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

Colin 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 Colin 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 Colin 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 Colin 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 Colin was nowhere in sight. Then I wondered if he’d even notice.

The night before, we’d been sitting in the living room while Colin 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.

“Colin? 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, Colin 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.

Kait watched him for a while. “Colin, 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 Kait grew tired of walking and sat on a bench. Colin was waiting nearby and I walked over to him.

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

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

I looked back at Kait 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 Colin 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 Colin. 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 Colin, 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.

“Kait, would you please stop asking Colin 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 Colin 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 Colin’s permission. Thankfully, both treat Colin exactly the same as before, which was my big worry. I’m sure this is something Colin’s scared of as well.

I’ve also told a handful of online friends, who Colin 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 Colin’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 Colin 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. Colin 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. Colin was outside, running an errand with his sister, and I attempted small talk. I mentioned we buy a new ornament every year and that Colin 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 skeptically at me then turned to Colin.

“What ornament did you pick this year?” he asked. Colin 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 Colin’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.”

Colin 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.

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

An Introduction

“Mom?”

It’s summertime and I’m in the middle of scrubbing our balcony. I set down the brush and stand, stretching the kink in my back. My son Colin steps a bit closer, gingerly edging around the puddle, then stands silent.

“Yes?” I prompt when he doesn’t continue. He looks at the puddle on the balcony floor as if it contains all the mysteries of the universe and stays quiet. The hair prickles on the back of my neck. This isn’t like Colin. Usually when he wants to talk, I can’t get him to be quiet. He can, and will, talk for hours.

The silence grows while I wait. Finally he sighs and takes a deep breath.

“I think I like boys. You know, too. I still like girls,” he announces, rushing to get all the words out.

“I know,” I replied with a smile. “I’m glad you told me.”

The truth is, this was a conversation I’d been expecting for a while. When Colin was six years old, he was helping me take out the recycling when he suddenly asked me if he could marry his classmate Albert when they grew up.

“Of course,” I assured him, crossing my fingers. This was a month before same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario; the first province in Canada to pass this law. He smiled then skipped back to our apartment, completely oblivious to the political turmoil permeating our country at the time.

When he was seven, he wore a nightgown to bed almost every night. It made him feel pretty.

When he was eight, he fell hard for Tina, a girl in his class. She was just as uninterested in him as Albert had been. Once again he was disappointed.

When he was nine, one of our neighbours took an instant dislike to Colin. She promptly taught her children and her friends’ children a new word. Faggot. Every day that summer, they congregated downstairs, screaming at Colin whenever he walked outside. It got to the point where him and his sister Kait used to crawl onto the balcony as if they were entering enemy territory, careful not to let their heads show over the balcony railing. The neighbour got evicted before we found a new apartment.

When he was ten, he got off the school bus and quietly walked inside.

“Mom? The kids on the bus said it was weird and gross for two men to get married. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them I know men who are married to each other.”

“It’s not weird or gross,” I assured him. “It’s a shame those kids are already prejudiced.” He nodded then went to his room.

When he was eleven, he grew his hair long. I was already used to people mistaking Colin for a girl. With long hair however, EVERYONE mistook him for a girl. After a while I gave up even correcting people. Finally Colin decided to cut and donate his hair.

“Honey,” the hairdresser said sympathetically. “If you cut your hair that short, everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”

Colin stared at her then sighed. “That’s okay. I am a boy,” he explained.

“No, really,” she persisted. “They’re all going to think you’re a boy and your hair will take months to grow back.”

“He is a boy,” I assured her. She looked from him to me in disbelief. “Really,” I added.

“Okay,” she said dubiously and raised the clippers. Just then another hair dresser hurried over.

“Wait!” she blurted. The first hairdresser lowered the clippers. “Oh sweetie,” the second hairdresser said, looking at Colin. “If you cut your hair with clippers it’s going to be too short. Everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”

Colin had his first girlfriend when he was fourteen. She was cheerful and bubbly and, when Colin’s sister first met her, she pulled me aside.

“Mom,” Kait whispered. “Are you sure she’s a girl?”

“Reasonably sure,” I replied, hoping we were talking quietly enough to not be overheard. We seemed to be.

Colin made sure their first date was perfect. He insisted it had to be romantic. He bought $5 pizza from a national cheap pizza chain and took her into the nearby green space so they could eat on top of a cliff while the sun set behind them. He planned that all out himself.

They broke up within weeks although they’re still friends. First girlfriend has informed me several times that she loves Colin deeply and wishes they could get back together again. They broke up two years ago.

At fifteen, he picked up his second girlfriend. He introduced her to Kait and she snorted.

“Mom,” she said once they left the apartment. “He certainly has a type. She’s really boyish too.”

At first I worried every time Colin brought second girlfriend into his room, inventing reasons to walk past his open door. Soon I realized there wasn’t much reason to worry. Both were fully clothed and talking about video games. Every single time.

They broke up and Colin walked into the apartment the following day, uncharacteristically quiet. Second girlfriend was mad at him for breaking up with her and told everyone on the bus that he’s gay. They’ve since made up and are friends but Colin now wears headphones and listens to music during his trip to and from school.

A short while later he made a point of telling me that he likes girls. More specifically a girl on the bus.

“That’s nice,” I said, focusing on making dinner. “What’s her name?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Have you ever talked to her?”

He shook his head.

“What does she look like?” I prompted.

Another blank look. “I think she has brown hair,” he commented hesitantly. Oh yes, this is obviously true love.

I’m not known for my patience or tact… or subtlety for that matter. One day I chased Colin around the apartment yelling “Tell me what genders you’re interested in” while he laughed hysterically and yelled, “Never. I’m never going to tell you.”

The next day I bribed him with three dollars, exactly the amount he needed to get a new video game he was looking at.

“I like both genders,” he informed me, bouncing on the side of my bed. “But I’m more interested in girls than boys,” he added, flopping back onto the mattress.

I gave him the money but still felt there was more he wasn’t saying.

In the fall, he announced he was growing his hair long and wanted to dye it purple. I picked up a box of Lusty Lavender, complete with a picture of a teenage boy with purple hair. Colin’s hair came out fushcia and turned to pink within days. I worried about how people would react and was relieved to find it was mostly positive. I asked Colin what he thought of his new style.

“I look fab-u-lous” he sang, gesturing madly. I had to agree, he certainly did.

Last week, I was watching a video about a young transgender girl in the US. Colin sat down beside me and watched the girl intently.

“Jazz is kind of like me,” he said, his gaze focused on the screen. “Except she looks like a girl. I look like a boy and feel like a boy but I have the brain of a girl.”

That wasn’t a surprise either.