My mom was accepting of her gay daughter from the beginning
I grew up in a family that I’ve often heard described as “All-American.” My dad was a football player in college; my mom, a cheerleader. They met when my mom was 18, were married at 22 and had three kids by 31. My dad followed his dream of becoming a collegiate football coach, while my mom worked out of our home and consistently trained for marathons. My sister was a cheerleader and dancer, I was a long-time gymnast and my brother was a football player. All three of us went to Division 1 universities where my dad coached football, and we all graduated with bachelor’s degrees. All three of us are even getting married to our significant others all within a span of 12 months.
My parents are still married, creeping up on their 35-year anniversary in just a few weeks. My sister is married to the man of her dreams and they are expecting their first baby in August. And my brother is two weeks away from marrying his beautiful fiancee. From an outsider’s perspective, our family may be seen as picture perfect. Of course, we are incredibly far from it. We deal with life’s trials and tribulations just like any other family. Many people might assume that if a family like this were to have a child come out as gay, it would not unfold very gracefully.
In this story, I am the child who came out to my seemingly picture-perfect family. I am the younger sister who had to come out to her annoyingly beautiful and boy-crazy older sister. I am the older sibling who had to come out to her football-obsessed, high school athlete younger brother. I am the daughter who had to come out to her football coach father, who had spent a majority of his time mastering the art of disciplining college boys.
All of these coming out experiences were scary as hell, and I’m grateful to report that all of them were met with acceptance and love. But this story is about my mother. I know in my heart that so much of the acceptance that I experienced from my family was in large part due to the unwavering acceptance that my mother showed me when I came out to her.
She was the first to know, and she set the tone for me to feel comfortable and safe living my life as a gay woman. I had the chance to interview my mom and I wanted to share her important and meaningful insight in hopes that even one parent who is struggling with the idea of a gay child may find hope and comfort in her words.
Q: What was it like for you when your child came out and why was full acceptance the only option in your eyes?
Let me briefly explain what my child’s coming out looked like: Other than noticing that some of my child’s college friends were gay, I really did not suspect she was gay. She had boyfriends, she dated. She was the “girl next door.” A conversation one night made me understand what was really happening in her life.
She was a senior in college, and we were talking at home one night. She mentioned her best friend was bisexual. That is the exact moment it all changed. I had a lightbulb moment and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It all made sense now. Several of her friends were gay and she had not been dating guys for a couple of years.
Well, before I knew it, I was asking her if she was also bisexual. She asked me if I was ready for this conversation, to which I responded, “Bring it on.” And so the journey began. She talked, I listened. She cried, I cried. When she told me how badly she had been yearning to tell me, I was met with such sadness that she had been living with this secret, a secret that she so badly needed to tell her mama.
I knew right then what I needed to do. There was never any hesitation on my part in regards to how I felt or how I should react. I told her immediately that I, of course, would always love her with no questions. Full acceptance for me was the only option I could imagine considering. I only saw two options: The first, tell your child you can’t fully be in their life because you don’t love them just as they are. Or the second: Love them just as they are. That was easy for me. Not having her in my life was not an option. This is her life. This is about her happiness and hers alone.
Q: What challenges do you face as the mother of a gay child?
There were some difficulties in the first couple of years. Initially, I mourned the image of what I thought her life would look like. I was coming to the realization that now, her life was going to be different than what I had imagined. She wasn’t going to be marrying the man of her dreams. Was she going to be marrying at all? Was she going to have babies? Most importantly, how were people going to treat her? I needed to warm up to the idea that her life was not going to look exactly like I dreamed it and that did take a little bit of time. This had nothing to do with acceptance, but just re-adjusting my thinking. These thoughts kept me up at night initially.
I also struggled with the longevity of her self-discovery. Her coming out was a journey, not a point in time. It did not happen overnight. She had her own feelings and thoughts and fears to navigate, which led to a long road of figuring it all out. I stayed on that journey with her, supported her throughout. But in my private moments, this was hard for me. I made the assumption that everyone knew they were gay from a very young age. This was not the case with my daughter. It took time, time that I struggled to understand, for her to fully accept that she is a lesbian. So I was on this roller coaster ride with her, constantly left to wonder, is she gay? Is she straight? Is she ever going to figure it out? We were on this road together, and it had its bumpy moments.
Q: What was it like to be the mother of the bride at your daughter’s same-sex wedding? What did it mean to you?
I have been so lucky to have held this title twice. Our oldest daughter got married first, just 10 months earlier, to a wonderful man. Being the mother of the bride and witnessing their love that day was magical. It was everything I expected. I loved helping her prepare for her special day. How would I feel 10 months later? Would our gay daughter get the same love and support that our first daughter received? Honestly, I am happy to report that it was no different. It was still my daughter getting married. I was still honored to hold this title of mother of the bride. I still got to help her prepare for her special day. And it was just as magical as the first time.
Q: What would be your most important piece of advice to a mother who just found out their child is gay?
I think the most important advice I can offer is to understand this isn’t about you. This isn’t about your beliefs. This is about your child and your child’s ultimate happiness. It will be a journey. There will be many paths on this journey as your child comes out to the world and begins to openly live a gay life.
It won’t always be easy for them, and therefore it won’t always be easy for you. Be supportive throughout these moments. Ask questions. Ask your child how you can support them. What can I do to make this process easier for you? I told my child I would tell people for her, I would sit with her when she told people or I would allow her to do it on her own. Communicate with your child about this. They may need your help, or they may not want it. Remember, this is probably scary for them. Coming out to a world that can be cruel, mean and hateful while also being kind, thoughtful and loving is frightening (and potentially exciting) but likely both. Help your child navigate this world. Let them know that you are the soft landing place when they feel like they are falling. It will be worth it. Your continued relationship with your child is worth it.
Q: What are your hopes and wishes for your newly married daughter and brand new daughter-in-law as they take on marriage?
The most prominent thing that I have discovered on my journey since that day my child told me she is gay is that I wasted my time “mourning” anything. Her life is turning out exactly how I hoped it would, gay or straight. She is smart and beautiful and kind and educated and hard working. She has found a wonderful person to spend her life with, a woman that I love just like my own. Together they share an incredible love. They will explore having babies. They will buy homes, they will pay bills, they will argue and they will make up. My hopes and my dreams are that my daughter and her beautiful wife continue to be an example to the world, that they continuously respect the sanctity of marriage, and that they face any hurdles they encounter head-on with pride. I am proud beyond measure to be her mother.
Kaila: To my angel mother, thank you. You not only loved me through my journey, but you also held my hand at every step, no matter how steep. You guided me in an effort to try and help me navigate a rocky road, one that neither of us was familiar with. I owe so much of my confidence as a gay woman to you. I walk with my head held high knowing that you are in my corner, and that has made all of the difference in my life. The world could use more moms like you.
All photos by Gloria Goode.
Kaila Strickland lives in Dallas, Texas, with her wife, Laine, and their two dogs. She works in the wine industry by day and has a passion for writing and fitness. In her free time, she enjoys working on her blog, taking group fitness classes and traveling with her spouse. She is a firm believer in all things equality and believes wholeheartedly that love always wins. You can find more writing content from her at The Comfy Closet.
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