Tell Me About It: ‘She has told my children on numerous occasions gay people will burn in hell’
PROBLEM: I have a 20-year-old daughter who is gay and who has had the same wonderful girlfriend for three years. My daughter came out to my husband and I when she was 16 and we have been unconditionally accepting. It took me a little while to readjust the life I had imagined for her, but that was all done in my head, not in front of her.
She and her girlfriend are so happy, I look at them and they are so relaxed and comfortable with each other and you can just tell they are meant to be. They live with each other in their college apartment with some other friends and so are very serious, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Our extended family know in terms of brothers and sisters and their kids, and are, for the most part, okay with it.
My mother and my husband’s father do not know. My husband’s father loves her very much and though it would turn his world upside down I think he might, eventually, come around, but it could get ugly first. However, my mother would not come around. She is extremely homophobic and racist and angry and very set in her ways. She lived a hard life and was treated poorly as a working woman in a time when that wasn’t the norm and seems to have lost the ability to sympathise with minorities because of how she was treated. She has, on numerous occasions, said that gay people will burn in hell to my children and that if any of them were gay she would never so much as look at them again.
My daughter is kind and caring to absolutely everyone she meets. Even as a small child she never, ever, left anyone out. She goes above and beyond to help people and does so much more than is reasonably expected of anyone. She is studying full time, but she is also an extremely talented artist. She does some of the best drawings I have ever seen. It’s incredible. She cooks, she sings, she never judges anyone. In short, she is one of the best people I know and I also know that despite all this, my mother would never forgive her.
I don’t know what to do. My mother is old and not in the best of health, but she could easily live another 10 years at least. My daughter plans to get married and have children and I don’t want her having to live a secret double life but at the same time, my kind, wonderful daughter doesn’t want to tell my mother because she’s worried my mother will become isolated as she wouldn’t talk to any of us anymore and our family spends 10 times the time with her than my three sisters do put together.
I don’t want to tell her because I don’t want my daughter to have to experience that sort of rejection. My mother has been a huge part of her life. She saw her almost every day growing up.
I feel like I have no options.
ADVICE: Your daughter sounds like a wonderful, happy successful woman and she has a proud and caring mother. The person with the problem is your mother and, while love is the driving force behind keeping the truth from her, it is also allowing prejudice and bigotry to thrive.
All adults are responsible for their own feelings and actions and while you and your daughter may agree with this, you are not adopting this stance with your mother. As many families in the marriage referendum discovered, the power for change was largely personal and it was based on love.
There were many people who knew of someone who was gay or LGBT+ and they went out of their way to ensure that equal rights applied to their family or friends or children of friends. This is somewhat a similar situation to the one you are in: in order for your daughter’s life to be fully celebrated, her grandmother needs to be given the opportunity to support her.
Of course, your mother may well have the kind of reaction you fear, but she is fully responsible for this. She has had a hard life, but this often has the effect of creating empathy for those who are in difficult or isolating situations. Your mum may well have created an emotional wall that others could not get through to protect herself but in spite of this she has been loved and cherished by your family.
She has this one opportunity to reach beyond her own protective walls and empathise with her beautiful grand-daughter. It is probably best if you take on this discussion with your mother as you have the right to be strict as well as caring with her.
You have written clearly what you want to say: that your daughter loves and cares for her grandmother but she deserves to be celebrated and honoured for who she is and whom she chooses to live and have a family with. If your mother rejects her then she must bear the cost of this, and that would be that she will not share the many future family events that will be full of celebration and delight. There is a saying that we must allow people their pain as they may need this to face whatever they need to overcome in their lives.Your mother may need the pain of emotional distance so that she can come to recognise her prejudices and through this she might allow her granddaughter the full right of her existence.