by Joyce and Barry Vissell –
Last week, Barry and I found ourselves at 10pm sitting at a special reserved table at “The Stud,” the 50-year-old first gay bar in San Francisco. First of all, there are a few things you should know about us: we’re quiet “country people” who like to go to bed early. We never drive the 90 minutes to San Francisco, unless it’s to go to the airport for work travel. For the most part, we don’t drink alcohol, or listen to loud music. Our idea of a good time is rafting a wilderness river, and camping all by ourselves in a beautiful spot along the river with our two golden retriever dogs. We were twice the age of everyone else at the bar. The sign on our table, which was lovingly placed in front of the stage said, “Reserved for Johnny’s parents.”
Our son is gay, and he and his partner Isaiah were going to give their first solo two-hour performance. Our son describes himself as a professional circus performer. He also sings and dances, and makes all of the costumes for the performances. He is very talented. A few of his acts would make any parent blush; yet we sat, and we loved and supported him, for he’s doing what he loves in this life. The place was packed with young people, some his high school friends, and everyone loved the show. The MC, WonderDave, liked us, and kept drawing attention to “Johnny’s parents,” and had us stand for a loud cheer.
At the very end of the show, our son took the mic and told everyone how much he loves his parents, and how much it means to him that we came such a long way to support him. He asked us to say something, so Barry took the mic and told everyone that we’re very proud of our son. Everyone cheered! As people were standing to leave, a nicely dressed woman in her late 20s approached us with her female partner. She was crying as she said to us, “Could I please have a hug, so I can experience what it might be like to have parents who are proud of me? My parents rejected me when I came out as a lesbian.” We gave her a big, long hug, and told her how proud we were of her. We hugged her partner too, who told us that her parents had rejected her as well.
When we walked into the bar, the co-owner had told us how happy she was that we were there, as we were the first parents to come to their child’s show. She further told us that her parents called her the “black sheep of the family,” when she came out as gay years ago. To this day, even though she’s very successful, they won’t have much to do with her. We reached out to hug her, and tell her we’re proud of her, and she started to cry, so much was she needing that parental love. She later wrote a Facebook post saying how much it meant to her that we were there and had given her loving parental energy.
The LGBTQ community needs our love and support. Their parents have rejected many of them, and it’s shocking to see how our current presidential administration is treating them. These people are beautiful, unique human beings, many with awesome talents and gifts to give the world. We’re all different in some ways, and they just happen to be different in their sexual orientation.
I believe it’s important for every parent to keep in their heart the possibility that their child might one day “come out” to them. Barry and I were totally surprised when our son came out to us when he was 19. We had no idea. He was an amazing athlete and played middle blocker, his 6’5” height a great advantage on the school’s championship volleyball team. All year he played volleyball, was a river guide, and swam in the cold ocean for hours. More significantly, he had several steady girlfriends. He came out to us the day his girlfriend of one year had just left to go back home. It was a huge surprise when he looked at me and said, “Mama, I’m gay.” Fortunately for me I did the right thing; I reached out and hugged him, and told him I loved him. Then I had him go to Barry, and he was shaking as he told his father. So many young men are rejected by their fathers. Barry reacted exactly as I had, then we both held him, and let him speak. My strong advice to parents of all ages is to try to be prepared and react with love, for how you react in that one instance may determine your relationship from then on. If you didn’t react well, you can apologize to your child and begin anew.
One young man who was a very religious Baptist told us that his father rejected him right away, and he could never be close to him again. Even worse, his minister rejected him and told him he needed to get counseling to change, or else leave the church. It took years for this man to heal from both of these experiences. He never saw his father again, and never walked back into a church.
Parents who reject their “different” child are really missing out. Our son has brought so much growth to our hearts, and so much understanding of differences. If we had rejected him nine years ago when he came out to us, we would have missed a whole new world. He would still have carried on with his life, his marriage, and his performing, yet we wouldn’t have been a part of it all. We left the gay bar at midnight with a skip to our step. The performance had been fun, and even more meaningful and joyful was loving and supporting our son.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of many inspirational books. SharedHeart.org.