When you’re (almost) the only one who knows

Jeremy is not out by any stretch of the imagination. He’s not even out to himself. He’ll say something to me and retract it days later.

“What’s up?” I asked about a month ago as Jeremy walked grumpily into my room. He was in a huge Doctor Who marathon on Netflix.

“The Doctor died and the new Doctor isn’t nearly as cute. Why would they kill off the cute one and replace him with an ugly guy?”

And, with that, he left the room for another season of Doctor Who. Days later, I commented about the 9th Doctor (once I figured out who the heck he was talking about) and Jeremy looked at me in astonishment.

“Mom. I didn’t find him cute at all. I never said that. I only mentioned it because I figured you might think he’s cute.”

Right. At sixteen years old he’s so concerned about my interest in men, he warns me about cute guys on shows I’ve never seen. There’s a first time for everything but… no. I look at Jeremy then sigh and keep my mouth shut.

A few weeks later we visited relatives. One boy got a rainbow loom, the “in toy” this year, and his father was helping him attempt to make a bracelet. I smiled as I watched the two of them, both focused on trying to pry the brightly coloured elastics out of the loom without having them snap everywhere.

“Now that’s a father-son bonding moment,” someone said jokingly.

The father looked up and grinned. “Why yes it is,” he lisped, drooping one wrist ostentatiously.

I winced then looked around but Jeremy was nowhere in sight. Then I wondered if he’d even notice.

The night before, we’d been sitting in the living room while Jeremy described the plot of one of his video games. All the time he’d been playing, I’d watched him cheerfully running down pedestrians and stealing cars, never realizing there was a plot behind all that mayhem.

As he talked, he slipped (once again) into baby talk. One wrist dropped while the other hand brushed the hair out of his eyes.

“Jeremy? Sometimes you do or say things that…” I paused trying desperately to figure out how to phrase this. “Well, that seem kind of gay. Do you act this way naturally or are you aware of the stereotypes and are imitating them?”

He stared at me in confusion. “Stereotypes? What stereotypes?” he asked hesitantly. One hand still drooped. I didn’t think he noticed. That answered my question.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, kissing him on the forehead. He shrugged and went back to his game, obviously filing the question into his mental ‘my Mom is weird’ folder.

I’m not the only one who notices these things. We went on a gorgeous fall walk a few months earlier and, for once, Jeremy actually wanted to go outside. We’d stopped and picked up treats so he had both chocolate and pop. He was in an amazingly good mood.

Emma watched him for a while. “Jeremy, are you gay?” she asked bluntly. He ignored her and kept talking.

“No, seriously,” she continued. “You act really, really gay. Are you gay?”

He stopped and looked at her. She stared right back, obviously waiting for his answer.

“I’m not telling,” he chanted in a sing-song voice before skipping away. She watched him leave and rolled her eyes.

Soon Emma grew tired of walking and sat on a bench. Jeremy was waiting nearby and I walked over to him.

“Why didn’t you tell Emma?” I asked him. He scowled.

“Because I don’t want to,” he retorted.

I looked back at Emma and silently agreed that was probably a good choice. If he was anyone else, she would be amazingly supportive. She already had several friends who were out. But Jeremy was her brother and that was an entirely different situation.

Several days earlier I’d mentioned to her, in private, that I was worried about Jeremy. He was skipping breakfast and often not eating his lunch, plus he was worried about getting fat. She nodded and commiserated with me, promising she’d say nothing to him but would be supportive and try to encourage him to eat.

A short time later, they got into an argument. Her immediate reaction was to yell. “You’re so fat Jeremy, and everyone knows it. Just look at your stomach. You should go on a diet before you get even more ugly.”

I pictured her getting mad at him in the local mall and cringed.

“Are her questions bothering you?” I asked. This wasn’t the first time she’d asked him if he was gay. This wasn’t even the first time that day. He looked at me then nodded. I walked back to the bench.

“Emma, would you please stop asking Jeremy if he’s gay?” I asked. “Your questions are bothering him but he’s too uncomfortable to tell you himself.”

“Fine, I’ll stop,” she grumbled. She stood up and walked over to where Jeremy was waiting.

“I’m sorry I’ve been asking you if you’re gay,” she told him. “I’ve been teasing you. It’s okay. I know you’re straight.”

He nodded and the walk continued, thankfully sans questions. At least her heart was in the right place.

In real life only two people, other than me, know about his struggles with his sexual orientation. Both are openly gay and I told them both, with Jeremy’s permission. Thankfully, both treat Jeremy exactly the same as before, which was my big worry. I’m sure this is something Jeremy’s scared of as well.

I’ve also told a handful of online friends, who Jeremy doesn’t know and never will meet. He knows about them as well. One sent him a collection of rainbow stickers, which he loves, and also accidentally (and briefly) outed him on my Facebook. I don’t think anyone noticed.

There are other people I know who are likely going through similar struggles with their own kids. There’s another Mom on my Facebook who has teenagers and shares as much gay positive pictures on her page as I do on mine. I share enough of them to get a wide variety of “make your wedding day even more special” advertisements, complete with same sex couples. I wonder if the other Mom, who’s as straight as I am, gets just as many ads. I wonder who she’s supporting. I’ve never asked.

The thing is, this isn’t my struggle, it’s his. My job is to be here and support him. It’s also to second and third guess myself. I do this well. I regularly self-edit what I say in the fear I’ll say too much and let something slip that will inadvertently ‘out’ him. I love to talk about my kids.

But Jeremy’s the one trying to sort out his feelings. Or, probably more likely, trying to pretend he isn’t feeling anything at all. And it’s Jeremy who will have to deal with what happens in the future.

Maybe he’s telling the 100% unvarnished truth when he claims to be mostly interested in women. Maybe he’ll grow up and find a nice woman and his life will go on, relatively status quo. But maybe he’ll grow up and find a nice man. And then he’ll have to deal with worrying about how co-workers will react and dirty looks and rude comments if they hold hands in public (or actually kiss).

An online friend of mine struggled two years ago to find an apartment for him and his husband. In British Columbia, a place that’s had same sex marriage for about a decade. All sorts of places suddenly became unavailable as soon as the landlord discovered two men wanted to rent their unit. Jeremy knows about this prejudice already. It’s been drilled into his head for years by classmates and neighbours.

I can watch his struggle but I’m not in it. I’m not on the bus with him. I’m not in the hallways at school. And, when he grows up, I’ll still be his mother but I won’t be there at work, or on the sidewalks, or while he’s searching for a place to live. I might feel a bit alone while he’s going through this, but I’m sure he feels a lot more alone.

I had friends over for a Christmas party. Jeremy was outside, running an errand with his sister, and I attempted small talk. I mentioned we buy a new ornament every year and that Jeremy chose the one this year. I pointed casually to the glittery, sequined ornament at the top of the tree.

A short time later, the kids returned. One friend looked sceptically at me then turned to Jeremy.

“What ornament did you pick this year?” he asked. Jeremy obligingly pointed to the same one I’d shown them.

The friend looked at his husband, one of the two men I’d told, then changed the subject. I figure he’s been told. To be fair, they’ve been together for as long as Jeremy’s been alive. I would have been more surprised if he hadn’t been told.

Later, we only have two guests left. You know, the two that seem likely to move in and show no desire to ever leave. After a while, the woman started talking about one of the guests who’d already left. How they’d been friends as teenagers and she’d had a mad crush on him, never realizing he was gay.

“But, he didn’t act gay,” she hastily assured us. “He wasn’t one of those gay people who everyone can tell.”

Jeremy looked up from his video game. “I know people who are obviously gay,” he commented.

The two guests gave him an odd look. I couldn’t tell if they were surprised he knew people who were obviously gay, or that at sixteen he easily admitted knowing them, or that they had him pegged as obviously gay and didn’t want to say anything.

Jeremy went back to his game and I decided I really need to stop analyzing conversations like this before I drive myself insane.

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