When I started dating C, my junior year of college, I came out to my mother to tears and screaming. It took three years before Mom would allow my partner to come to Christmas. She finally allowed C to come to the annual Boxing Day Leftovers party.
From its 1989 inception – neighbors gathering to divest themselves of extra Christmas food, the Boxing day party had developed into a blow-out in its own right. The year C would come, Mom had invited sixty people to her house.
The tables were laden with ham and roast beef, patés of every imaginable consistency and smell, and cheeses and breads and desserts. There was a bartender. A friend of a friend’s son, I think. He was passably attractive and a good talker and Mom pulled me aside before any of the guests arrived to see if I’d noticed the nice young man. I was happy he was there because it meant that Dad and I wouldn’t need to tend the bar this year – a pleasant change.
Mom also took time to remind me that my friend Chris would be there. When I was twelve and he was somewhat older, we went to see Rent; Chris and I have been friends since. His mother, Ruth, and mine are best friends and it was always an almost-serious just-below-the-radar understanding between the four of us that Mom and Ruth would like to see us marry. I knew Mom’s reminder was a warning not to rub C in Chris’ face.
In true Christmas fashion, our house was not only bedecked with unnecessarily large amounts of food, but with garlands and wreaths, an enormous Christmas tree painstakingly decorated with glittering glass ornaments, and one lonely sprig of mistletoe dangling in the entry way.
Guests trickled in and after about an hour, piles of people had arrived.
My close friends, C and I congregated in the kitchen, sitting on counters and manning the fridge, studiously avoiding the bartender in favor of extracting beer from its source. Eventually Mom poked her head in and teasingly reprimanded us for not socializing with the rest of the guests. We filtered out of the kitchen, meandered around, schmoozed, ate a little and found our group reforming in the entry way.
Standing in a group, under that mistletoe, Chris and the others started suggesting that someone make use of the poor sprig’s holiday spirit, after all, it had been dormant all evening. Obliging our friends, C and I, the only couple present, pecked on the lips.
Not three seconds later, Mom whisked us away from the offending plant. Mom orchestrated the rest of the night so that C and I were unable to get within two yards of each other. Quite a feat given that the house is small to begin with and had sixty people in it.
As the party ended and the last guests bundled into their cars, Mom accosted me. Crying she demanded to know why I would have done such a thing. I was a little confused. Kissing under mistletoe, it seemed to me, was only feeling the appropriate spirit of the season. Mom didn’t see it that way and accused me of plotting the entire thing by hanging the mistletoe in the first place. To no avail, I pointed out that I’d hung the sprig at her bidding.
The next day, the day before my mother’s 60th birthday, she spoke to me only long enough to uninvite me from her celebratory luncheon. Instead she invited Chris. I gathered she was mourning the loss of her “son-in-law-to-be.”
December 28th, Mom’s 60th birthday arrived and, as was customary in our house, I cooked her breakfast and adorned the table with flowers and presents. Mom cornered me in the kitchen.
“Kate, did it ever occur to you that Chris might have wanted you to kiss him under that mistletoe.”
It took all I had not to laugh. “No, Mom, it did not occur to me.”
“Hmmmph. Well, I just can’t imagine how hurt you must have made him feel. And, in front of him and all those people you kissed C!”
“I am absolutely certain that Chris was not hurt by my kissing C. And, for that matter, if I’d kissed Chris you would not be having this reaction at all, you’d be thrilled.”
“You bet I would be thrilled. …And what, exactly, makes you so certain that Chris didn’t care that you kissed C?”
“Mom, Chris is gay.”
“Kate, how can you say such a thing! He hasn’t told you that has he? I never, I mean how … the … I would know if he were gay! Ruth would have told me.”
“Mom, have you told her that I’m gay?”
“Well, of course not, but after the party that’s hardly the question now is it.”
“If you hadn’t told Ruth that I’m gay, and you know that I’m gay, what on earth would lead you to believe that she would tell you the same information about Chris?”
We went another fifteen rounds or so like that. Rage and hurt ebbing and flowing next to the collage of my childhood plastered on my mother’s fridge. I had spent twenty-two years working to fulfill my mother’s dreams of my future, but every time a new aspect of my sexuality came up I ran head-long into the reality that I would never fulfill her dream vision of family. Every time I had to revisit my short coming in her eyes it hurt us both.
An hour or so of wrangling passed. I realized that Mom was so upset not because of the kiss, but because that Boxing Day had marked her coming out. She had been a closeted mother of a lesbian daughter. Before C and I kissed under that mistletoe, she had been able to harbor the dream that I might one day kiss boys and marry one. She held tight to the hope that she would never need to tell her friends that I had been in a three-year relationship with a woman. I had been desperately trying to knock down my closet door, but I hadn’t paused to realize that by coming out to her friends I was dragging her along on my closet-bashing mission.
For the first time I apologized to her, not for being gay (I was well past apologizing for that), not for letting her down by not embodying her ideal future for me (after all it was my future, not hers), but for outing her publicly before she was ready. Mom re-invited me to her birthday lunch.