A Mum’s Story
What has made you tell your story?
I’m telling my story as I hope to reach out to parents, but particularly mums as we carry our babies for nine months, protect them whilst still in the womb, nurture them and have amazing hopes and dreams for them as they grow into young adults but that love and support should never ever stop, and certainly not because your child is LGBT. This is the time as a mum when you should come into your own – you know your child better than anyone else and whether they are confident with their sexuality or like my son very angry and confused we need to be there to listen, understand and accept because all that any mum wants at the end of the day is for their child to be happy and fulfilled in life, surrounded by love and that comes in all shapes and forms.
I watched my son Mark struggle with his sexuality for over 15 years. Saying “I watched” implies I did nothing – that could not be further from the truth, however I realise now that I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought I was on the torment Mark had already gone through to get to the coming out stage and the daily battle he continued to have until he died. I as a mum felt sheer desperation as I knew my son didn’t want to be gay, didn’t wish to be different, felt he was letting me down, that I could never be proud of him, but I can say hand on heart I was bursting with pride for the courage my son had to announce on Facebook in the early hours of one morning that he could no longer live a lie, was so desperately lonely and unhappy and YES he was gay!!
How hard has this been for you?
This has been the hardest thing I have, or will ever have to deal with in my life as there is so much more I feel I could have done, especially after talking to people who have recounted their feelings and inner battles, making me realise I didn’t fully comprehend just how lonely and tormented Mark’s life was. The saddest part is that he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly before he had the chance to finally find happiness and joy in his life and before I could say I could not have done anymore.
If I could change one thing what would it be?
I think as Mark’s mum I felt over protective when he came out, I wanted to wrap him up in cotton wool and shield him from all the hurt but I now think that by doing this, which is a natural mother’s instinct, I may have caused him more pain as whilst I was like a lion protecting her cub what I was really doing was making Mark feel that being gay was a problem that I had to solve, treating him differently, smothering him as he used to call it.
All out of love of course, as all I wanted him to be was happy but if I could change one thing now it would be to gain more knowledge on the subject, listen to what he wasn’t saying rather than what he was, as he was still hiding his thoughts and feelings and fighting his demons in private. Finally I would give him an extra hug for just being my son, nothing more, nothing less.
Mark battled all his life – what advice could you give to other young guys and girls out there as a mum?
LOVE YOURSELF!!! First and foremost you are a person – you are not a gay friend, a gay son or a gay daughter – YOU ARE YOU!! YOU ARE TOTALLY UNIQUE!! Accept and embrace your sexuality by seeking support and advice from groups such as LGBT. Tell your parents when you’re ready but don’t leave it for 15 years like Mark did as you will be missing out on finding happiness, love and contentment and life is too short already – don’t waste a minute being afraid, embarrassed or ashamed. You are still the same person but telling people will make you a much happier person.
I think deep down if us mum’s are truly honest with ourselves we know anyway. You may not think we do, but being a mum means you pick up on things, have an intuition about your child that no one else can have. Since talking to other mums and from my own experience with Mark it is usually a relieve for us as much as it is for you and knowing you are being open and honest with us makes us even more proud that we already are.
As a parent to the most amazing son what advice could you give to other parents who maybe struggling as they know about their kid’s desires?
You’re child isn’t choosing to be gay and isn’t saying it to annoy, embarrass or hurt you. You haven’t failed as a parent. Neither are they turning their back on family values. Your child is still your child. I must admit that once I suspected Mark was gay I had to put aside my hopes and dreams of him marrying a beautiful young woman, buying his first home and calling around to announce he was going to be a dad. This was such a hard thing for me to do without letting on to Mark that I was saddened that I would never be a nanny. However I didn’t just conceive Mark to provide me with grandchildren, he was born because I wanted him, I enjoyed every single minute of every single day I had him in my life and would give everything to have him with me now.
As parents we are constantly adjusting our expectations about our children, we may dream of them going to university only to find they are not academic, we may want them to be a doctor or a nurse only to find they are terrified of needles and pass out at the sight of blood, but as parents we accept and love them regardless and need to show them that being honest with themselves and in turn with us that they are going to have the most amazing life and that life isn’t going to change, except for the better as it brings an openness and honesty to a parent/child relationship, and with your support and understanding they can be happy and lead the life they want, but not necessarily the life you desired for them.
What does love mean to you?
Love can mean different things to different people. The definition as a noun says it’s a strong feeling of affection or a great interest or passion in something and as a verb that you feel deep affection or sexual love for someone, there is also an old saying that goes “if you love someone let them go”.
Love to me as a mother means unconditional support, doing anything to protect my son from harm and take away his pain, doing everything possible to make him happy, being prepared to lay my life on the line for him, but it also means that sometimes you end up trying too hard and in my case having to let him go, not only in life but in death.
How can you inspire others to talk out, support and come forward?
People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. I hope to show that by getting behind LGBT and supporting them that I care deeply. I want to be able to offer support and guidance to both young adults and their parents by sharing my own unique experience and feelings, but also show that as mums we are vulnerable and we do make mistakes but we can also learn from them.
I think as parents we need to be supporting our children in challenging people and ideas and encouraging the world around us to be more tolerant and accepting. We need to be reading and thus understanding more about what being gay is like, how it feels, what problems can arise from not accepting it and preventing depression and suicidal thoughts in our children.
I want to speak out to parents and make them appreciate that the child they have is unique and wonderful and that they are truly blessed and need to appreciate every single minute they have them in their lives for who they are not what they are.
If there is someone that wants to come out what advice as a parent would you give?
First and foremost Listen and don’t judge, if your child has been brave and honest enough to come to you then they are “not going through a phase” they have thought long and hard, sometimes for months or years about how to tell you, risking your anger, your disappointment. All a child wants when they are ill or hurt is their mum or dad to hug them, make it better and to feel safe and loved. When a child comes out they have the same feelings – all they really want is a hug and to be told it will all be ok – and it will be.
If you suspected anyway then the revelation isn’t such a big deal and can actually bring relief for you both as treading carefully and living a lie is over. If it is a total shock to you then compose yourself, be strong and listen. You can freak out at the bottom of the garden later – now what your child needs is love, hugs and a listening ear. The time to ask questions is later – all you need to do at that present time is listen and try to understand. They always say you should try walking in someone else’s shoes and over the days and weeks you need to think about this and try and do it. Be surprised at how much you learn, and how far society has come but how far it still has to go, and know that as a parent you can make a difference.
Chester Pride is full of love and support, what more could be done for parents and young people across the UK?
We need more readily available help and support across the country as a whole. London, Birmingham, Manchester etc are way ahead in many respects for acceptance but there are hundreds of towns and villages and in particular rural communities that don’t know where to turn for help or even if there is any available. We need to make Chester Pride and the events held in other cities family events to encourage parents, siblings, aunts and uncles to enjoy a fun day out whilst keeping an open mind as to what the message is. We also need to bring events to smaller and more rural areas as there is never really someone saying they are “the only gay in the village”, but its certainly a lot harder and lonelier if you can’t merge with the crowds and disappear. Village and town life is totally different – everybody knows everybody’s business.
Young and new mothers get the opportunity to attend well baby and mother and baby classes to help them to care and safeguard their child. There should be classes for parents and young adults to attend, separately and together. This should become the “norm” as natural as joining the cubs or girl guides.
Mark’s story is one that should never of happened and one that needs to be told. If you could help a parent or young person what would you say to them?
Its only when you lose your child that you realise you have lost the most precious gift you could be given in this life. We all have our family arguments,, disappointments and squabbles with our kids as that is what makes our lives a rich tapestry of joy, fear, sadness and love.
What we all need to remember however is to be happy, love each other, accept and understand, show compassion and respect and don’t make your child’s sexuality such an issue that family life and happiness as you know it is ruined for ever.
What are your plans for the future now?
Losing my only child Mark at the age of 31 was and is the worst thing to happen in my life but I am still here and Mark’s memory will be kept alive as I am determined to help as many young people and their mums and dads as possible. I don’t want any young person to feel as lonely and confused and angry as Mark did for pretty much the whole of his life, living a lie and putting on a brave face. I couldn’t reach him but I hope to be able to reach out to other young adults and parents who are struggling or just need support and guidance.
Do you have anything else to add?
I remember when I was a child and cancer was known as the “BIG C“. The word brought fear to everyone and was only ever mentioned in whispered tones, basically you were doomed if you got the “Big C”. Mental Health was also a taboo subject, no one admitted to being on anti depressants or stressed and suicidal. Look how things have changed and for the better. In the future being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender will be as normal a subject and as common place and natural to openly discuss, admit to and seek help and guidance for as cancer or mental problems are today.
This is what LGBT and their supporters of which I now include myself are aiming for. To make this world a place where we are all accepted and embraced for who we are.