musings from the proud mother of a gay daughter by JuliAnne McDowell

I am not a psychologist or an LBGTQ expert or an activist… I’m just a proud and loving mom of an awesome gay daughter!

In case any of you are moms (or dads) wondering if your child is gay or maybe if you are just the mom of any child… I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences over the years as my daughter “found herself” and finally “came out” (when she went off to college). These experiences while linked to her “gay coming out” can probably be extrapolated to all kids finding themselves and finally coming out in whatever way that may be…finding their true self. In reality, for me, it might be now at 50 that I think I am finally coming into my own!!

It all started in kindergarten when Claire wanted to wear a navy suit, button-down and loafers (just like her dad and brother!) to church on Easter Sunday. As a prissy girl myself, I found it unusual but decided, why not! I bought her a cute little suit and a lavender button-down and off she went, happy as can be. Throughout elementary school, Claire hung out with the boys during recess and participated in all the sports she could – girls’ soccer, basketball, and even boys’ flag football (she was the only girl on the team). But elementary school is more forgiving.

When middle school came around, as we all know, things change. The goal in middle school seemed to be FIT IN! I saw this so clearly in my other daughter, Maggie, as she begged for the same socks as the other girls and the same ripped shorts. Even the school uniform shorts she wanted just the right length — 5” length not… god forbid… 7”. These were the stressors for Maggie. However, for Claire, even as she tried the “right shorts” and the ankle socks, deep down she never felt she fit in. She could try to act the part of the typical middle school girl, but she could never really relate to all the talk about boys and worse still didn’t dare to share her own thoughts. While some girls doubted themselves — not pretty enough, not smart enough, not “cool” enough, no boobs, too big boobs, weren’t allowed to have an Instagram account, didn’t know what to post …. fill in the blank — for Claire, it was a constant deep down… I don’t fit in. I must be weird, I don’t like boys. There must be something wrong with me.

My point is that the LAST THING IN THE WORLD kids want is to be different – whether it’s not having the latest iPhone or having the “wrong” sexual preference. So Claire put away the navy suits and basketball shorts, donned the socially acceptable short shorts and bikinis and squelched her true self – to try to fit in with the rest of the girls. Because…let’s face it. It’s not just middle school (though it’s accentuated there!), don’t we all just want to fit in? Don’t we all just want to belong? Don’t we all just want to feel “normal” and accepted….and loved?

And most importantly, isn’t that what we all want for our kids – for them to be happy and feel loved?

And is heterosexuality really the secret to happiness? Is that the only type of successful loving relationship? I often think to myself that it’s not really like heterosexuals have it mastered. In most families, we don’t have to look far to find heterosexual relationships gone awry. In today’s crazy and rapidly changing world, I feel like it’s wonderful to experience love in whatever shape or form or gender works for you. Can we really have too many types of love in this world? The more ways to love, the better! My hope is that my children find love in any healthy way that works for them.

Thank goodness we now see open examples of loving homosexual couples. We all have the “two moms” or “two dads” at our schools. And isn’t that wonderful. If that had been the case when my daughter was younger, she may have seen sooner that it’s ok to be with another woman. That it’s ok to love someone of your same gender. It’s not weird and unnatural and something to be buried (until you finally have the confidence to say…this is who I really am). And while I know some of us — of an older generation or for religious reasons or other reasons—worry about letting our young children know about homosexuality at a young age…I really do believe that it is much more helpful than harmful. No need to talk about sex, just simply that yes – sometimes men love men and women love women and that’s ok. LOVE IS GOOD. Kids usually don’t want to know any more than that. So if your child says “Mom, Emma has two moms!” …you can simply say “Yes, isn’t that wonderful, it’s so lucky when children have two loving parents!” Period. Because that’s the truth! It’s so hard to parent alone. And two loving parents is a blessing. I promise your children will rarely ask more. They are much more open-minded than we are. As a parent, I think the best thing we can do is keep their minds – and hearts– open!

I read a beautiful quote the other day from Mother Teresa, “If you want to solve society’s problems, go home and love your children!” (I think implicit in this quote is… “for whoever they are.”)

Throughout middle school and high school (wondering if Claire was gay) my husband and I would admiringly discuss gay friends of ours and try to show we were open to the idea. Several times, I would ask her “do you think you might be gay?” But the irony was that even though we were open, she herself was not so open to the idea. It seemed she herself was hoping if she ignored it, it might go away. It’s hard to be different! She felt so self-conscious about it. It reminds me of having a pimple on your face. Sometimes even when everyone says “it’s no big deal, no one will even notice,” for the person with the pimple, it’s all they see and think about.

Ultimately, she did “come out” when she got to college. And of course, I encouraged her to go to see if there were any LGBTQ clubs or groups she could join. (I thought this was a great suggestion.) Interestingly, she has not been terribly interested in joining a special group. I thought this was silly – what a great way to meet others “like you”. But Claire said no, she just wants to keep her same friends. That her sexuality is only one part of herself. That as long as she can just be honest and accepted by her friends, she doesn’t need to seek out a special club. It reminded me of my sister when she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 11 and the hospital suggested to my mother several summer camps “for kids with Diabetes”…which my mother quickly suggested to my sister. Like Claire, my sister said, just because I have diabetes, I don’t want to only hang out with Diabetics! I want to go to camp with my same old friends and just be “normal”. I think that’s what Claire was saying too…all along. I just want to be normal!

In August I was dropping my youngest daughter off at college for her first year (at my alma mater!) and went out for dinner with old friends and sorority sisters who still lived in the area. One whom I hadn’t seen in a few years said that her daughter had just graduated from college and was moving to Sweden. I quipped… “for a boy?” (because really there aren’t that many reasons to move to Sweden! ;)) And she said, “No, for a girl.” Just like that. No big deal. Normal. Another proud and loving mom of an awesome gay daughter! It made my heart sing.

Wishing you lots of love in any size, shape, and gender that works for your family. Happy Holidays!

JuliAnne and Derek McDowell
Proud and loving parents of Alexander, Claire, and Maggie McDowell

PS: I apologize if I have misused any terminology or have described experiences that others don’t share. Of course, not all gay children are just like my daughter. And there are certainly many young lesbians who love dresses and bows and don’t play any sports. These are just my musings that I hope are helpful in some way.  I do think we are ALL more similar deep down than we are different.