The Mama Bear Story Project is a collection of portraits and autobiographical essays from members of Serendipitydodah for Moms – a private Facebook group for open minded Christian moms of LGBTQ kids.
My first-born son, Conner, came into this world with big blue eyes that took in everything. Every early picture we have of him is of his big eyes looking at the world and taking it all in. Even as a toddler, he wasn’t one to rush into a room of other toddlers; he would stand at the door and watch the activity before deciding where to go first. Around the age of three, we began seeing signs that were more on the artistic side. He liked basketball and hitting the baseball, but he would rather sit and play quietly or color. He didn’t like loud noises or rough housing. My parents made comments then about him possibly being gay, but who worries about that when their child is a toddler? I pushed it to the back of my mind.
We enrolled Conner in Kindergarten at a small, neighborhood Christian School. It was an Evangelical Methodist School and I didn’t think much of it. I knew it was more of a conservative faith than what I had previously attended, but it didn’t raise any red flags. (If only I knew now what I was so innocent of then!) Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I thought we were very lucky to live so close to such a wonderful, private, Christian school. After my youngest entered the First grade, I began working as a substitute teacher at the school. A couple of years later, I began working as a Teaching Aide, and then as a Teacher. Around the time Conner began 8th grade, we started attending the church at the school so that I could take a teaching position there.
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the school, but wasn’t altogether comfortable with some of the Bible lessons that were in the curriculum. I’ll never forget one story was about a young boy in Africa that had never heard about God, but because he couldn’t see the glory of God all around him and accept God as his Savior, he was going to Hell. One wide-eyed student asked me if that was true. I felt deep inside my heart that it was most certainly not true, but I just nodded. I’ll never forget the look on her face. It was as if I told her that her parents were not really her parents. All of the wonderful attributes she believed about God went out the window. She now saw a God that was unforgiving and unfair. It was at that moment that my faith in what this school and church believed was not what I believed about a loving God, but who was I to question what these Bible educated people said? This was just one example of my faith in the school starting to crumble.
This is a legalistic, fundamental church. I didn’t really understand what this meant in the beginning, but now I can tell you that it means following rules and judging those who don’t follow the rules! I began contemplating leaving the church which meant leaving my job. It just so happened that two weeks before Conner started 11th grade, he came out to me. He had been really sick all summer, was depressed and cutting, and had many physical ailments that we came to believe were from Chronic Lyme Disease. He was being treated with many medicines to combat this disease, and was seeing a Psychologist for the depression and cutting. Having told the Psychologist that he is gay, he felt more confident giving me that answer when I asked him. I had asked him if he was gay a couple of times in the past, to which he always denied. One time, when he was in ninth grade (and dating a girl), he made an offhanded comment while riding in the car, that he once thought he was gay, but now he knew he wasn’t. I think I grabbed on to that like a life raft. I have a dear friend, who is gay, and I know the trials he has faced because of it, and I didn’t want my sweet son to have to endure any of those prejudices. I know now that he was testing the waters to gauge my reaction. What I should have said was, “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay. You are who God made you to be, special in every way.” I don’t remember saying anything heinous, but because I felt such relief, I let it go without further discussion.
In addition to Conner coming out, I received a call from the principal of the school about a week before school began, explaining that enrollment was low, and would I consider moving up to the high school building to teach computer classes? Of course, I agreed and fervently read the computer manuals in preparation for the new school year with a very heavy heart. I tried to convince Conner to change schools and not continue to go to a school where homosexuality was preached as a choice, a sin, and therefore, an abomination to God. Conner wasn’t comfortable in new situations or with new people and decided that he would tough it out for the next two years. He was a very good student with great grades, a member of the Honor Society, active in the plays, and never a discipline problem. His teachers liked him because he was an easy student to teach, kind, and compassionate. He didn’t have a lot of friends, just a couple of really good friends who were mostly girls.
Looking back, I see God’s hand in pulling us away from that church. All at once, things started to unravel, but off into the new school year we went. Conner’s symptoms of Lyme were debilitating at times; he had a hard time focusing on his work, getting the lowest grades he had ever had. Some mornings, he couldn’t get out of bed. His cutting became worse. He would spend hours and hours on the computer. Some days, he was so despondent, I couldn’t even get him to smile or engage in any kind of conversation. It was so hard to tell the difference between the symptoms of Lyme vs the symptoms of depression. How can someone not be depressed when they’ve been told for years throughout their childhood that if they have homosexual feelings they are an abomination to God?! Since I had not taught in the high school, I hadn’t attended high school chapel. Now, I attended chapel every week and was appalled at the amount of time spend condemning homosexual behavior. Conner had confided in me about the other students at the school who were gay, but hadn’t told their parents. It made me feel sick to my stomach knowing that these kids sitting in those pews hearing that God hates them! And, maybe worse, was that the straight kids were basically given permission to stand up against those who are LGBTQ and tell them they are going to Hell. The church is making bullies!
One sad day halfway through his 11th grade year, I was called into the principal’s office because of some rumors floating around about Conner. He explained that Conner had made some comments about homosexuality not being a sin, and was wondering what was going on with him. I told him that Conner was having some severe problems with depression, and that he had been struggling for some time with his sexuality, and that I was going to have pull him out of school to homeschool him. This being said, he offered to talk to Conner and show him in the Bible how he is not gay. I thanked him, but quietly refused this help. I had hit the internet hard when Conner came out to us. I read the horror stories about reparative therapy and wasn’t about to put my son through that. The principal offered to keep Conner in the school’s system; that it was like he was still coming to school only I would be teaching him the lessons and turning in his work to his teachers.
Letting Conner stay home seemed to be a mistake. Now that he didn’t have to interact at school, he seemed to become more depressed. By the beginning of March, he had become so zombie-like, and had cut his knees so deeply that I took him right to the doctor. While I sat in the exam room and watched him not even attempt to put on a good face for the doctor, I knew it was bad. The doctor asked him if he was contemplating suicide. Conner was honest and said he was. Then she asked if he had a plan, and he said he did. At that moment, she looked right at me and told me that he needed to be in a residential facility that day; that we couldn’t wait to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist. She told me she would call ahead to the hospital and let them know we were coming. She made me promise that I would go straight to the hospital. After an excruciating week in a mental health facility, Conner was back home with us, but another devastating blow was just a week away.
My husband and I got summoned to the principal’s office again. He informed us that a church member had found a Facebook page of Conner’s that had a picture of him with a “Hello Kitty” bow drawn in his hair and glitter on his cheeks. Some of his FB friends had written things about how cute he looked, but because they had used the names of “Jesus” and “God” inappropriately in their sentences, and some other inappropriate words, it was found offensive to the principal. At this point, I thought I was definitely going to Hell because, honestly, I didn’t really see anything wrong with the picture or the comments in the grand scheme of things. For goodness sake, he wasn’t making plans to blow up the school, or making comments about hating people or wishing they were dead! Such a total over-reaction! I think I totally gave up on organized religion that day. In addition, the principal said he had canvassed his fellow students who admitted they thought Conner was gay. So now this is a witch hunt?! He informed us that Conner was no longer welcome at the school; that he couldn’t be associated with them. He tried to soften this blow by telling us that if Conner were himself again, then he was welcome back to attend 12th grade. My husband and I could only look at each other and shake our heads. This is what Christians do when they don’t agree with someone; turn them away from the church? Isn’t this when Christians should be reaching out to offer support and comfort? Not once, as Conner was going through the treatment for Lyme Disease, or when he was expelled for being gay (not to mention he had not even acted on these feelings!), did the pastor of the church reach out to us. Not one person, other than the principal, reached out to us. It was like we had leprosy. People who I thought were friends, now blatantly avoided me in the grocery store. It was very hurtful, and it has been a shocking realization that you can’t count on all churched people to act like Christ just because they call themselves Christians.
So, now the despondency and severe depression turned into anger and raw determination. He was angry at the school, angry at God, angry at the doctors, probably angry at us, although he never said that. I marvel at his forgiveness for me every day. My husband never thought being gay was a choice, but I was hoping against all odds that it was, and that he would choose not to be. While I had spent the past 8 months reading everything I could on both sides of the homosexuality argument, and talking to people about their experiences, I had gone into the closet myself. I hadn’t told anyone in the family. I had told my closest friends just 2 months before. Everyone thought Conner was in the residential facility for complications of the Lyme medicine. I just wasn’t ready to combat the arguments. I wanted to feel more confident in my beliefs before I had to defend them. After how we were treated by the Christian school and the non-involvement of the church “family”, I had definitely reassessed my beliefs. I never believed homosexuals were going to Hell; the church could never make be believe that it was a good thing for any human to tell another they are going to Hell. There is only one judge, and how many times does the Bible tell us not to judge, but to love? So, when Conner was expelled from school, something inside of me exploded, and I began telling people. It really was no surprise that our friends, who went to other churches, or our un-churched friends, didn’t hesitate to tell us how much they loved and supported us, and how much they loved Conner no matter what his sexuality is. What a relief! Our family was supportive as well, although there are some I still haven’t told because of their religious beliefs.
Conner decided not to finish school, but get his GED instead. He passed this easily, even receiving a certificate for achieving such a high grade. He began classes at the community college and won a part in the college play about people struggling with addictions and disabilities. I think this really helped Conner flourish because of what he had been through. In the meantime, the parents of the few friends he had at school refused to let them have any contact with Conner now. It’s kind of comical looking back on it now. The things that church people are best at are arranging meals for the sick members of the congregation, or for those who have lost a loved one. I guess there’s nothing in the church manual about what to do if a church member is battling depression, or has come out as gay, because we never received any meals from the congregation, but when my mother passed away a few years prior, I was inundated with good meals for a week.
Now that Conner wasn’t allowed contact with his “live” friends, it was his internet friends that sustained him. The fear that I had when he had spent so much time on the computer with people he didn’t know, was replaced with gratitude that he could find people who accepted him for the loving, caring, sweet person he is, without any care about his sexuality.
All of this was four years ago and I’m a changed person. I still consider myself a Christian with a huge emphasis on Christ. I will never judge anyone; I know too well what that feels like. We all have a story and we all need to listen with a compassionate heart. To all of you who are just going through this process, please know it will get better! Conner is happy and has been in a relationship with a wonderful young man for 3 years. I have surrounded myself with other moms of LGBTQ kids, walked in a PRIDE parade, and co-founded a local PFLAG group to help others navigate through these unchartered waters. I will continue to fight for the rights of everyone with love, compassion, and understanding. I’ve learned to love first and ask questions later.
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. Our official motto is “We Are Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. It was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,500 members. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org