By Dylan Shimmon
A LETTER TO MUM
Pride Month for me stands for a refusal to have our stories silenced. Because our stories matter. We matter.
So, this is my story. It is a story of shame. And it is a story of finding love and compassion for my Mum who has battled coming to terms with my identity as a gay man.
It is deeply personal. It is an open letter I share with the world in the hope those who feel the way I felt, know they are not alone.
This story. My story. It serves to remind me to practice grace and compassion.
***I am indebted to authors Matthew Todd and Hari Ziyad for gifting me the language to articulate my thoughts and share my understanding of my journey.***
I know that my coming out as your gay son fractured our relationship in so many ways. It has always been a source of deep-seated pain for me, one I keep buried away because until now I had no way of coming to terms with it, nor the self-awareness to confront it.
I am ready now though to face this head-on and I hope my words will bring healing to us both.
My story begins with shame. Shame has been inflicted upon me as a gay man in such powerful ways.
“Growing up in a society that still does not fully accept that people can be anything other than heterosexual. It is the damage done to us by growing up strapped inside a cultural straitjacket, a tight-fitting, one-size restraint imposed on us at birth that leaves no room to grow outside its narrow confines.” (Todd 2016: 11).
Since the age of ten I have possessed an understanding that I was different to other boys. I talked differently, behaved differently, and my “childish consciousness slowly started to realise that this way of being wasn’t acceptable.” (Todd 2016: 49).
By the time I had reached high school those narrow confines only constricted further. Subjected to bullying, I fought for survival.
“If I couldn’t feel those “gay” feelings, maybe it would mean they weren’t real. So I sank them…to the bottom of my psyche where they remained submerged…I shut down, not just sexual feelings, but all my feelings.” (Todd 2016: 51).
I crippled my developing emotional self.
Fast-forward to my university years. This was a space in which I could “explore my queerness unencumbered.” (Ziyad 2021: 125). For the first time in my life, I encountered people like me. I saw myself reflected in them. I belonged to a community and started to unshackle my freedom from its punishing entrapment. I began to feel at home in myself. My existence was validated. I was accepted and respected as myself. This gave me the strength to sit down with you and Dad that evening and tell you I was gay. It takes enormous courage to reveal your true self.
Upon reflection, I now understand your fears and concerns about embracing “my love for someone who wasn’t a woman” (Ziyad 2021: 28). I now see that your invasive questioning came from a place of love and rooted in a mother’s love for her son.
Your questions each time we saw one another such as: “How do you know if you’ve never been with a woman?” or “Why would you choose to make your life even more difficult?” or mentioning HIV/AIDS was a traumatising reaction for me. I internalized those fears, and it triggered that spear of shame. My defences went up. I armoured myself to shield my emerging true self from all of this. I shouted you down. I eroded our bond.
Avoiding one another. Avoiding my queerness. Avoiding those tough conversations. The ones we should have had so we could learn and grow from one another. “Embracing avoidance” has hollowed out our relationship (Ziyad 2021: 113).
I want you to know that I recognise the growth you have made. I want you to know I’ve never doubted the deep wells of love you have for me. And I am grateful for you. I am proud to call you my Mum. You are loved. You matter to me.
I love you unconditionally and wholeheartedly.
Todd, M. (2016). Straight Jacket: Overcoming Society’s Legacy of Gay Shame. London: Transworld Publishers.
Ziyad, H. (2021). Black Boy Out of Time: A Memoir. New York: Little A Publishers.