My relationship with my mother has evolved over the last few decades. We have grown close to grow apart again to become best friends. As our relationship has morphed and matured, so have her views on me being a lesbian. I grew up in a Catholic household in the Caribbean and many of those traditions and ideologies traveled with us across the Atlantic when we moved to the States.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we had an eye-opening (and at times awkward) chat about my coming out journey, her process of acceptance and even her burning questions about “lesbian sex.” I hope this conversation with my mom, a 52-year-old Christian and native of Trinidad and Tobago, inspires more open and honest dialogue among all of us.
KIMBERLEY: Ma, what were your initial thoughts when I first came out? I was 21; it was the summer after my junior year in college. Do you remember that day?
MOM: Yes, I remember it well. You came to my room and we were on my bed. It was right after the New York Gay Pride Parade and you told me that you didn’t just go to support your gay friends. You went for you.
I was totally shocked. I wasn’t expecting it. I couldn’t say anything for a while. I started crying and I was just silent. I felt sad and disappointed. I thought I would see you married to a man and with children–what I had imagined as “normal.”
Then you asked me, “Do you want me to be happy?”
It took a while to settle in.
The first person I discussed it with was your older sister. She said you were a smart child, and she was sure you would make the right decision for your life.
KIMBERLEY: You didn’t see it coming at all? I was a huge tomboy growing up. My favorite toy was a cement truck. I wore baggy clothes and hated anything “girly.” Not that that automatically meant I was gay but I’m surprised it never crossed your mind. I would send you all these pro-LGBT emails that challenged scriptures. Do you remember when you made your co-worker read the Bible to me? Later she warned you to “watch out” for me because “those ones always end up gay.” I guess she was right about one thing…
MOM: In those times, I never thought they were signs. I always thought you were a child who felt everyone had a right to be who they are. You had an explanation for everything. I was blindsided.
KIMBERLEY: What was the turning point for you?
MOM: You weren’t just about yourself. You were also about making it safe and acceptable for other people to be themselves. You’ve always been very outspoken about that. And I’m just so proud.
You’re a very intelligent child and I respect what you think. I thought if this is who you are, nothing is wrong with it. I have to support you. I’m your only parent. I love my children. Because of loving you unconditionally, it just became natural.
KIMBERLEY: Did meeting and getting to know my first serious girlfriend help?
MOM: It did help. I really liked her. But the first girl you brought home, I didn’t like. My blood didn’t take her at all. I’m not sure why. Your last girlfriend was very likable and I grew to think of her as my own daughter.
KIMBERLEY: How come you never asked me about how I knew I was gay? I’ve always felt like you’ve avoided it.
MOM: I did. I asked you about your last boyfriend and you told me how he would ask if you were a lesbian. You said it never felt right. I never asked beyond that because at that age, I didn’t think I would get answers from you. And I always assumed it started in college.
KIMBERLEY: Well, you can ask me now.
MOM: When did you first know?
KIMBERLEY: When did I know know? Like know for certain? When I had my first kiss with a girl. There were instances that definitely made me question if I was straight or that make sense in retrospect—from my crush on my elementary school teacher to fantasizing about girls in high school. In college, there was this girl on campus that gave me this visceral reaction every time I saw her. My heart would race uncontrollably and my hands would get really sweaty. I didn’t know what it meant. If it meant anything at all. Was it a phase? Was I bisexual? The summer after, I had my first kiss with a woman and instantly knew. It felt like what the writer Audre Lorde called “coming home” in her book Zami.
MOM: That’s so interesting. I feel bad now because I never thought to have this conversation with you. I thought I knew everything when we have the conversation with your ex-boyfriend. I thought that was the complete answer. Now I’m hearing your feelings. It’s nice to know the journey. How did you feel after you first came out?
KIMBERLEY: I wasn’t prepared for your reaction. I was so excited to have met this girl I really liked. You and my sister weren’t only family, you were my best friends. It has always been the three of us. I wanted to share that joy I was feeling with two of the most important people in my life. You were accepting of my gay friends. I knew you were religious but I never got the sense that you were completely intolerant.
MOM: But you knew one day I would come around, right?
KIMBERLEY: Not necessarily. It made so much sense to me that me not being who I was was never an option. I wanted to be able to share that part of my life with you. It made me sad that I couldn’t. I felt removed.
MOM: Well, what I know is that I love my children unconditionally. I support you and I’m proud.
KIMBERLEY: I feel closer to you now that you’ve embraced all of who I am. I remember when you once told me you didn’t want “that” in your house referring to me and the girl I was dating at the time. It was hard not being able to open up that part of my life to you. I’m glad you came around.
MOM: You know, when I would share my children’s accomplishments with the women on my job, one of my co-workers would negatively describe you as “the lesbian one.” I would respond, “Yes, it is the lesbian one. The intelligent, beautiful lesbian one that helped you write and edit your paper once.” You’ve never wanted me to hide that you’re gay and I don’t.
KIMBERLEY: Aww, ma. You never told me that. As a woman of faith, how did you reconcile your interpretation of the Bible and having a lesbian daughter?
MOM: What I hold on to is that no man should judge. Let him without sin cast the first stone. I always think back to that scripture, not just in your situation, but life in general. There are so-called “spiritual people,” and for instance, they’ll have a lot of piercings. Back in the day, that was considered unacceptable. Times change. You shouldn’t condemn someone else. You do you.
KIMBERLEY: Did you just say, “You do you”?
MOM: [Laughs.] Don’t write that down.
KIMBERLEY: Are there any questions you have for me? Anything you’ve always wanted to know?
MOM: Well, I had asked you this when you first came out and you never answered me.
KIMBERLEY: Nothing is off limits. You can ask me now.
MOM: Do lesbians use those male parts when they, you know…
KIMBERLEY: [Laughs.] Yes, I was mortified when you first asked me that! It’s funny that after all these years, you still have that question. Some women use dildos and strap-ons when they have sex with other women. But some women don’t. How most of the media or porn portrays two women having sex is not accurate…at all. Why do you ask that question even now?
MOM: Because I was curious. My understanding of sex is that it involves a vagina and penis. With two women, there is one more dominant than the other. What is the point of liking a woman if you always want to use a strap-on?
KIMBERLEY: Well, there isn’t always a clearly defined more dominant woman. You can’t really hold lesbian relationships to the same binaries that exist in straight relationships. Heck, you can’t really hold straight relationships to those binaries either. It’s not always so black and white. And sex doesn’t have to involve a penis and a vagina. For a man and a woman, is sex just about the man’s penis?
KIMBERLEY: There’s much more that goes into sex. I can only speak for myself. But a woman’s body feels different from a man’s. The sounds a woman makes are different. How a woman responds to another’s woman’s body is different. It’s not just about the penetration or whether it’s a strap or fingers doing the penetration. It’s about the individual attached to it. It’s about a connection and/or experience that goes beyond one body part.
MOM: That makes sense.
KIMBERLEY: Now that we’ve got that out of the way… [Laughs.] When you think of me 15-20 years from now, what do you see?
MOM: I can see you being so popular, like the next Ellen DeGeneres.
MOM: Yes. I actually shared it with one of my patients who is a gay woman and beautiful. I told her about your website ELIXHER and all that you do. I was telling her I think you’ll be the next Ellen. I definitely see children or a child in your future. I just can’t wait. I see you with a partner. I don’t know if I see marriage but I see you with someone raising a child together.
KIMBERLEY: Is it because of my beliefs around the institution of marriage or you can’t see me marrying a woman?
MOM: No, no. It’s not that deep. I just never visualized it. It could be because you don’t talk about it. You’re younger than your sister. You’re living your life very freely, traveling often. You haven’t really settled down yet.
KIMBERLEY: What advice would you give to parents having a hard time accepting that their child is gay?
MOM: I would tell them, it’s important for everyone to be able to express themselves and be who they are. We all say we love our children unconditionally, and that love should really be unconditional. If this is who they are, and you really love your child, you should support him or her.
KIMBERLEY: Well, ma, it means a lot to not only have your support, but for you to be proud of me—all of me.
MOM: I’m happy we’ve both journeyed so far together and reached this common ground.
KIMBERLEY: Me too.
Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of ELIXHER, an online destination for Black lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.