LGBTQ+: The Difference Between Accepting and Supporting
LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t settle for discrimination disguised as acceptance when they deserve love and support.
When my mother found out that I was bisexual, she freaked out. She’s an ultra-conservative, heterosexual, Southern Christian woman, so her extreme reaction was understandable. It’s the trope: conservatives, heterosexuals, Southerners, Christians, and even a lot of mothers hate the gays.
But my mother defied that trope. The initial shock that rocked her image of her perfect “daughter” wore off, and, after a year or so, she calmed down and realized this wasn’t a phase.
She tried to befriend me again. She warily asked questions in order to understand how the world was changing and to get to know the real me. I saw her curiosity as a positive step toward mending our relationship from all the damaging things she’d done after my brother blurted a rumor about me “being lesbian with some girls.” (By the way, I was not, sadly.) However, Mama’s queries to me were sprinkled throughout the years because she could only handle so much at a time. It was clear that she still didn’t approve of my “lifestyle.”
Since she seemed to care, and she wouldn’t punish me anymore, she was the first to learn about my crushes, my types (for men and women), and my various identities.
I put her through the ringer with flipping back and forth between my various sexual identities. At first, I said I was bisexual. Then I realized I had no interest in men, and I thought I was being internally homophobic like I’d been in middle school and early high school in order to hide my identity, so I came out as lesbian. In college, my identity changed to pansexual when I hooked up with someone who identified as genderfluid at the time, and with a man shortly after that. I currently identify as pansexual and genderfluid. (But Mama doesn’t know about the latter.)
Mama gradually accepted me, and she knew each time my sexual orientation label changed. I think her acceptance culminated when she didn’t stop me from going on a date with a girl. Since that moment, her go-to phrase, whenever my love life comes up, is, “All I want is for you to be happy and healthy.” I thought that meant that she approved, that she wouldn’t cause any problems with anyone I dated in the future.
I finally got a girlfriend this past December. She’s the best person I know: sweet, loving, compassionate, intelligent, humble, brave, forgiving, selfless. She’s made me cry tears of joy more times than I can remember, she’s taken care of me whenever I got sick, and she’s made every day brighter since we got together. She also happens to be a trans woman.
When I started talking to my girlfriend, I was apprehensive to tell Mama about her. When I finally did, we were driving from Thanksgiving supper at my Aunt Angela’s house, where my father’s family had been saying homophobic and transphobic garbage. I kept silent the whole time at supper, but, on the drive home, Mama wanted to discuss it.
Mama hates my dad’s family, and, even though she doesn’t agree that being transgender is legitimate, I can always count on her to be against anything that my father’s family says. Since they were so nasty about a transgender man that my cousin (a nurse) told the family she had to sedate for his mastectomy, it opened Mama’s mind for a moment.
“Did that conversation bother you?” she said randomly.
I didn’t have to ask which one.
“Duh,” I said, my lip curling.
“I almost wanted to say you were gay,” Mama joked, “just to piss them off. But I didn’t want to out you.”
“I don’t care,” I said grumpily. “I’m not hiding anything. And it would have let me tell them off.”
“It’s better I didn’t out you then,” Mama said, grinning. “Grandma would have had a heart attack.”
“I wish you had,” I said. “They kept using the wrong pronouns and saying slurs. I should have said something anyway.”
“They don’t know any better,” Mama said. “Most of them have probably never known a transgender person.”
“Everyone knows at least one transgender person,” I said, “whether they know it or not.”
“Do you know anyone who’s transgender?”
“Yeah, I know like,” I paused, counting in my head, “five, at least personally.”
This made Mama stop to think, and I took the opportunity while it presented itself.
“I’m kind of talking to a girl,” I said, “and she’s trans.”
“What do you mean ‘talking’?” she said.
“We’re just friends right now,” I said, “but I like her, you know, romantically.”
“Good. Be friends,” she advised, as she always did when I was romantically interested in someone new. “You’re twenty years old. You’re not in any rush. And you don’t need to hitch yourself to anybody who might not be good for you.”
I promise this is just advice she gives about everyone I date, since she rushed into things with my father, who she hates, and my brother rushed into things with his wife, who cheated on him. However, Mama was more forceful in her articulation this time compared to previous times, but I didn’t think anything of it then.
After her advice, the conversation opened up to an interrogation, with many more questions from her that I was accustomed to at one time. She wanted to know everything about what it meant to be transgender, and what the appropriate terms were, and everything about “my friend,” including the details of her transition (HRT discussion) and her birth name (I didn’t know at the time). It was so much better than how I feared the conversation could have gone.
A month later, when I came home from college for winter break, I had to tell Mama that I’d finally asked “my friend” to be my girlfriend.
“I thought I told you to just be friends for a while?” she demanded.
“We were!” I said. “I’ve known her for two months.”
“That’s not nearly long enough,” she said, shaking her head. “You need to take it slow.”
As she kept talking, I just turned away from her to continue watching Outlander. I was a little pissed, but I understood that she was just looking out for me, so I didn’t argue while she ranted on about what she felt required to say as my mother.
Everything was fine, save for Mama repeatedly calling my girlfriend my “friend” after I’d repeatedly told her not to, and I thought things only got better when I posted my relationship on Facebook in early February.
Mama called me when she saw the status update.
“So,” she began, “I see you put your relationship status.”
“Yes,” I said cautiously.
“How do you want me to handle it?” she asked.
I was confused. What was there for her to handle?
“Well, you know you’re friends with Aunt Angela on Facebook,” she said. “And you’re friends with some of my friends. They might come to me about it.”
“I don’t know what you’re asking,” I said. “Won’t you just tell them I’m gay?”
“I guess so,” Mama said. “I’ve been hesitant to air your business, but I guess now you’ve posted it, so it’s public.”
“I’ve never tried to hide who I am,” I said. “It just wasn’t anyone’s business.”
“Then why is it their business now?” she asked.
“It’s irrelevant to tell people who I find attractive,” I said, “but my relationship is relevant to my life. If people see this as a ‘coming out,’ then they never really knew me, and, if they have something hateful to say, then I don’t care what they think.”
It was a natural progression to post my relationship on Facebook, and I appreciated the love and supporting messages I received from friends and acquaintances who surprisingly cared. If people unfriended me because of the post, I was unaware. I was aware, however, that my father’s family members started trying to friend me in order to see my profile. I ignored those requests.
During the summer, my cousin Leslie, the nurse and Aunt Angela’s daughter, came out in her own way. She was dating a black man, and she’d been with him for over a year. It was a hot topic of family gossip, since we do live in the South and the rural parts of this region are about thirty years in the past. Uncle Billy told Leslie that he would disown her if she married her boyfriend; Aunt Angela thought that was a bit extreme but still disapproved of the relationship.
My aunt and uncle visited my parents one evening, before I came home from college for the summer, and all of the details of this visit were recounted by Mama.
My uncle went to look at my father’s Mustang, and Aunt Angela stuck around the house to talk to Mama.
Aunt Angela prompted the discussion about Leslie’s relationship. She always loved to gossip, even about her own daughter. Her eyebrow raises and tonal emphasis expressed “African American” in a way that made it politically incorrect, and her concern about Uncle Billy disowning Leslie sounded forced to Mama.
“Angela,” Mama said pointedly, “I’m sure you’ve seen SaraGrace’s Facebook.”
“Well…” Aunt Angela trailed off with shifty eyes.
Mama pulled out her phone, went to my girlfriend’s page, and turned the phone to Aunt Angela to show her my girlfriend’s profile picture.
“This is SaraGrace’s significant other,” Mama said.
(Yes, I’m annoyed that she avoided the word “girlfriend” yet again.)
Aunt Angela inspected the photo, and I’m not sure what her expression conveyed except surprise that Mama was showing her and being so straightforward.
“Our children have to live their lives,” Mama told her. “And we don’t have to agree with it. We can only raise them the best we can and try to help them be happy and healthy.”
They both paused.
“And,” Mama continued, more seriously now, “if anyone says anything out of the way to or about my child, and I find out about it, I will come for them myself.”
When I first heard this story, I was so grateful for Mama defending me. I also appreciated what she did for Leslie by opening Aunt Angela’s eyes, if only slightly, and I didn’t mind that she used me to do it.
But, I now feel like she was only so direct and confrontational because she lives for making my father’s family uncomfortable and creating a reason to fight with them. She has more than enough reason; they treated her like shit for the first ten years she was married to my father.
A month later, Mama told me I should take my girlfriend to the family’s Memorial Day cookout just to piss the family off, and I was reminded of when she wanted to use my sexual identity to cause chaos on Thanksgiving. I was shocked, though, that she could make such a selfish suggestion, since the family is transphobic/homophobic and my girlfriend could have been harmed somehow by attending the cookout.
She wouldn’t have been so candid with her own family. I’m not even allowed to come out to her family, and they don’t know I’m even in a relationship. Mama has kept me from her family since I got with my girlfriend, lest I slip up. The last time I mentioned the subject, I joked that I hoped her parents lived long enough to see me married to a woman.
“Don’t say that,” she said, a mixture of anger and sadness in her voice. “It would break Papa’s heart.”
After Mama’s conversation with Aunt Angela, I began to notice instances where Mama touted how “accepting” she was by discussing me, my girlfriend, and my sexuality with her friends, coworkers, and strangers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for parents to be outwardly accepting of their children’s sexuality because it encourages other parents and the general public to also be accepting. But there is a discrepancy between accepting and supporting, approving, and loving.
How can Mama purport to support her gay child and her gay friends, yet she still believes that homosexuality is sinful and gay rights are unnecessary? How can she say that she just wants me to be happy and healthy, yet I can’t tell her about my gender identity because she thinks it’s a severe mental illness? How can she act so accepting of my sexuality in the presence of other people, yet tell me in private that I should dump my girlfriend and date men (since I am pansexual, after all) because it would make my life safer and easier?
The last point isn’t entirely fair. She told that to me recently, when I confronted her about her recurring (and completely unwarranted) negative comments about my girlfriend and our relationship. She finally confessed that she is, in fact, opposed to my relationship because she is worried about my future, my potential offspring, and my safety.
“Whenever you and Willow go out,” she sputtered through tears, “I constantly worry about if the wrong person will see you two together and get the idea to hurt you. Don’t you worry about these things?”
I couldn’t blame her here, since I do worry about it. We live in the South, after all, and it is notoriously an unaccepting, discriminatory place.
But, I have just as much chance of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” with any partner, no matter their gender, and there are hateful people who could hurt me for any reason. Life is full of risks.
My mother has taken a clear and present risk here, though, by driving away her child. She’s starting to lose my trust, by leading me astray with her “life advice,” to which I once unwaveringly deferred. I always thought she had my best interests at heart, that she only wanted what was best for me. But I’ve realized that she only wants what she thinks is best for me, not what is actually best for me, as her child and as an independent human being.
Apparently, the meaning of “acceptance” has grown closer to that of “tolerance” these days, and those are both dangerous words for marginalized groups of society. In my experience, if someone, like my mother, asserts that they accept a group or an individual, they actually mean that they don’t agree with or support those people, but they won’t cause those people any trouble.
When I get into discussions with Mama about “the gays” or acceptance as a concept, she always says, “I’m entitled to my opinions, just like you are entitled to yours. I don’t understand why you people want to force everyone to think the same way you do.”
There may be an argument for that, but you are only entitled to your opinions in so far as they do not harm anyone. And, I’m sure people could go all day long about how fragile millennials are and how any opinion could potentially hurt our little snowflake feelings, but in reality it doesn’t matter if we’re too fragile. People should want to respect others and not hurt them regardless.
If people have their own opinions, that’s fine, but sometimes those hidden beliefs bleed into their actions without them realizing it. Because these oppressors think they are “accepting,” they remain willfully ignorant to their own prejudices, instead of open-mindedly learning to truly accept and embrace those different than them.
Acceptance is not helpful; it is not what we want. Acceptance is not support, or love. It is vices wrapped around our hearts that cinch tighter with every microaggression. Acceptance is a barrier that keeps us from being able to call oppressors out, since they aren’t actually being discriminatory or hurting us. It is an excuse to make oppressors’ loved ones feel like shit, even when oppressors believe they are being supportive of our identities.
I will always love my mother, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong, just like so many other people who are blind to their own destructive behaviors. The only way to change the problem is if we stop settling for tolerance and acceptance.