By Debby & Jordy Shulman
Three years ago, I was alone in the car with my son, and during a somber conversation, he started to cry. We were having a rather serious discussion about his struggles with telling people he was gay and coming to terms with what he believed his life would be like. Coming out only four months prior, it was an incredibly painful time. He couldn’t find himself, he seemed so despondent, his grades were plummeting and he was wrestling with how to tell his friends. My husband and I were doing everything we could, but we could not tap into that deep sadness. He burst into tears and I made him pull over. In a rush of emotion, he told me he couldn’t fathom what his life would be like anymore.
Taking a deep breath, he told me he would never be able to have children, he would never be able to get married and all he really wanted was to experience the same life his brother and sister were going to have.
I was sick. I was deeply angry with myself because I had been so remiss at looking at the bigger picture. In my effort to deal with my own consuming emotions that came from his announcement
I had failed to imagine how he must have perceived his own life; I had been too preoccupied with how it affected mine. And then it hit me: My son deserved everything he wanted.
I always thought of the white picket fence. You know, the kind with the green grass behind it, a father playing catch with his son, a little girl running around with the dog, while the mom watches with lemonade and cookies.
In my mind, it seemed perfect.
But I kept thinking that I couldn’t have that. I had started coming out to my friends, I was still coming out to myself, but I never stopped to think, Hmm … What is my life going to be like now? I have such a long future ahead of me. Will it be different? Will it be more difficult? I was unbelievably sad. I cried to my Mom in the car, explaining how my life would be so different now; I couldn’t get married, I couldn’t have children, I couldn’t have a “normal” life. But she told me I was wrong. She promised me that I would have those things. My life would be the same as my brother’s and sister’s. I just needed to wait. It would get better.
And boy, she was right.
Why shouldn’t he be able to have that life that we all wish for our children?
And at that moment, I promised him everything … he would know love, he would know the joy of having a baby, he would get married, have a husband and live the life he wanted.
Through tears, I told him it would happen, but inside, I kept wondering what it would look like. We knew of gay couples who had both biological and adopted children and others who traveled far to get married … at the time, Boston, Massachusetts seemed to be my ‘destination wedding’ go-to, but that city would prove itself a destiny in other ways down the road.
The conversation in the car happened at the beginning of my sophomore year, and by the time I was senior in high school, I was a different person. After a summer filled with shock and sadness from losing loved ones in our community, the students in my senior class really came together. It was almost like each and every one was closer in a way we had never been before. There was this feeling of overwhelming acceptance and pride. We had created such a family. I felt so comfortable; I was incredibly happy and particularly grateful to the teachers who inspired me to stand up for what I believed in.
Honestly, I had never paid much attention to gay politics. While I was adamantly supportive, there was no passionate investment. It seemed something too removed from my life, but my older son made me take note of how naïve my laissez-faire attitude had been. A freshman at the University of Michigan, he had volunteered to be an LGBT Michigan Ally in support of his brother, and became quickly invested in the horrific behavior of an Assistant Attorney General who was harassing the openly gay student body president of the university. By the time CNN and Anderson Cooper got a hold of it, he had called to tell Jordy that he had to start paying attention … there was momentum building, and a civil rights movement was on the horizon.
If my eldest son could do it, so would I. I joined PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and The It Gets Better Project and began subscribing to blogs written by prominently gay writers and political activists. I followed Dan Savage and the recently departed (and older brother of our dear friend), Michael J. Kaplan, from The Huffington Post.
Over the next three years, my husband and I, along with our other two children, became extremely outspoken about gay rights. I truly believe this empowered Jordy more than anything else.
The louder we spoke, the harder he listened. When he saw the four of us vocalizing concern on behalf of those who couldn’t, it helped him move forward. Eventually, it became clear that his college search would be impacted by the fact that he was gay, and we were prepared to fully support that important decision.
It was also a turning point for me. At that point, I didn’t care who I made uncomfortable: My son was gay and I was going to insist his life never be compromised.
Shortly after senior year started, I began to apply to college. I knew I had to be somewhere urban, somewhere active, young, happy, and progressive. After visiting friends at schools on the East Coast during my junior year, I suspected Boston was the city for me. There was no doubt I would feel comfortable living there, being myself, maybe holding another guy’s hand walking down the street. I knew I could get a great education, live openly, meet amazing people, and have opportunities to pursue what I was passionate about. Knowing Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage, it was clear I would have no trouble there. On December 14, 2012, I found out that Boston University would be my home for the next four years.
It was times like these when I realized that maybe my future would be everything I wanted it to be. That maybe I really wouldn’t ever have to change who I was in order to find happiness.
We watched with fascination at the turn of events that seemed to suggest that legalization of Same Sex Marriage would come to Illinois. After the repeal of DOMA, it was only a matter of time, and during this period, friends and family became more invested in the outcome.
I have always maintained that unless you have a gay child, it is hard to imagine the issues we must come to terms with. But during that time three years ago, when things seemed so bleak, my sister, my family and my closest friends made it a point to look Jordy in the eye and let him know they loved him, supported him and offered unconditional reassurance.
Can you imagine how that made him feel?
Now he can marry whom he loves, in his own state, with the same rights afforded to him as his brother and sister.
I don’t have to travel to Canada, Boston or New York to marry off my boy. And while we are so far from ever having the issue of equal rights universally accepted, I’ll take this victory with a generous thank you to those who have spent years lobbying for this moment so that I can walk my son down the aisle.
It’s been about three months since I began college and I could not be happier in Boston. The atmosphere feels right and the people I have met are those who will be a part of my life for a long, long time.
I can be myself, without feeling like I’m being watched, judged or whispered about behind my back.
Last Tuesday started out like a normal day. I had just gotten back to my dorm from class when I saw that my brother was calling me. I hadn’t looked online yet to see if “it” passed — but once again, my ‘ally’ was on me to run to the computer.
“Are you watching, Jordy?” he said. “We did it! Illinois finally legalized gay marriage. You can get married in your home state. You have to call Mom and Dad. Call them.” But it was much more than that.
My brother has been dating the same girl for six years and I love her unconditionally. They made a pact that they wouldn’t get married until everyone in Illinois could legally get married too. So in a way, this isn’t a celebration for just the gay community — it’s a celebration for everyone who believes in marriage equality. Love is universal.
It was such a surreal feeling, knowing that everything I have worried about up until this point had vanished. I love Chicago. It was where I was born and raised. And nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me happier than knowing that one day, I will be able to marry the man I love in the Windy City.
For those out there still struggling — the world is changing … fast.
There were so many times that I had doubted myself — my life. I never thought I would be able to have the same rights as my brother and sister, but things have changed, and I could not be more grateful.
What really defines the perfect family?
There is no such thing as a perfect family. There is only love, which is what really matters.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. Jordy Shulman, a freshman at Boston University, is majoring in Psychology.