When I asked my parents whether they’d be willing to go to family therapy, I figured there really wasn’t much to lose. After all, our relationship has already been strained for the past five years since I came out as a gay woman. The distance between my home and their home is only a 45 minute drive, but it feels like an eternity. My visits have dwindled from once a week to once every other month. It feels more like an obligation than anything else. When we talk, we have to tap dance around any subject that may remind my parents of my lifestyle. Our conversations have become restricted to benign and trivial topics, usually centered around personal finance or real estate (seriously, the most involved conversation we’ve had in the past few months was on the investment value of quadruplexes in San Jose).
In the rare occasion that Lisa’s name comes up, or I make it a point to bring up the elephant in the room, the situation blows up. 9 times out of 10, my mom starts weeping and telling me that I’m going against the Bible and I get so frustrated that I storm out of the house. Clearly, we need some professional mediation.
Enter Jane Flanagan, licensed marriage family therapist, a tall Irish woman in her 50′s with a penchant for oversized jewelry. When I explained in our initial call why I wanted to do therapy with my parents, Jane told me upfront that she was a devout Catholic, but she did not believe in the church’s stance on homosexuality. I was nervous about how she would approach religion with my devout Evangelical parents (heck, I don’t even know if my mom thinks Catholics are “true Christians”), but I figured it was better than a Buddhist or new age therapist. Then my mom would have really run straight out the door.
I have zero expectation that therapy, or anything short of a miracle, will get my parents to approve of me as a gay woman. I am only hoping that therapy could help my parents tolerate my lifestyle enough for us to still share in each other’s lives. They will never be happy that I’m with a woman, but perhaps one day they can appreciate, or at least acknowledge, that I’ve found a partner who loves me incredibly well.
Unfortunately, therapy session #1 did not start off on a good foot. As I drove down to San Mateo for our appointment, I called my parents to check in on them. My mom answered and said, “Yeah, I decided that I didn’t need to go, so just your dad will be there.” I had made the mistake of telling her about the Out & Around project just a few days prior, and she was still upset about my traipsing around the world to advocate for gay rights. I blew up. I didn’t realize that I had so much anger in me. I brought up various childhood griefs and told her that she’d better get in the car and start driving. I must have sounded like a crazed person capable of doing something dangerous, because in the end she showed up.
Jane turned out to be an adept therapist, knowing when to call someone out and being careful to make all three of us feel that we were being heard. My parents didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know, but it is still rough to hear my dad compare my being gay to being an alcoholic and my mom saying that she worries I’m going to hell.
Thank goodness that I’ve had the past five years to find enough affirmation to know that none of these things are true. But for the first time in my life, I am incredibly angry at the Christian religion. It is because of this religion that there is no room for my parents to consider any moral standard or version of “truth” outside of the one that they believe in. So overwhelmed by their grief, they cannot look past their dogmatic beliefs to see that the most tragic thing in my life is not that I am gay, but that I have lost my parents.
In our one hour session, everyone disagreed 99% of the time. My parents of course disagreed with me, I disagreed with them, and often my parents even disagreed with each other. One of the few times we agreed was when my mom and I both disagreed with the therapist. Poor Jane. But the one sacred thing that my parents and I did agree on was that we loved each other and that we wanted to mend our relationship.
It saddens me that this trip, which brings me so much excitement and happiness, brings such grief to my parents. I struggle to imagine a time when Lisa and I can sit down with my parents together for a meal, but I have faith that one day it will happen. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later…
Jenni and Lisa have been together for 3 years and they are currently traveling the world for a year in search of gay people who are creating change for the LGBTQ community. Their project, Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So-Straight Journey is a collection of their conversations with these "Supergays" around the world.
Find out more at www.outandaround.com