Illustration by Doe Neutz

Growing up in a deeply liberal city, homophobia, to me, was always something that could only be expressed outwardly and overtly. Unless one acted as an outright bigot, the progressive swell of the modern age had undoubtedly swept the majority into a mindset of full understanding and acceptance. This was, at least, what I thought when I realized my sexuality at age twelve. It was an early age to be so confident in my identity, and even without exact context or terminology for my feelings, I knew they were concrete. Although dedicated democrats, I was hesitant to tell my parents, and instead labeled myself as bisexual among my peers, following in their proclamations of newfound sexuality. It was not until a year later that I realized my emotions were simply labeled as “gay,” and upon a spark of reciprocated emotion, I decided to tell my mother. She was displeased, even upset, told me that feelings change, and instructed me to break off the very juvenile relationship I was in. At a time when my emotional intelligence was lacking, due to age and life experience, I presented my sexuality as the sole aspect of my individuality and identity. Upon realizing this, I disregarded my mother’s actions simply as a response to my immaturity and nothing more, placing her political ideologies above her personal ones.

I soon placed my sexuality on the backburner of my personality, not out of shame, but as a way to make room for interests and traits that I found to be a more accurate and realistic representation of myself. As serious relationships began to play a role in my life, I was surprised when I was still met with my mother’s disappointment and frustration. Excitement was altogether lacking, and seemed to be instead replaced with strict consequences, troubled discussions, and pleas for grandchildren bookended with “you never know, sexuality changes, and your peers are a big influence!” I was told that I needed to wait until college to explore my gay identity, and that under her roof, my actions and manners were to remain conservative. Successful both in my academics and extracurriculars, two things my mother values greatly, I was confused by the intense backlash to a seemingly natural part of adolescence. It was then that I realized that a checkmark on a ballot was simply that. Political alignment is not always synonymous with personal beliefs, and my mother is a perfect example.

Although her response to my sexuality is not entirely desirable, I also find myself in the unique position to transition my mother to a place of understanding and acceptance rather than discomfort and distrust, an opportunity she would not have if we were the same in all aspects of identity. Despite her apprehension towards acceptance, I know that she will always love me unconditionally. Raised impoverished in rural Michigan, her current state of success as a mother and professional woman is aspirational. She went from frying donuts to get herself through college to a management position that earns her more than my father. It is inspiring, and even more so knowing that I can contribute to her and my own growth even more. It is a rare but remarkable circumstance to have the power to truly change someone’s mind. I may never fully understand her point of view, but I hope that my attempts to do so will convey genuine empathy. I will never be the woman she has become, and she will never have been the adolescent I am. Yet, as we both continue to grow, I know we will learn from one another, and at some point, reach a level of compassion that stretches beyond our misunderstandings and brings us back to who we truly are: mother and daughter

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