Three months ago, I sat in my bed frustrated with myself. I was upset at all the life choices I'd made up until this point. Physically and mentally exhausted, I ran out to get an energy drink; I'd needed a caffeine-enriched charge to help meet a deadline. And then it happened: later, rushing to the bathroom, I tripped and went hip-first into my desk, knocking the energy drink onto my laptop, its red liquid bleeding into my keyboard.
Although the rest of the laptop was intact, the keyboard stopped working, which meant the assignment would have to be written on an iPhone.
I called the only person who felt right at the time: my mother. Sensing the urgency in my voice, she immediately asked, "What's wrong?" Before I went into detail, I made a request: "Can you please just listen to me and let me finish? I only want to get this out." "Okay, baby," she said.
The last twelve months have been trying. I'm either doing a lot of the things I've always longed to do or, if nothing else, inching closer to goals I've carried with me for as long as I can remember. But it has not come without certain costs. To freelance write for a living is to often play the role of a sadist to your emotions. I regularly joke to my friends and in interviews that I am a writer and bill collector.
Months ago, my bills amounted to several thousands. It was not an unusual situation for me, but one I was tired of dealing with and one I am actively working towards avoiding as I advance in my career. I'm in better standing now, but still paying back the debt I built working with media companies whose existence became the bane of mine.
It took several months for it to happen, but the anger that was boiling underneath finally gave way to the sadness buried even deeper. As the tears began to fall, my mom could not resist her natural inclination to fault my decisions. Crying has never been easy for me, and as soon as my mom interrupted, I stopped.
The exercise lasted less than 10 seconds.
As proud as she is of what I have accomplished, and what other achievements await, her vision for my life is different from the one I presently live. Ideally, I'd be working in a field more secure (finance, corporate law, medicine), one that would make all her sacrifices worth it. I would also be straight and married with kids. We'd all attend mass regularly, and she'd have us over for Sunday dinners. I might even be back in Houston. Maybe not directly under her, but close enough (in Houston, traveling long distances within the city limits is normal).
But I am none of these things. I will never be any of these things.
I came out to my mother in 2009 after I penned an essay about two black boys who hung themselves within the same month. They'd wanted to escape the anti-gay taunts, and the kind of world that supported such behavior, that haunted them. In writing the essay, my sexuality was a statement of fact; prior to this, my love of men only existed as speculation.
Her response to my coming out was nasty, and we didn't speak for weeks.
In February, I called her. Not much had changed since then, but I felt compelled to warn her that I was writing about being a black gay man, and that it would reach people she knew. A photo is going to be included, I said. (Translation: I look just like you and we bear the same surname; your co-workers, your friends, your sisters, and your girls at the beauty shop will all know I'm your son.) In telling her, I tried to be respectful about her beliefs. I tried to talk about God and difference of opinion. Regardless of how she feels, I told her, I do think God is using me, in some way, to help create dialogue.
"Am I happy that you're gay?" she responded. "No. I'm sorry it happened to you. Am I hurt that you're still gay? Yes, because I feel responsible."
I'm not sure why she feels responsible. In her mind, maybe she thinks me being gay is a response to me being raised in house that included a violent and volatile alcoholic father. I made peace with her rationale—"I thought you needed a father; I also did not want to end up on welfare"—a very long time ago.
Months passed before we spoke again.
When she heard me cry, she did what any mother would do: she attempted to provide comfort. But it only irritated me. It somehow became about my need to go to "God's house," after which she subtly suggested that my struggles were linked to my sexual urges. She then offered to pay to have my laptop fixed. Too proud, I declined. But she wouldn't accept it.
One thing I respect immensely about my mom is her faith. What she fails to grasp, however, is that the religion that saved her is my living hell. I don't necessarily know what I believe in anymore. When I pray, more times than not, I believe someone is listening. There are also the rare times I wonder if I'm talking to myself in the dark.
In a perfect world, my mom would embrace who I am as opposed to merely tolerating it. But I learned very early on in life that nothing is perfect. There are harsh truths we will be confronted with. Like, love may be unconditional, but it has its limitation. I've wrestled with the fact that I might have to distance myself from the person who gave birth to me.
I can't do that, though. We find fault in each other, but to further deepen the divide no longer feels like the right solution. Despite knowing how my mom worries for my soul, I really had to stop and think how important that is to her.
In October, I watched my friend Kye Allums openly address his mother's difficulty with his transition on Lavern Cox Presents: The T Word. Our paths are different, but our mothers' issues are similar. Their religion tells them who we are is not how we are designed to be. They're wrong, but they're not the enemy. To see Kye afford his mother love and humanity, reminded me that I needed to do the same.
I needed to find closure, a friend told me. "You have to create your own closure," he said. He was right. I needed to move on.
It's a point I've finally accepted.
I went home recently. The trip was surprisingly pleasant. I did what I always do when I see my mother after a long time apart: I hugged her. I kissed her. I told her how good she looks. I waited for her sarcastic remark about how I look—this time, that I finally added a lil' muscle to my thin frame. But we did not talk about anything that happened in the last year. We both knew that was for the best.
We will likely never agree about my sexuality and the choices I've made, but as long as she's here on earth, I will have my mother however I can.
It's not a happy ending, but it is an understanding. It's the best either of us can do for now.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]