We all forget that our parents have lives outside of us. For instance, my mom, Anne Marie Kelley, was a corporate badass in the ’80s when tech was a total boy’s club. “Is she going to take notes, or is that what you think I’m doing,” she asked after finding a blowup doll had joined her otherwise all-male meeting. This glimpse into her adulthood became a part of my life during a recent conversation about #MeToo. As much as I know about my mom – the education loving Julie Andrews fan who attends church every Sunday – there is three times as much that I want to learn about AMK. Thankfully, she’s a great teacher.
I wanted to know how she experienced my coming out. Contrary to my tweenage beliefs, it wasn’t an exclusively personal experience. It impacted my entire inner circle. I was always gay, but when I was 13 and told her, it was news. Fact is, she was just another person dealing with a new life experience, not the villain to my hero. Although I was terrified to ask her to dive back into that sore subject, the result was pure love.
One to three specific dreams that you had about me before I was born?
Happy, Healthy, Successful (Bonus: Know you were loved).
What did you think being a mom would be like?
It was an opportunity to help shape and develop a new person. To share my passions and develop new passions and interests that I shared, with my children.
What was your internal reaction when I came out? How do you remember that externalizing itself?
Internal: fear and concern about the challenges you might face.
How do I support you? I had no role models to turn to.
Are you sure? At 13 a lot of development is still ahead of you.
External: at the time, our relationship was already rocky. You were disrespectful, didn’t listen, were making bad choices, and causing turmoil at home. I wasn’t sure how much of this behavior was typical teenager stuff versus you acting out because you weren’t happy with who you were or because of peer behaviors/pressure. So, stress and grief, which probably expressed itself as anger.
Looking back, how would you coach yourself through it?
Probably do some research, and find a peer group that could relate, like PFLAG. Try to be less reactive, and listen more. Try to have more conversations with you to understand where you were at and how you felt.
You cried when I came out. Why?
When I was young there was a boy in my neighborhood who was gay and he was teased, ostracized, ridiculed and bullied. I never wanted my children to have difficult lives and I was afraid that in Westwood by coming out and telling people you were gay at 13 you would face a lot of negative responses.
When I was going through everything during ages 13 – 15, how did you see yourself?
During those years I felt that I was walking on eggshells. Trying to keep the peace in the house. I also felt pretty poorly treated by the school system. There was a lack of support for both you and your brother. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job as a mom at that time. Work was my savior. I really liked what I was doing and I was good at it. I also liked the time we spent together with Uncommon Theatre Company. The people were wonderful for both of us. When we were doing theatre things or with theatre people, I felt good and happy.
How did you think God felt about my coming out? At the time, do you think your faith was a positive influence on our relationship or a negative one?
My faith is distinct from my belief in Catholicism. I believe that God loves us all, regardless of our sexuality. The Catholic Church makes distinctions between what is “right” and what is “wrong” when it comes to sexuality. I knew and still know that God doesn’t judge based on who you are – only on how you act. God created you as you are. I have always known that. My faith gave me the strength to try and be a good mother even when you were difficult. It gave me the courage to seek our a new environment for you when I felt like staying in Westwood was going to be unhealthy for you, which is why Dad and I chose boarding school as an alternative to Westwood High.
You’ve had 3 names in my eyes – Mommy, AMK, and Mom. Which do you like the most?
I prefer being either Mom or AMK. I don’t see myself as Mommy, and I don’t see myself
as Mother. Mom is a little more about my role, where AMK is reflective of me as a person.
What do you want to tell moms whose relationships with their kids struggle due to sexuality?
Don’t give up. Try to find ways to connect even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. Be true to who you are and let your child be true to who they are. Don’t let sexuality be the one thing that defines your kid. They are a whole person with a lot of different parts. Focus on where you can share common things and where you are alike, rather than where you may be different. Love the whole person. They will always be a part of you.
Five words that describe what it’s like to have a gay son?
Proud of who you have become, a unique individual.
Hopeful that our society will continue to be more accepting of all people, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, etc.
Protective of your rights as an individual to be yourself, and do what you want in these tumultuous times.
Supportive of what you want to do as you search for and define your own happiness and success.
Happy that you are comfortable in your own skin, and that you like being a part of our family.
Mom, thanks for your vulnerability, strength, and love.