gay means having to fight for the right to love and risk losing everyone who you thought had loved you up to then. Who better to learn the importance of love from than those who risk everything to find it and keep it. I went from every negative reaction to acceptance and embracement of who my son is. Yes, I embrace Nat’s very being and I celebrate my family. PFLAG is a major part of that special family. I didn’t know it then but that Christmas Eve two years ago may have been the gift that I might have not wanted then, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world now. It’s amazing how I am blessed.