I’ve been birthing a collection of poems about raising a gay daughter since she came out at fifteen. That was four years ago. I didn’t realize I was writing a collection on this theme but my role as mother had shifted and I had to find a way to explore my feelings about Mollie (my girl) and what was happening inside myself. As I wrote and lived my relationship with my daughter, this art of documenting my experience also expanded into a political/feminist role as I fought for gay rights, GENDA laws and protecting gay children in schools.
It has been a journey of conflicting thoughts and doubts and I was so relieved to have the paper hoop of the page to jump through. Along with this internal journey came the self-accusatory questions every gay mom asks, pacing in the middle of the night: did I cause my daughter to be gay? How did I contribute to her sexual orientation? Attending PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian & Gays) meetings and reading books from the Gay & Lesbian Community Center healed me to come to peace with these questions. These books were not available at any local book stores and luckily, living in New York, I could walk to the Gay & Lesbian Community Center, which had a full library of materials to browse through, written by other mothers and gay teens. I wondered what resources were available to parents in Defiance, Ohio or Missoula, Montana.
My daughter is nineteen now and attending Smith College. She is happy, confident and active in the chorus, environmental and gender studies. Most times I just see her as my daughter. Then I notice her baseball caps, her men’s underwear, her lack of lipstick and her square Hemingway walk. I wrote about and mourned for the girly things we never did together. I missed the preening, combing of her hair and giggling over boys. It made me question: what is a mother-daughter activity? We went to theaters and museums together. Her father took her to ice hockey and softball practice. What is important is the shared time and building memories. It is not the specific activity. We did share time and build memories, playing silly board games, performing circus gymnastics and baking gingerbread men (and women). I never gave her the idea she was not the daughter I wanted. I never tried to change her. This is what builds love and connection and has nothing to do with your child’s gender “preference.” Which, by the way, is another myth: did I choose to be straight?
Another concern developed about what and who to tell about Mollie’s gayness. She gave us a short list of friends and family to whom she did not want us to reveal her lesbian status. Beyond that, she left us on our own. As she reached late adolescence and the close group of families around us was telling moon-June stories about first romances of their children, giddy phone calls and dates, we were zipper lipped. Mollie had a girlfriend from the ages of fifteen to eighteen, which we felt skittish to reveal. As Mollie felt more comfortable about coming out to the world, we, too felt liberated to tell of her homosexuality and lovely girlfriend. This act of speaking up also felt like it was not just Mollie that was “out” but we, as well. Every time we told someone in our synagogue, workplace or neighborhood, it was a political act. We let the world know that all parents are the same, loving their children and standing by them, navigating all the stones in the river. Gay families live in every community and must be embraced for their difference and their humanity.
Mollie has now left me to go off and till the soil and save the coal on mountaintops; an independent, adventurous explorer of life. Her father and I brought her up to believe the world is a safe place and she can be herself almost everywhere she goes. I thank her for all she has taught me about love and acceptance. I thank her for making me more sensitive to all the injustice around the globe toward people who have done nothing but celebrate their true nature. I thank her for inspiring me to make her struggle a work of art and craft our lives to be living in the open so that others can make a path of their own choosing.
Lee Schwartz is a former Artist in Residence at the 92nd Street Y. She has won Honorable Mention 2008 and Editor’s Choice 2009 Allen Ginsberg Awards from the Paterson Literary Journal. She has been published in The Mom Egg Journal 2007-9. She is included in the Seed6 Journal from Hidden Book Press. Her work appears online in ProtestPoems.org, and Ars Medica. Her poems have also appeared in The Villager newspaper, NYC. Lee has taught writing in the NYC Public schools and read with Ginsberg at St Marks Church. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and her daughter is at Smith College.