Gay Grandparents: The Second Coming Out
Most GLBT folks came out once, usually to parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. That was stressful enough. Let’s explore the experiences of grandparents who have gone through or are thinking about The Second Coming Out – to their grandchildren.
Thalia Verros of Mashpee has three grandchildren. The oldest, Ellie, is planning to visit Thalia and her marriage partner Helaine Zimmerman, later this spring.
Thalia talked about the situation taking on a new urgency because, while Ellie has known since she was a toddler that her Yia Yia (Greek for grandmother) has lived with Helaine, Ellie is now 13. “We’ve always wondered what Ellie thought of our living arrangement since she has visited several times although she lives in Kansas,” she said.
I believe that whether grandmother’s “gayness” becomes an issue has a lot to do with what spin the parents put on it.
Thalia feels she has been lucky in that Susie, her son Paul’s first wife and Ellie’s mother, has always been very accepting of her relationship.
“Helaine gave Susie a few books a long time ago that dealt with the subject of gay parenting and grandparenting,” said Thalia. So with a visit in the offing, Thalia asked Susie if she had ever spoken to Ellie about her grandmother’s relationship and, if so, what had been her reaction. “The other question I asked was whether Susie would object to us having a nonsexual discussion about Helaine’s and my relationship.”
While Thalia thinks that it is important that grandchildren know this basic fact about Yia Yia, she also feels that it is right to defer to parents.
Susie’s answer surprised them and reaffirmed that there are good and thoughtful people everywhere – even in Kansas, where Susie was born and lives today. Here was her daughter-in-law’s response:
“Dear Thalia, when Ellie was 6 or 7, she said this after a visit to your house: ’Mom, do you know that Yia Yia and Helaine share a bed?’ That is when I began to explain your relationship with Helaine. I told her that any two people can fall in love – woman to woman, man to man – and that it is all right. We are free to love whomever we want and we should not be ashamed about that. Ellie says she loves you both and does not care that you are a lesbian couple. She thinks of Helaine as a grandmother as well.”
That’s the kind of “spin” any gay grandparent would love.
Ed Ford, president of the Boston Prime Timers remembers how different it was coming out to his two grandchildren than it was with his two daughters.
“For starters,” Ed said, “times are so different. Twenty-seven years ago, nobody had any idea of the impact that coming out to children would have. Little support existed, so I lived with the fear of damaging my daughters’ lives. Some suggested I wait until they were young adults, others thought talking with them early was the best course and many suggested not telling them at all.”
Ed came out at 37, following a difficult divorce. The whole process had produced an urgent sense of honesty in him.
“I had lived with this secret my entire life; now I understood who I was and wanted to be free of those shackles. I chose to come out to my daughters, Sarah and Jessica, when they were 7 and 10 years old, against the wishes of their mother.
“Over the years they have thanked me many times for telling them who I am, and helping them have a clear sense of what it might be like for their father to face discrimination.”
Ed’s daughters are now 34 and 37. “And they are exactly who I hoped they’d be – the generation that would begin to deal with gay issues in a different way,” he said.
While Ed’s grandchildren, Elijah, almost six, and his sister Marli, one and a half, are too young to have a deep discussion about Ed’s and his husband Gilbert “Lito” Arenaza’s lives, the kids did participate in their recent wedding ceremony. “To them we are simply Papa and Lito,” Ed can say with pride.
The challenges Ed has faced during this coming out have been about trying delicately to explain to the kids that the whole world doesn’t think being gay is so great.
“They live surrounded by the religious right, in the neighborhood and in school,” said Ed. “Fortunately, they have the mother they do.”
Ed had a story about his grandson. “When Elijah was playing at the wedding, he observed the guests and asked his mother, ’Are they like Papa and Lito?’ When she said ’yes,’ he simply continued playing.”
As Thalia, a former school counselor, has observed, “Children love naturally, and without prejudice.”
This article was reposted from EdgeNewYork
Originally posted 2013-06-20 11:43:26.