Teaching Mom About STIs and How To Use A Condom

by Christa Orth

I’m Christa Orth and I’m from Bothell, Washington. I grew up as a teenager there in the early 90s and I grew up Catholic so I’d go to church every Sunday with my parents. Because of our Catholic religion, we didn’t talk about our sex or sexuality and that became a major issue for me internally when I started to discover that I was queer. So one of the things that I did to seek queer community was to volunteer at the AIDS Foundation. My friend Terry and I, we were best friends, and we would take the bus down to Seattle every week in the summertime. We were probably 15 when we started volunteering at the AIDS Foundation. It was the Northwest AIDS Foundation which is now Lifelong AIDS Alliance in Seattle. We learned that you couldn’t get AIDS from kissing, or a drinking fountain, or from a toilet seat, which these were major misnomers in American culture at the time. They actually showed us how to use a condom. This was how I learned how to use a condom with my partners. So on the flip side I would go to my Catholic Sunday School and during one of the Sunday School sessions, AIDS was the topic. And the Catholic Church mandated that the Sunday School teach us that you could get HIV and AIDS from kissing gay people. The major misinformation campaign that they were spreading in the early 90s was that, and what I heard in my Sunday School class, was that latex was not a barrier for HIV, that latex was actually, that condoms were actually made of a porous material that HIV could get through the pores of the material and even sperm could get through the pores of the material. I raised my hands at Sunday School and I was like, “That’s wrong. I know that latex is not a porous material, it is an effective barrier against HIV and AIDS, and it’s effective birth control.” Suddenly my Sunday School teacher was like, “Oh my God, what am I going to do with this one.” I remember she was really embarrassed and moved on quickly. My parents were still married at that point and then when I was 19 my parents got divorced. I was very concerned about both of my parents, but particularly my mom who I knew was pretty sexually, she was pretty sheltered. And I said, “You know, Mom, you should really go get tested for all STDs but particularly HIV and AIDS.” So she did and she was negative and all that stuff. A few months later she met a boyfriend in a support group for Catholics who are going through a divorce. And after a while she said, “Oh, you know, I really like him so much and I hope you don’t mind me saying that we’re thinking about getting intimate.” I think in any other situation I would have been like, “TMI! No, no, I don’t want to hear about it!” But I was concerned for her so I said, “Well, Mom, I’d really like to…you should know how to use a condom. Did you ever use a condom before?” And she was like, “Well…a little bit…” She was on the pill and all that stuff. So that afternoon, I went into my backpack and got a condom, and she went into the kitchen and got a banana and we sat on the couch in the living room and I showed her how to use a condom. Anyway, she ended up marrying her boyfriend. Happily married, and they’re Catholic still. And I came out as queer and it was really difficult for her to reconcile, especially with her religion. So she ended up talking to a friend of mine who I had met at the AIDS Foundation, and my step-dad knew too, and she helped get my mom into the support group, the Catholic parents support group, for people who had gay kids. And then she ended up reviving it and taking it over and running it for many years. We all have our journeys around gender and sexuality. And even though my family was very hush hush about sex and sexuality, I was able to find what I needed through the community of HIV and AIDS activists in Seattle and then bring it back to my community too. And my family.

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