I’ve shared the story of my coming out to Mom on several occasions. When she passed away, I even wrote a short story about it.
Long story short (see what I did there), she was amazing when I told her. Because of some of the difficulties I shared with her, she actually saw my being gay as a cross to carry. And she exclaimed, “It makes you more like Jesus!”
BTW, if you’re not aware, Mom was extremely extremely verily gigantically religious. I didn’t know what that would mean in terms of her acceptance of my coming out. But I had nothing to worry about as she was awesome.
However, there’s another piece to this story I’ve never shared with anyone outside immediate family. And I’d like to do that now:
Back when I was a kid, Mom formed a really close relationship with a woman named Carrie. Carrie was one of those talented young leaders who people naturally gravitated toward. You know those types? The ones whose natural, positive energy sucks people in? That was Carrie. She’d formed a religious group that had grown substantially since she’d taken over. Mom joined the group with gusto and, because of her affinity for Carrie, became one of its most active members. And she hung on Carrie’s every word like it was poured straight from the Holy Grail. (Is that a weird reference? It makes sense in my head, LOL).
After a few years, Carrie decided she had the calling to become a nun. Mom was so excited for her (she often told us that if she didn’t have kids, she’d join a convent herself). After shipping off to wherever, Carrie got busy and vanished for awhile. Her and my mom lost touch.
Fast forward to a year after I came out.
From out of the blue, she received a phone call. It was Carrie. She said she was coming through town and wanted to meet up for lunch. Mom got soooooo excited. She probably peed her pants a little.
At a little coffee shop, they chatted away for a couple hours. Things were going really well – just two old friends catching up – until I came up.
Mom had put Carrie on such a pedestal, she expected love and rainbows and butterflies. So she proudly announced that I’d come out and told the story of all my extra crosses to carry. And I think, at that point, she probably awaited a gigantic hug.
Instead, Mom got a humongous record screech.
“Cody is…gay?” Carrie said.
Mom heard the derision in her tone. She withdrew a bit but replied, “Yes. He told me last year.”
Unlike other nuns who have been very genuine, Carrie’s nice persona vanished. She adopted the face of pure evil (Kim Davis? Candyman?) and launched into a tirade about how I was going to hell, how I was a sinner, how I was corrupted, and how I would corrupt others. She admonished and belittled my mother for supporting me and told her that she had to stop. Immediately. She told her I had to go seek help.
Now, if any other freaking person in the world had done this, Mom would have blown them off and probably never talked to them again.
But, as I’d mentioned, she’d put Carrie on a pedestal so high, it probably reached Heaven. And she took Carrie’s every word as gospel. The homophobic gospel according to Carrie.
This meeting sent Mom into a downward spiral. She suddenly questioned everything about me. And she felt an enormous amount of guilt, only she didn’t know where it should be directed. It really tore her up inside. As a result, our communication dwindled and our relationship suffered.
The distance sent Mom reaching out to her closest family members. Luckily for me, that included my Aunt Cookie.
I actually don’t know what her real name is. I *think* it might be Inez. We’ve always just called her Aunt Cookie (I think I’d want to be called Cookie if my name were Inez). Admittedly, I wasn’t extremely close with her at the time. She lived in Orlando and I’m terrible at keeping in touch with people that far away.
But she and Mom talked regularly. And Mom called her up after the Carrie Bitch (TM) incident.
After pouring her heart out to Aunt Cookie – along with lots of tears – mom sat back and waited for a response. I think a part of her expected words similar to Carrie’s.
After a few moments, Aunt Cookie said, “Cody’s your son, right?”
“And you love him, right?”
“Well then let me tell you something. Being gay is part of who Cody is. And he can’t change that. It’s always been a part of him. So if you love Cody, you have to love the fact that he’s gay.”
“Absolutely! If some awful, self-righteous woman is going to sit there and judge something that’s part of who Cody is, she sounds like an idiot.”
That put the first crack in the pedestal.
Mom and Aunt Cookie talked often about me. And every time, Aunt Cookie patiently stood up for me. And every time, Mom came away a little more heartened. Over time, she became that whole, “progressive mom” again and the pedestal collapsed.
I never knew any of this.
After Mom’s funeral, my siblings and I had to go through all of her stuff. I found a box out in her storage room filled with boxes and other random material. Curious, I began going through it, expecting to find books on popes or saints or pope saints.
I didn’t anticipate a bunch of books on homosexuality. They were about gay children and whether or not to support them. There were also books on the Catholic church’s position on gay rights, etc… Confused, I took them to Windy.
“When did Mom get these?”
Windy looked around uneasily. She knew the whole Carrie Bitch (TM) incident.
“I’m not sure. Online I think.” A diplomatic answer.
“Huh,” I said. “I never thought she questioned me.” I admit that seeing the books was a bit upsetting. I’d had this picture of “progressive mom” in my head, never thinking she’d experienced doubts.
From that, the entire story began emerging. I heard about the awful things Carrie said counterbalanced by the wonderful comments by Aunt Cookie.
Here was a woman I barely knew sticking up for me. And she was so modest, she didn’t even let me know she’d saved my relationship with my mother. If it were me, I’m sure I would have called, said, “You’re welcome!” into the phone, and hung up.
But she didn’t do that.
And I thank her for every kind, supporting word. She even changed her Facebook in support:
Why do I bring all this up?
Well, Aunt Cookie has recently become extremely ill. She may come out of it with flying colors. I hope she does.
Either way, I wanted to write this as an homage to her. So she’ll know that she did something wonderful and life-changing. So she’ll see that her positive life impacted others in a positive way.