Good afternoon Xem,
I hope this email reaches you in spiritual peace and wellness. I want you to know that I pray for you just as I would my own brother. I have so much respect for what it is that you do not only for the LGBT community but for mankind as a whole. You really are a spiritual warrior and I know that God has amazing things in store for you. I am writing to you this afternoon because I am having a very difficult time trying to get through to my mother as of lately. Xem, my mother and I are extremely close, especially now that she and my father’s divorce has been finalized. I consider her to be one of my very best friends. It has been tough for her emotionally trying to accept the separation, as well as now living in our house alone. I recently moved out to live with my boyfriend, Troy. He and I are both grad students at UIC here in Chicago. I lived home during my undergraduate studies, which is when my father first moved out. My mother is very supportive of me and my relationship. She treats Troy (my boyfriend) just like her second son. His mother isn’t at all supportive of his sexuality. They have a very estranged relationship, so he and my mother have established their own special relationship. We usually invite her over to our place on Sundays for dinner. She and I will cook together, which is something we’ve done since I was probably thirteen years old. It’s my way of trying to maintain some consistency in her life now that she feels I’m all she has left. However, it irritates me so much Xem that my mother doesn’t seem to understand that just because I cook for Troy and I or she sees me wiping up the table once she comes over, that I am not the woman in my relationship. My mother raised me to be able to take care of myself. Before she knew I was gay she would always say that she never wanted me to have to rely on a woman to do everything the ways that she had to do for my father. So, for me it’s just natural to keep everything in a certain spot or to try new recipes and things. Troy does not know how to cook and when he does call himself cleaning, I end up having to go behind him to really CLEAN CLEAN if you know what I mean. LOL! Even though my mother and I discuss practically everything, I do not discuss my sex life with Troy, with her. Therefore, she doesn’t realize that Troy and I have always had a very equal relationship, if you know what I mean here as well. LOL! My mother is only 56, but her idea of gay relationships is so stuck on who plays the man role and who plays the woman. She always asks me ridiculous questions like, “if you and Troy get married, will both of you wear tuxedos or will you wear something else?” I fall out laughing at this lady because it’s like she expects me to come down the aisle in some ballroom gown or wedding dress. She will also joke but really being serious when she’ll tell me to just drop out of grad school to spend my days with her and let Troy take care of us once he graduates. It’s a little frustrating because I know she really means what she says. Now I will say that Troy is taller than me and he is thicker than me. I guess from the outside looking in, my mother and others may see us and assume that because of the physical differences, we have strict roles in our relationship. However, even if that were the case Xem, why is it that I would have to be looked upon as the “woman” or Troy’s wife. Do you know what I mean? I just really don’t know how to explain to my mother the difference between straight relationships and my relationship. As much as I truly love my mother and get along with her, it’s when she makes these comparisons that I sometimes just want to scream and throw my plate at the wall. I try not to get upset however because I know she means well. Troy thinks the entire situation is hilarious. Like yesterday when she came over and saw him watching the game and doing his homework while I was trying to change our bed. In her mind I think she sees Troy as the role of my father who would spend Sundays doing office work and me playing her role as my fathers wife, or ex wife now. That’s what it is. How can I possibly break things down to her in a way that she will finally understand? I look forward to hearing from you soon if you see this and can reply. Also, I don’t mind if you choose to post this on your Xem says site. I love reading your advice!
Believe it or not, your mother’s misguided idea of how gender roles shape same sex relationships isn’t so farfetched from how many others examine the romantic union between two men. Your mother only understands her position in the world as a woman, a mother and a wife. As a result, the traditional practices and values that have defined those positions since the beginning of time, frames her perception of how you are also to exist in this world. Your mother understands how a man typically acts as a husband to his wife based on her personal experiences living alongside your father. In contrast, your mother also understands how a woman typically acts as a wife to her husband. However, now that she witnesses you, her gay son, modeling some of those same actions alongside your live-in boyfriend, she only has her personal experiences to use as comparison. As a wife, she cooked for your father and cleaned the house while he watched television and worked from home on Sundays. When she visits you and Troy, she sees you changing the bed linens while Troy is doing his homework with the football game playing in the background. Your mother’s perception then is that you have taken on a traditional female role, and Troy is playing the traditional “man of the house”. Your romantic relationship with Troy is probably her first time ever witnessing two men living together and loving one another, up-close. At the age of fifty-six, your mother uses her past experiences to figure out present situations that are new and unfamiliar to her. She honestly thinks a label is supposed to exist on how you interact and engage with the man in your life.
It is important that you explain to your mother, the way you stated to me – that you and Troy have established a very equal, romantic relationship. Make it clear to her that you label Troy as your boyfriend, as he labels you with the same title. Let her know that with those “titles”, the two of you expect the same levels of courtesy, consistency and commitment from one another. Remind your mother that she is the one who raised you to be able to prepare a meal and clean a house without the help of a spouse. Tell her that even if you were a straight man who was married to a woman, you would still be changing bed linens on Sundays and cooking dinner for the family if your wife was unable to. Remind her that your wife would then still consider you her husband, and would not alter her perception simply based on your ability to cook and clean. Your mother may not realize that Troy does indeed clean up on a regular basis even though he doesn’t necessarily do a good job. Explain that contemporary culture has widened the gap between what is considered traditional male roles in a relationship and what is seen as modern day, male performance.
To really lay the situation in her lap, talk to your mother about the “masculine work” you perform in your relationship, but compare it directly to the “masculine work” your father played as her husband. For example, inform her that there are times when you come home from class, take out the trash, plop in front of the TV and call Troy to bring home dinner. It may seem trivial to have to water the details of your love life down to such ground levels. However, older people sometimes have to see things from the very point where they stand.
I think people in general are more comfortable when they are able to specifically categorize other people. It’s a part of our human makeup to mentally make sense of how others operate in society by labeling the roles they play within it. You’re actually very blessed to have a mother who has the desire to understand the dynamic of your relationship with your boyfriend. You may want to consider the fact that your mother inquires about your gender role because she is afraid to directly ask you questions about your sex life. Because your mother obviously equates you doing the chores to a display of feminine behavior, she may also assume that you are always “biting the pillow” in the bedroom. You made it clear to me that you and Troy practice a very equal, versatile, sexual relationship. Possibly, it would blanket your mother’s understanding of your relationship if she knew that Troy wasn’t the strict, sexual aggressor between the two of you. It is universally understood that women traditionally “lay on their backs” to engage in sexual intercourse. Well, if your mother knew that you are sometimes on top of Troy as he lays on his back for you, she would be forced to erase the comparison between you as the “woman” or female figure. I know openly discussing your sex life with a parent or sibling can be extremely uncomfortable. However, since the two of you have established a close, best friend relationship, it may be easier to share those details with your mom.
I’m not sure how long you and Troy have been together, but over time, I truly believe your mother will witness the balance in your union. The more she sees the two of you engaging with one another in and outside of your home, the more she will begin to understand that a same sex relationship isn’t necessarily framed by traditional, gender roles. Be encouraged in knowing that you are one of the lucky few; having a mom who embraces not only your sexuality, but also your decision to live openly with the partner you love. Continue to cherish every moment that your mother spends alongside you and Troy, for it’s her silent prayers helping you two remain united. Believe me. She feels at peace knowing you have a special man in your life.