Faith & Family

"Black Mothers ‘Don’t Reject Gay Sons’"

Really? News to me. That’s what I said to myself when I read the headline above. Then I read further and understood. We’re talking about black mothers in Britain.

In a direct challenge to the perception that homophobia is more prevalent in the black British community, one gay group has questioned gay black men in time for Mother’s Day to find out their relationships with their mothers.

Big Up, which campaigns for awareness of homophobia amongst black gay men, as well as for improved sexual health, says its survey reveals that mothers are accepting of their gay sons and that the majority of black gay men are out.

According to its poll figures, the majority of the men said their mother reacted “very well” or “ok” when told about their sexuality. Only a small minority said their mother reacted “very badly”.

Well, wouldn’t it be nice to be British now? I could acquire the accent, but beyond that the news isn’t going to help me much. When I thought about it, I couldn’t help wonder what the difference is between here and there, because I don’t think the same could be said for most black families with gay & lesbian kids in this country.

I think I got a hint from another article about the same survey. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say tt’s religion, at least in part.

One deeply religious mother prayed for her son: “God, you know his lifestyle. I do not understand but I am pleased that you have provided him with a home where I can come and go, let his home be a place of peace and comfort.”

Admittedly, it’s not that big of a leap, considering that prevalence or lack of certain religious fundamentalism is one of the major differences between Europe and the U.S.

For Europe, secularism was forged in the religious wars of the past millennium. The struggles weakened faith and helped to foster national identity and ideology as replacements for religion. Faith in one’s people, or a set of political ideals, became the dominant way to provide transcendent meaning.

… For America, the experience was quite different. If for Europeans the purpose of secularism was to keep faith out of politics, for Americans secularism meant keeping politics out of faith. Americans fear centralized political power; Europeans fear centralized religious power. Thus, secularism becomes the outcome for both societies, but for very different reasons and worldviews.

A CBN article, of all things, notes that only 3% of Britons attend regular church service and that half of those are black Britons. My guess is that there’s a a good percentage of black Britons who aren’t regular churchgoers either. Much has certainly been written about the difference in religious fervor between Europe and America, and whether one is better off than the other for having more or less of it. I can’t add much to what’s already been said, but it seems to me that the the advantage for the families in the article is that a son or daughter coming out as gay or lesbian doesn’t put distance between parent and child, or tear them apart.

Of course, my take on it is somewhat personal. I’m a 37 year old black gay man whose parents are aging. One of them, my father, is dying. I went home a week ago, alone, to be with my family and see my father again. I tried not to go with any expectations, but I guess it’s difficult for a child to ever completely stop desiring his parents’ acceptance and approval. And despite the fact that they didn’t react well to my coming out and have always stated their religious objections to my life, I guess I held out hope.

It started and ended at my dad’s beside. I sat and talked with him for a while after I arrived, and we exchanged I-love-you’s and said some things we needed to say. Then my folks explained me they had not told their friends or our extended family about my "lifestyle" and suggested that they’d rather it not come up during my visit. I attempted to accommodate that, out of a desire not to add to the stress of the situation for the rest of the family, though now I wonder if I should have.

When the time came for me to head to the airport on Sunday, I went in say goodbye to my dad and our last two conversations — within five minutes of each other — ended up with him urging me to find Jesus, get "saved," and renounce my "lifestyle." I tried to change the subject the first time, when I went in to tell him I was loading up the car. I tried to avoide it the second time when I went in to tell him I was leaving, until my father tole me he was worried that he wouldn’t "see me in heaven" and that come judgment day I would "lift up my eyes in hell." And I saw how much pain it caused him to believe that.

And since I know there’s no chance of my adopting his version of his faith, and renouncing my family in the process, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I lied. I lied and told him I would "promise to try," knowing I have no intention of ever doing so. It may have been the last time I’ll see my father alive, and the only thing I could do to give him what peace I can was to lie to him, so he won’t die believing there’s no chance he’ll see me in his idea of heaven, and being pained by that belief. The only way I could give him hope, as we spoke for what could be the last time, was to lie.

I left angry, not at him in particular, but in large part at a faith that could erect a wall between family. And, yes, there’s enough blame to go around. I was probably too accommodating of my parents over the years, out of fear of conflict, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t consider broadening their understanding of their faith to allow them to accept who I am. At some point we all probably became more comfortable with distance. But I still lay a good bit of the blame at the church door. I think to some degree I always will.

I’m less angry than I was a week ago, because I’ve spent that time sitting with it, looking into it, and trying to come to terms with it. Ironically, while writing this post, a Google search brought my own words on the subject back to me, from a post on another blog.

On some level, I know that I have to begin to be able to forgive people in the past, and in the present for their homophobia and how it affected or affects me. I know that until I’m able to do that, to tell myself believably that they didn’t know any better, and were doing the best they new to do with a limited understanding, on some level when I remember those times I will still be "hoping for a better past," for a happier childhood, for more accepting parents, etc., rather than accepting the past as it was and forgiving those involved, including myself.

I’m not there yet, and I’m not even sure that’s where I’m going with this, but for me I know it’s time to stop hoping for a better past and start working for a better present.

I don’t know that there will ever come a day when that anger, and the sadness just beneath its surface, will be gone completely. The best I can do is continue working on it.

But right now, I can’t help thinking it would be kinda nice to be British.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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