I first noticed Edel when she was very young, maybe eight or nine, in a coffee shop with her mum and gran.
I recognised an indefinable difference in her that I also saw in my son Kevin. She had a tomboyish look and she looked you straight in the eye. She wasn’t a little pink girlie girl. She was small and pretty with very short curly hair. She had a stride that belied her small stature as she walked alongside her mum and gran.
I must confess I’m a people watcher and I was curious about her. I saw her regularly, especially during school holidays, as I attended that coffee shop restaurant daily at my break time.
Some years later when Kevin and Edel were teenagers, I got to know Edel through her friendship with my son Kevin.
One day while at work I received a phone call from Peter, Edel’s dad. He talked about a project he wanted to start and said I might be interested in it. I arranged to meet him to discuss it. At this stage I wasn’t aware of his project and I was involved in quite a few other things, so I was a bit wary of committing time to anything else.
We met over a cup of coffee and talked about Edel initially, and he asked me about how I felt about the ‘situation’. He was tentative about discussing his idea at first, although he was open about how he felt regarding the homosexuality of his children. He talked about his concern for them and their future, his worries regarding their lives being lonely, ridiculed, maybe victimised. He asked me how I felt about Kevin’s sexuality.
I told him that I had known for a long time that Kevin was gay. I was always accepting of his sexuality. I felt, and still feel, that our sexuality is part of the creative process. In other words, it is God’s plan, and we have no business making judgments about whether there is a right or wrong way to express our sexuality, providing we are not exploiting another person, and that applies to all relationships.
He said that he hadn’t thought of it like that, and confided that Anne and he had cried when they had talked about it. I admitted that I had occasions when I was enraged when Kevin was bullied and victimised by some of his peers, and if I let myself think about the behaviour of homophobic people I sometimes felt, and still feel, afraid for Kevin.
Peter talked about his project. He talked about forming a SUPPORT group for parents whose children were gay. We tossed around a few ideas and I explained that I was already involved in too many committees, but that I would attend and join the group in any other way.
When Kevin was little he was gentle and sensitive and a huge worrier. When he started to play with neighbours’ children while still in junior primary school, he was called gay by the other children. His teacher once asked me to come in to discuss him. Her worry was that he played alone. He never got involved with the rough and tumble of the school play. I asked him when we got home why he played alone – he replied that the other boys were too rough. After that I became particularly aware that he was different, serious and sensitive, and I tried to take account of this when dealing with him.
The teenaged years are a difficult time. Add to this the difficulty of not feeling accepted by one’s straight peers, at a time when you’re discovering your sexuality, must have been particularly difficult. I’m glad that Kevin, Edel and the other friends in their group had each other for support.
I have spoken to mothers of gay children who were disappointed about the future prospect of their children. Maybe victimisation at work, attack by homophobic others, the loss of potential grandchildren, the fear of AIDS, parents’ fear of ridicule from their friends and neighbours, the fear that there was something wrong with them. Such a lot of fear.
Fear is an absence of awareness that love is what we are. Once we give attention to our fears, they grow and awareness of love diminishes. I was very lucky that I didn’t let those fears overpower me. I am still concerned about homophobic behaviour and how it affects society and gays in particular, but I think that says more about homophobes than me.
When I tell my peers that Kevin is gay, often there is often an embarrassed silence. I feel that sometimes the embarrassment is for me, other times it’s because they feel there is something wrong. I always try to disarm their embarrassment by explaining that I don’t have a problem with it.
Fifteen years later Kevin is now an adult and Peter and Edel are no longer here. While things have moved on in many ways for both us as a family and as a society, my friends’ embarrassment shows that there is still very much a need for the support that Peter was trying to put in place. What Peter wanted to achieve was a safe place where parents and family could be completely honest and open about how they felt about the issue at hand.
Sexuality, relationships, and growing up are human challenges facing everyone, gay or straight. Peter seemed to appreciate that these human challenges are much more manageable with the compassion and support of others.