This is a book my son [Hal] gave me when he told me [that he was gay]. He was in Portland. I’d visited the kids—my other two daughters—one in Texas, and one in Rochester, Minnesota. Then he said, “You visited the girls. You’ve got to come see me.” When I got there, he had this [book] wrapped up. I did not know he was gay. I did not know! I thought it was going to be pictures, because he had talked about a girl he was seeing and all that. [I] open it up. [Reading book inscription:] “Dear folks. Here’s a little helper to introduce you to your new son. May we all grow stronger and closer together with bonds that will remain unbreakable. Love, Hal.” I was a mess for a while.
My husband was waiting for me to come home. I said, “I have something to tell you about Hal.” He looked at me and said, “Is he married? Is he on dope?” I didn’t even know my husband would think of something like that! Then he looked at me and said, “Is he homosexual?” I said, “Yes.” I didn’t even know my own husband would think of that.
I didn’t even know what “gay” meant, until it jumped out at me. I must have knew from somewhere. I had a gay cousin, but . . . didn’t even know that he was gay really. My dad said something. In those days, that was years ago, they called them “homos.” [My dad said,] “Oh, Mel is a homo.” I didn’t even know what a homo was. I just was “Mel,” and I loved that guy. He was great. I just knew, somewhere, it came out to me that this was something that people were not going to like. I was worried: what were they going to say about Hal? I kind of went into a big depression for about four months.
When he first told me, I wouldn’t go into the library to get a book. We went from Salina to Kansas City, to an MCC church. I looked around and all of these people are gay. [I thought,] “My goodness, these are all gay people.” I just couldn’t understand: Why did they have to be separate here? My husband went right with me. He was great. He didn’t care a lick. About three weeks [after Hal came out], he said, “This is the kid I’ve always loved, and . . . it’s not going to make any difference.” It took me four months! But when I did, then, I came out slowly. You don’t come out just banging—until it’s to the point where you’re truly [out]. That’s where I am [now]. And have been, for a long time.
We’re all different. Some of my friends who have gay children, to this day they just—boo-hoo-hoo—they can’t admit [it]. They don’t want to talk about it. [They say], “We don’t have to talk about it.” And I said, “You’re not doing your child any favors by making him live like that,” because that’s the way I feel. If Hal had never told us and tried to hide it, and hide it, and hide it . . . I don’t know. Somebody would’ve had to eventually come out to tell me. So it was better this way.
Don Clark, Loving Someone Gay.
Sources: Interview with Maureen Nickerson on 14 May 2007; Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 4 June 2012.