A few years ago, as I was getting ready to attend a friend’s birthday party, I got a phone call that I wasn’t expecting. A guy I worked with in public safety, a good Christian with a strong family, had a major problem – his young teenage daughter told him she was a lesbian, and he discovered that she was being aggressively pursued by an adult woman who was undeterred by his warnings that his daughter was well below the age of consent. I apologized to my other friend and raced to my buddy’s house to find this woman standing on his front doorstep, in full PRIDE mode, reading him the riot act about how “love is love, you don’t get to tell your kid who she’s allowed to love!”
I lost it. Before I had even said hello, I rode right up on her six and unleashed on her. I started with, “what part of JAIL BAIT do you fail to understand?!?” From there I explained (at the top of my lungs, because it’s only fair the the neighbors hear the rebuke at nearly midnight) that the fact that he wanted to protect his 14-year-old from ANY predator, male or female, did not make him a hatemonger. I suppose hearing another obvious lesbian tear into her did the trick, because she all but ran away and they never heard from her again. I spent the next three hours talking to the teenager about how gays and lesbians can be just as predatory as straight people, she was too young for sexual activity at age 14, and she needed to give her parents time to adjust to her talking about being gay. It took a couple of weeks but she finally accepted the fact that her parents didn’t judge her for being gay – they only wanted to protect her. It was typical teenage angst for her to assume that her parents wanted this woman out of her life merely because it was a same-sex relationship.
Recently, a slightly similar situation unfolded, albeit without the creepy older woman yelling at the front door. Another public safety colleague, one of the toughest old grizzled men I know, called me in tears. I could hear yelling and screaming in the background. His 16-year old daughter told them all that she thought she might be a lesbian. They had always been against gay marriage and attended a church that regularly taught you should not consort with gay people. Her revelation had been a massive shock to them. The “outing,” as it were, had happened nearly a week prior – his wife and older daughter had called in the youth pastor and some of her friends from church to stage an intervention, and it was ending in disaster. He didn’t know what to do; all he knew was that he was about to lose his daughter and he couldn’t stand it.
I had just gotten off shift so I rushed to his house. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have long been used to being the peacemaker, just not with people I know personally. Tossing a complete stranger off of a friend’s property is very different from pulling family members apart. I arrived to find the argument still in full swing – and the youth pastor was not helping at all. He was feeding the tension. I politely stopped all discussion and asked that everyone separate. EVERYONE. When the youth pastor objected (quite loudly), I asked him to leave. “The goal here is to make peace,” I said, “and you’re not helping that end. Please, go home.” I felt absolutely stunned that he left and my friend’s wife never blew up at me, because as soon as I told him to leave I fully expected her to.
I took my friend out to the back yard and let him unload. He told me about his daughter coming out, saying she wasn’t certain but she thought she was probably a lesbian. No, she didn’t have a girlfriend, but that could change at any moment. He didn’t think she had become sexually active. His wife had spent four days since not speaking to their younger daughter at all. His son was away at college and didn’t know what was going on, but he was about to, because someone had sent him several text messages just before the intervention. His older daughter had done nothing but get angry for the past four days. Nobody asked him about this intervention, but apparently his wife had roped the youth pastor and a handful of her friends from church into talking her into “gay rehab.” The situation rapidly spiraled out of control when the younger daughter refused to agree to it and the youth pastor started goading everyone to speak up and quoting scripture very loudly, as if he were preaching a sermon. As we talked, his son called him – without asking what was going on, his son told him, “kick those idiots out of the house right now or we’ll never see her again.”
Without hesitation, he turned to me and asked if I would talk to his family. I’ve never in my life had nervousness set in that suddenly – my heart skipped a beat and my breath caught in my throat. I managed to eek out a, “sure,” and in a fog followed him back inside. His wife was in her room. The older daughter was on the couch with their friends. The younger daughter was in her room, sobbing almost uncontrollably. I told my friend not to pick any fights and go sit in his study. I asked the friends to leave; they did protest, at which point I said, “I grew up in your culture. I went to private Christian school. I was even homeschooled for a little while. I know exactly what you’ve been taught and I know exactly what you’re trying to do here. It’s not helping. So when you all decide that it’s better to love your friend than judge her, feel free to come back. For now, go home.” One opened her mouth again but I pointed at the door and said, “OUT!” It was louder and more forceful than intended, but they did as I wanted. It felt so strange to once again be throwing perfect strangers out of a friend’s house, but it was the only way the peace would be kept.
The one thing that made things settle down almost immediately was the revelation that I’m a lesbian, but I’m conservative. They didn’t think such a creature existed. One of the things they had been most afraid of was how her politics would turn (which I couldn’t help but laugh at). Another of their big issues was, “what will our friends at church think?”
That last one threw me for a loop. I had heard that sort of thing before but had never encountered it personally (aside from my own personal fear after I came out). How could a parent so readily reject their own child because their church congregation may not approve?
There’s no excuse. I can possibly understand the fear that a child will be hurt, drastically change their politics, never have children, or even walk away from their faith…I do not and will never understand judgment from church being a reason. Sitting there listening to this teenager’s mother talk about how the church will never approve I had a very difficult time not lashing out at her. I allowed her to finish and then, as calmly and professionally as I could, let her know that their approval was not an acceptable reason to reject any member of her family. It wasn’t worth it. If you continue to allow that to be a deciding factor in your reaction, I explained, one day you would regret it and wish you had her back.
It didn’t fix everything. The idea was to get everyone to calm down and think, and that goal was achieved. I’ve talked to my friend and his daughter over the phone several times since then. I’ve tried to impress upon her the importance of respecting her parents even if she doesn’t agree with them or they’re flat wrong. I’ve tried to make sure she understands that 16 is not old enough to start having sex, and she needs to save that for adulthood – and the right person. I still feel inadequate to be in the role I find myself in, but I would rather they make the attempt than give up, which I feel like they all want to do sometimes.
It kills me to see so many families still being torn apart by an unwillingness to accept their children no matter what. Yet another friend recently let slip that a child in her care has come out and it isn’t going well. I hope that soon we won’t have to worry about this quite as much anymore.
Until then, I beg of everyone – ask yourself what you’ll think and feel ten years from now. If you disown your child when they come out, will you still be happy with that choice in ten or twenty years? Is losing face with your friends really worth it?