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 journey as a Mama Bear began, remains and will likely end on a quest for forgiveness and grace.
Our firstborn, Dina Clare, was in her senior year of high school when I accidentally “outed” my daughter. It was the spring of 2000, when computer access for our family of four was on a shared desktop computer in our living room.
One night, while working after everyone else was in bed, I came across several unfamiliar poems. This was not unusual. Dina was a prolific writer who.often wrote and embellished her work on the computer. She had already had pieces published and awarded in youth competitions, including poetry slams.
I always tried to cool down while I shifted from work to sleep. That night I treated myself to a poetry reading. In short order, I realized that I had stumbled upon our daughter’s coming out story.
The set of several new poems put into words how Dina, along with her long-time boyfriend, were dealing with the fact that she was feeling a romantic attraction to a younger student in their group of friends — a girl.
My first feeling was relief. I suspected that something major had been troubling Dina, beyond the usual senior year angst. I also had sensed that a struggle was going on in our daughter’s first serious relationship. I had asked Dina a few questions in a private moment, but she didn’t want to talk about it. I respected that.
Finally, Dina’s mood swings made more sense. The weekend before, at a typical Saturday gathering of teens in our living room, I had observed our daughter’s delight in the presence of the young woman who was the object of Dina’s “crush.”
That the poems were devoted to a girl did not come as a huge surprise. Dina’s dad and I loved her unconditionally. Since she was very young — we had observed a variety of things about our firstborn’s unique way of being that pointed in this direction.
We had friends and colleagues who were gay and lesbian, so we didn’t have an acceptance problem. We had raised our daughter and son in a home that regularly hosted large gatherings, welcoming guests from all backgrounds and orientations. “Normal” for them meant spending time with people of various faiths, ethnicities, education and economic levels, as well as relationship status.
It was so hard not to wake up my slumbering husband. I barely slept that night,.worrying about to help Dina with her emotional struggles without wounding our trust. I feared that she would feel angry that I had come upon her secret before she was ready to tell me.
So, I prayed for guidance. I felt called to be patient — not this Mama Bear’s strongest suit. I resolved to wait and apologize profusely when the right opportunity came to mention my discovery of her poems.
Although it seemed like forever, no more than a week passed before the moment arrived. Dina and I were stuck in traffic on our twice-weekly drive to her synchronized swimming team practice. She was dejected and more dramatic than usual — about other cars, her AP English teacher, her youth symphony conductor, life in general.
After letting her rant for awhile, I breathed deeply and said, “I remember how stressful senior year was for me. Is it choosing a college or worrying about grades? Or something else…? Can I help?”
She burst into sobs. “There’s no way you would understand what I’m going through!”
I paused. “I think I do. You left some poems on the computer,” I said quietly as I touched her arm.
Then the crying kicked into high gear. I couldn’t decipher what she saying between gulping breaths.
I tried to soothe her. “I’m so sorry I read your new poems without asking first. It’s okay, there’s no problem at all. I just want to help.”
“How can you say that, after what you said?” My precious daughter moaned through gritted teeth..
I was at a total loss. She knew I was not anti- gay or lesbian. Didn’t she?
“I don’t know what you mean, sweetie,” I said gently.
Dina glared at the traffic in front of us while she sniffled, arms crossed tightly, as if to shield herself from a blow.
“You were pretty clear about what you think of people who are bisexual,” she finally said.
An incident came back to me in a rush. About a year earlier, when I was driving the kids to their high school, there was something on the radio about bisexuality.
I — a person who was raised by Catholic parents who loudly proclaimed that homosexuality was a ticket to hell — felt at that point like I had made so much progress! I was enlightened, the first in my family to graduate from college, with degrees in psychology and writing. I totally understood that some people were wired differently from the beginning of life. Some men loved men, some women loved women. Some people felt like the opposite sex on the inside. Furthermore, professionally I was recognized as an advocate for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender members and staff in my organization.
My words of that particular morning came back to me like a flood — words I can never take away and that Dina can never “unhear.” In my ignorance, I rudely had scoffed, “I just don’t get bi- people. It’s like they are promiscuous and want all their options open.”
I don’t remember how Dina and Hunter reacted in the car. For me, it had been a throwaway comment. As I now know, for them it was crushing to hear their mom say something so hateful and hurtful.
Now both my daughter and I were crying on the freeway. Mine were tears of shame and regret. I immediately begged for my daughter’s forgiveness and asked her to tell me more about her feelings. I assured her that I had been thoughtless and wrong. I assured her that nothing would change how much I loved and admired her. We couldn’t hug while I was driving, but we clasped hands.
Dina granted my request for forgiveness over and over again. I had a lot to learn with her help, and our son’s. They, and lots of study, have helped me to understand my error andembrace the expansive spectrum of sexuality and gender.
Once we were home that night, we immediately filled in my husband. He and I asked for Dina’s guidance on her expectations about if, when and how we would share her “coming out.” Actually, that’s the last time I will use that term in my story. I prefer to say that Dina “came into” her wonderfully created authentic self.
In the winter of her freshman year of college, Dina met Desiree — who is now her wife. From the beginning, we were delighted to see how the two of them brought out the best in each other. As time passed and their relationship continued to deepen, Dina said it was fine to share their relationship with others as it came up in natural conversation.
For the most part family and friends were delighted that Dina was dating again and so happy. In March 2004 the girls became engaged on the third anniversary of their first date, and we threw a huge party to celebrate.
The notable naysayers, not surprisingly, were my parents back in Minnesota. They sent Dina and Desiree a very hurtful letter that I will never read. Even their priest told them not to send it when they showed it to him. In the version that my very accepting younger brother saw, my parents condemned the girls for their lifestyle and predicted eternal damnation for all of us who didn’t agree with Roman Catholic dogma.
Mom and Dad are blind to what their behavior has cost them — how much they hurt themselves, how much they miss. Dina, Desiree and our son are amazing adults who are an absolute treasure to be with. Since 2001, on the rare occasions when my parents came from Minnesota to be with my family in Washington, everyone was awkwardly civil, mostly to placate me.
The girls’ wedding in 2011, officiated by one of our family’s best friends, was a wonderful week with friends and family who traveled from Australia and the U.S. to celebrate in Hawai’i. Our son’s University of Washington Law School graduation in 2014 was such a proud day.
My parents were not invited to either event, at my children’s insistence.
Each day I prayerfully consider how Dina forgave me that night in 2000. It’s the only way I manage to remain in regular contact with my parents, despite their unabashed rejection of my child and all “homos,” as they say. I ask for God’s grace so I can honor the Fourth Commandment. But I am a Daughter Bear as well as Mama. I don’t back down from my belief in the expansive wonder of God’s creation. I value the scientific method and how humans have increased our understanding of how genetics and neurobiology.
And I pray fervently that my parents eventually will look beyond their deep-seated prejudices and into the loving heart of their granddaughter.
My husband and children hold out little hope for reconciliation, which breaks my heart. There have been too many words of condemnation — couched as “love the sinners, hate the sins” — for them to believe that my parents ever will change.
However, I just can’t abandon my hope for a miracle before my parents pass on. And without fail, each time I choose forgiveness I feel the flow of grace as a balm to my wounded heart.
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 2,400 members. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org