Can you believe that it’s been almost ten years since I came out to you for the first time? I clearly remember that day. You dropped me off at school and I handed you my coming out letter. All day, I was checking my phone, hoping that you had said something. My heart felt like it was in my throat. I kept thinking, “You shouldn’t have given her the letter.” I knew that you were conservative and a Christian who had grown up in the church. At first, when you didn’t say anything for days, I became fearful. I wondered what you had been contemplating. I had seen a documentary when one guy’s parents sent him to shock therapy. I felt like I was preparing myself for the absolute worst. After a few more days, I started to get angry. “How dare she not say anything when you are revealing yourself to her?” I thought. When I marched upstairs to your room to ask you that very question, I heard myself quietly whisper, “Ma?” “MA,” I heard myself shout louder. Then, in my normal tone I asked, “Did you read my letter?” When you responded and said you had read the letter, you were a little too calm. After you talked to me and said that this may just be a phase and you weren’t going to allow me to be gay in your house, I felt disheartened. Then you told me that you would “always love me, no matter what.”
We had our struggles over the next two years as I began to rebel in a number of ways. By the end of my junior year in high school, I knew that I was going to Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, and I ran there every time I got the chance. Being surrounded by folks who were just being themselves kicked open a breadth of possibilities for my identity and I felt safe exploring myself there. When I left to begin my undergraduate studies, I thought for sure we would never have a close relationship. The first couple months of classes, I would get so angry because I so badly wanted your approval. I knew that you told me that you loved me no matter what, but I wanted you to be the parent shouting your pride from the rooftops and embracing me like only a mom can do.
At the end of my first semester, it felt like we would never make amends or see eye-to-eye. I knew for sure that we would never talk again. When I cut off contact, you gave me my space. I know that it was one of the hardest times of your life, but that space allowed me to become confident in me. You always told me that you were proud of me and that you believed in me – my coming out didn’t change your belief that I was something great. As I struggled with my identity, I didn’t have a true concept of who I was and I needed the space to figure that out. It took years for me to get to a true place of understanding and I’m so grateful that you bore the pain of my growth process.
I know you are reading this letter and thinking, “I can’t believe that he is saying all of this.” I’m saying all of this because I want you and everyone else to know how grateful I am for your unconditional love. Your unconditional love is as a raw as the words of this letter; your unconditional love for me means that you have sacrificed, given of yourself, and shed tears for me. The time that I took to uncover my true Self was the gateway to my real relationship with you. During that time, I was able to assess and understand that you are my mother and so much more. You are a strong, Black woman who grew up in a small, rural town in the segregated South – a woman who grew up in the Church of Christ Holiness U.S.A. – a woman who was the last-born child of ten – a woman who is a survivor and taught me the definition of survival – and, a woman who sacrificed time and time again for me to have a better life.
Ten years ago when I came out, I never imagined that I would have the relationship that I have with you now. As I have watched you go from talking to listening, I have seen you open your mind to all of the complexities that create each individual’s unique identity. And, now, you are giving others advice about how to support their LGBTQIA. Every time you come to Pittsburgh for a Garden of Peace Project event or you just tell me how proud of you are of me, I smile because I remember just how far you have come. Sometimes, I feel like the proud parent -- the one who gave you the tools and resources to open your mind and explore the World. I’m so happy to have you as my mother, my guide, and one of my best friends. Thank you for challenging your own fundamental beliefs and continuing to love me. You are truly an example of a parent’s ability to love unconditionally and selflessly.
Thank you. Thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for loving me for who I am – your first-born son. Thank you for your sacrifices and your embrace.
I love you, ma. Happy Mother’s Day!
Tune in tonight as my mother, Michele Riddick-Hamilton, talks about her journey to acceptance through love, gives advice to LGBTQIA children about coming out to their parents, and shares her perspective on the Black church of 2014.
To contact Michele Riddick-Hamilton, please email questions, comments, or concerns here!