Jason announces to his family that he’s gay. His sisters and his father tell him that it doesn’t make any difference, they love him regardless of whether he’s gay or straight or whatever. But what about his mother? Can she come to accept that her son is gay?
When Betty and Tammy arrived at The Cantina there were still quite a few tables outside along the creek. The maître d’ sat them at a nice table in a corner where they could hear the sound of water flowing over the rocks in the creek bed, and were far enough from adjacent tables that they wouldn’t be overheard. They were given menus and the maître d’ introduced their server, a perky girl named Jaz who look about college age. They gave their drink orders, iced tea for both, and Jaz left them to decide on their orders.
“Have you been here before?” Tammy asked.
“Yes, several times. We have friends who like the Mexican food the way they prepare it here. It’s a little pricy for a family of five, so when the kids are with us we usually go to Taos. Their food is okay, and the price is very affordable. We try to go on a Tuesday night when they have their unlimited tacos special. That makes Jason and Jen happy. I have to wonder where teens put all the food they consume.”
“Ron’s the same way. Sometimes I think he’s nothing but stomach between his neck and his kneecaps. At least with your girls you won’t have to worry so much.”
Betty shook her head. “No, Jen eats more than Jason and she never puts on any weight. And she’s not anorexic, thank God, but that still doesn’t explain how she can eat more than Jason or even Tim, my husband. But, she runs, and she’s on the JV Cross Country team at Hillcrest, and she swims whenever the weather allows, so she probably just works it off.”
“Ron raves about your pool. He keeps bugging us to get one, but our backyard is too small for a pool.”
“He’s welcome to come to our house and use the pool anytime we’re there. And you and your husband should come by some weekend and we’ll have a barbeque and all of us can use the pool and the hot tub. Now that the weather is warming up it will be much more comfortable to swim. Of course, the hot tub is good even in cool weather, maybe even better.”
“I see Jaz looking this way, and I’d guess she’s wondering if we’ve made up our minds about lunch. Maybe we should take a look at the menus.”
They each checked the menu and placed their orders.
Tammy got down to business. “Betty, tell me a bit about Braille and what’s involved in Braille transcription.”
“Louis Braille developed a method of writing that used raised dots that could be felt by a blind person, actually by any person, using their fingertips. Each Braille character is made up in a cell two dots wide and three dots high, and has one to six dots present. That allows for 63 characters, symbols, and even complete words to be represented. It’s 63 instead of 64 because in Braille there cannot be a character that has zero dots. That would be too confusing for a blind reader. So a blank cell in Braille is used for the same reason as it is in English, as a space between words and sentences. Using a special Braille character that identifies a change in what the following characters represent can extend the number of possible characters well beyond 63 to over 700, and allows for each language to have its own set of characters.”
“How does a child learn Braille? It sounds very complicated.”
“It is, Tammy. I don’t understand how children can learn Braille, but that they can is demonstrated by the children who do, in fact, learn to read in Braille.”
“What if a child becomes blind after having been able to see? Does that impact their ability to learn Braille?”
“Yes, it can. If someone has been sighted and is blinded for whatever reason once they are in their teens, it’s much more difficult for them to learn to read Braille. Younger children find it easier, just as younger children are more adept at learning a foreign language than an older child or an adult. There’s another problem for someone who becomes blind after having been sighted. There’s the emotional situation of losing their sight which can be a significant impediment. They have to have special counseling in addition to learning to live without sight and learning a new language in order to read.”
“Where would someone go to learn Braille?”
“There are many resources here in California. I thought you might ask that question, so I brought a list with me that has several dozen websites that can be helpful.” Betty took the list out of her purse and handed it to Tammy. “May I ask why you have this interest in Braille?”
“Certainly. Occasionally, actually it’s seldom, I counsel a child who is blind, either blind from birth or blinded as the result of an accident or abuse. I find myself struggling with CPS, Child Protective Services. They don’t have foster care facilities for blind children. They are put in a normal foster care situation and that almost always turns out poorly for the child. That’s when I get them, with instructions to help resolve their problems. If they’re old enough I refer them to Blind and Visually Impaired Services, but they are oriented to assisting adults. The School for the Blind can’t handle blind children in the foster care system, their facilities are limited and they have to turn away applicants. I want to be prepared the next time I have a blind child referred to me for counseling. I know it will take some research, and that’s fine. Having this information you’ve given me will be a good start.”
“I can do more than that, Tammy. I know some people who can directly assist you to find ways to help the children who are sent to you for counseling. Let me just make a note to myself.”
Betty pulled out a small paper tablet and wrote a note by hand, tore off the sheet, and put it in her wallet. No smartphone for her, Tammy thought.
“Now, I have a question for you, and this is the reason I want us to go Dutch for our lunch...”
Jaz appeared with their meal as if the word ‘lunch’ caused it to happen. They ate for a while, commenting only on the food. Then Betty picked up from where she had been interrupted.
“To get back to my reason for us going Dutch today, I have a question for you. Do you counsel boys who are or think they are gay? You must know why I’d be asking this, since I’m sure Jason told you that he announced to us at dinner two nights ago that he’s gay.”
“Yes, a significant part of the counseling that I do is with children who are gay or bi or transgender, or who are questioning themselves about their sexuality. Jason did talk to me about telling you and your family that he’s gay. It’s always a traumatic situation for a boy or girl when they tell their parents that they are gay. You had a difficult time accepting that Jason is gay?”
“That’s minimizing it! I think I almost lost my son by not understanding what he went through, and how my reaction affected him.” Betty looked at Tammy, stared into her eyes, wondering if what she was about to tell her was the right thing to do. Finally, she took a deep breath and continued.
“I still can’t accept it the way Jason wants me to accept it. I know now that I and my husband need counseling, and I think that Jason needs counseling as well. I’m not sure that Jason is gay, or if this is just one of those periods when boys seem to experiment with other boys and then leave it behind. I went to see a counselor, a Doctor Byers, do you know him?”
“Yes, I’ve met him. He does family counseling for gay, bisexual, and transgender teens and their parents. He has a good reputation, and he doesn’t promise things that he can’t deliver. I have to say that I don’t like the name of his counseling process. Reorientation implies that he will do the same thing that the Ex-Gay crowd promises but doesn’t deliver. Doctor Byers is certainly not doing anything like that. His practice is very ethical, and his first concern appears to be for the welfare of the child and then for the parents and siblings.”
“Siblings? He never mentioned that he would counsel Jason’s sisters.”
“Well, that might be something that would result from a future counseling session.”
“Would you recommend that we see Doctor Byers as a family counselor? Or is this something that you would do?”
“I only do counseling for children. I’m a child psychologist, and I don’t counsel adults. Most of my clients are referrals from CPS, and most of them are children who have suffered abuse, psychological, physical, and sexual.”
“Sexual abuse. I’ve read about it, like that case with the girl who was abducted and raped repeatedly and had the children of the rapist. You counsel that kind of child?”
“Yes, though the cases I’m involved in are not newsworthy, though perhaps they should be. I can’t discuss my cases, but the children who are the saddest cases are usually young children to pre-teens who have been abused by a father or the mother’s boyfriend. Most sexual abuse is done by a straight male adult who is a relative or someone known by the child. There is almost no sexual abuse done by women or gay men.”
Betty took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Dealing with these cases must take so much out of you emotionally.”
“I’m one of those people who can leave their work at the office and not take it home with them. In my line of work that is critically important.”
“Oh, my, I can imagine. Well, my problem pales into insignificance compared to what you deal with.”
“No, your problem is significant for you, so let’s get back to it. I have a suggestion. This coming Tuesday night there’s a PFLAG meeting. That’s a support group for parents and friends of kids and adults who are lesbian or gay. The abbreviation stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. You don’t have to tell anyone your name or your son’s name, you can just sit and listen or talk to the others there at the meeting. There’s no charge, but if you think it’s worthwhile to attend then you could make a contribution to the organization. There are two coordinators of the local chapter. I’m one of them, and Father Darcy, a Catholic priest is the other. The meetings are held in the St. Stephen’s Church hall. One of the members brings the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten to each of the meetings. Sometimes I wish I could bake that well.”
Betty sat and thought for a few minutes. She was planning on talking to Father Darcy, and this would give her an opportunity to meet him and decide if she wanted to meet with him individually about Jason. She was also amazed that this group met at one of the Catholic Churches in town. But she had questions about going, and she wondered why Tammy was a coordinator of the meetings. If she attended because of her counseling that would make sense. But why was she a coordinator? That sounded like she planned the meetings and maybe was instrumental in starting this group. She had an idea what the reason could be, and she wanted to find out if she was right. She’d been quiet for quite a long time, and Tammy was looking at her with what Betty would call a curious expression. Should she say that she’ll attend? Should Tim come along?
“I’ve been thinking about what you suggested, and I think I’ll attend, but I have some questions. First, are any children at these meetings?”
“The first meeting each month is for parents and adult family and friends only and is focused on those who support gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender youth and adults. At that meeting we schedule a speaker who talks on a specific topic, like issues facing gay adults like alienation from parents and relatives, workplace discrimination, religious discrimination, gay domestic partnerships, and gay adoption, and topics appropriate to gay teens like gay suicide, and Ex-Gay camps and the Ex-Gay recidivism rate.
“The second meeting each month, on the third Tuesday, is for everyone including children who come alone or with their parents or guardians. At that meeting we also schedule a speaker who talks on a specific topic, like issues facing gay youth and the people who support them, how to support a gay child when they come out at home, issues around coming out at school, how to be safe, how to respond to homophobic children and adults, how to recognize and report abuse of gay children, and bullying.
“Each meeting has a Q and A session. That’s for attendees to ask questions about anything relating to their involvement with a gay child or adult. Then we have a break where we serve cookies and coffee, and people can network and talk about their experiences and ask questions of each other. I think you’ll find our meetings valuable.”
“I’m thinking about coming alone, not telling my husband yet. Do you think that’s a bad idea?”
“I think coming to the first meeting by yourself is fine if that makes you more comfortable about the idea of attending. Many parents come separately, many come together. It’s entirely up to you. However, you’ll have to decide how to tell your husband once you decide that you want to have him come to the PFLAG meetings.”
“Yes, I see that. Maybe it’s better to have him part of this from the beginning. So far I’ve messed things up, starting with my reaction to Jason’s announcement and then going to see Doctor Byers without including Tim in that decision or the initial meeting.”
“What do you see as your major issue in accepting Jason as a gay teen?”
“My difficulty with Jason being gay is rooted in my upbringing in the Catholic Church which condemns homosexuality. I’m a devout Catholic. I need guidance from someone in the Church. I was surprised by two things. First, that this PFLAG meeting is being held at a Catholic Church. Second, that Father Darcy is a coordinator of your PFLAG chapter. Doctor Byers suggested that I see Father Darcy for answers to my questions regarding the Catholic view of homosexuality. I guess my questions are first how is Father Darcy involved in something counter to his religion, and second what exactly do you and he do as coordinators?”
“Let me answer the easy one. We call ourselves coordinators because we arrange for and coordinate the meetings and the speakers, and we’ve set up a blog that announces the meetings and lets our members post questions, answers, and comments.”
“The harder one I can’t answer for you; only Father Darcy can, and that of course is how and why he’s involved in this PFLAG chapter and how it relates to the fact that he’s a Catholic priest.”
“How did you become a coordinator? I assume you would be interested in PFLAG as a resource for parents you counsel, and I guess their children as well since you said they can attend one of the meetings each month. But why would you become so involved that you’re a coordinator? Is it because your son, Ron, is gay?”
Tammy had to answer Betty’s question truthfully. She just hoped that it wouldn’t be used by Betty to try to restrict Jason so he couldn’t see Ron.
“Ron came out to us about two years ago, my husband Norm and I told him we didn’t care that he was gay, which was a significant relief for him. He was, as he put it, ‘scared shitless’ that we wouldn’t accept him, and we did so and without any reservations. So yes, Ron is gay. But that’s not the only reason that I became a coordinator for the PFLAG chapter. Quite a few of the kids I counsel are gay, and I wanted more information about gay teens so I could understand what they went through at home and at school. I attended a few PFLAG meetings and Father Darcy asked me to fill in for the other coordinator when she became ill. When it was obvious that her illness would restrict what she would be able to do, Father Darcy asked me to take over her duties permanently.”
Tammy watched Betty to see what her reaction might be.
“Are Ron and Jason… boyfriends?” She almost spit out that word.
“Ron and Jason are best friends. We’ve been very clear with Ron and with Jason that the same restrictions that we’d impose on Ron if he was interested in girls are imposed on the two of them. Thirteen or fourteen years old is too young for sexual relationships. Let me ask you a question. You have a fifteen-year-old daughter. Does she date?”
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
“No. She goes out with boys, and they casually refer to each other as going out on a date. They almost always go out in groups. When Jen starts dating a new boy we always sit down and talk to them and phone and talk to their parents.”
“That’s similar to what Ron does, and I believe Jason as well. They go out casually with other boys as part of a group. They don’t call it going out on a date, though,” Tammy chuckled. “Another thing is that for a boy who’s gay it’s not easy to find another boy who’s gay, much less one he might like and be friends with, and eventually want to date. Many boys Jason and Ron’s age who are gay are not out to their family, just as Jason wasn’t out to you. It’s even more likely that they aren’t out at school. It’s complicated.”
“Are you certain that Jason and Ron aren’t um… having… sex?” Betty blushed.
“I don’t think they are. We’ve seen no sign of it happening at our home. Ron never closes his bedroom door when friends are over. When Jason is there half the time they’re in Ron’s bedroom with the door open doing homework or lying around listening to music or reading, and half the time they’re in the family room playing video games. Norm usually gets home around four, and he uses our home office which is directly across from Ron’s room. If there was anything going on I’m sure Norm would know it.”
“What should I do when Jason has friends over? Do you think they might be doing anything sexual? What about Ron? How do you monitor what he does when he has friends over?”
“What it really boils down to is that Norm and I trust Ron. We need to trust our children to do what’s right, to follow the guidance that we provide. So we don’t monitor Ron. Betty, think about the questions you asked about Jason and Ron, but about your daughter. Are you certain about her?”
“Unfortunately, less so than your certainty about Jason and Ron. What you described about the boys made me realize that I don’t have any way to watch Jen and her dates because they aren’t home when they’re together. For example, I might think that they’re going to see a movie, but there’s no way I can be positive. Like you said, it’s the guidance that we provide our kids, and Tim and I do trust Jen. I need to build the same kind of trust with Jason. And that’s my problem, not Tim’s and, most important, not Jason’s.”
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