Mothers’ Day means something different for the many children of mothers afflicted by mental illness. It can be even more traumatic for LGBT children of these mothers, whose relationships with their families are already fraught.
My boyfriend and I fled our home to await the police in complete shock at what we just experienced. I’ve been called a faggot a few times by someone on the street in muttered tones, but never with this level of vitriol meant to hurt my psyche: and it did. Anyone who’s been in similar situations understands how distressing slurs can be…but what if they came from your own mother?
That’s exactly what happened to my boyfriend and I a few months ago when my mom lost it, became extremely angry, called us faggots repeatedly, then physically assaulted my boyfriend. It was one of the most traumatic things either of us has yet experienced, and today we still deal with the repercussions of that incident.
The thing is my mother has a borderline personality disorder: a devastating mental illness born from deep-seeded childhood trauma that causes the sufferer to have “inappropriate or extreme emotional reactions” for my mother manifested itself in hate-filled “blackout rages”; highly impulsive behavior; and a “scorched earth” policy in every relationship.
If it were any other person I would have cut ties immediately, but there’s a strange paradox in my predicament that I can’t reconcile. I’m deeply hurt yes—perhaps irrevocably so—but I also know my mom suffers terribly from her profoundly destructive condition. Depression, severe anxiety, crippling self-doubt and bouts of mania have dogged her existence since I’ve been conscious of her burden.
Many people have encouraged me to forgive because after all, “she’s your mother,” but do close friends and relatives really have privileged license to call me slurs even if it’s your mentally ill mother?
People who know her have asked me incredulously: “but do you really think your mother is homophobic!?” She always had gay friends, and she accepted my partners warmly (at first), so it seemed like a fair question. But after years of calling me derogatory names, and making countless implications about the immorality of my lifestyle, it’s hard to feel she isn’t just a huge homophobe.
Today I’m no closer to answering the question of if, and how to let my mother back into our lives. I have empathy and compassion for those that suffer through no fault of their own but this latest incident has made it clear the cycle of abuse has to stop.
I find myself considering things I’ve never thought about before: what’s a “homophobe” really anyways? Is it someone who uses the wrong words in public? Is it someone who is taught to hate gay people? Is homophobia an immutable part of someone’s character, or is it something that can evolve? Is there a part of your brain that’s homophobic and another that isn’t?
In my mother’s case it was only during her rage-filled episodes that she became homophobic, when normally she could be so open and accepting of gay people and culture. It was almost as if it was her mental illness that was homophobic. If this kind of paradox exists in my mother couldn’t it exist in others as well? Can someone be homophobic and not at the same time?
Perhaps homophobia is just a convenient weapon for hateful people and it doesn’t swell up from some subconscious anathema towards gay people specifically. Maybe for the hateful person homophobia is easily interchangeable with other forms of bigotry because their real aim is to inflict as much damage as possible with as few words as possible.
For my mom, I don’t think she’s actually homophobic, but she’s definitely a homophobe.
Published writer, gold medal winning calligrapher, and accomplished polyglot, Lucas Justinien Perez’s passion is for words. His linguistic journey began as a child in Mexico, took him through 28 countries (living in Japan for six), and enabled him to study ancient Chinese calligraphy in Taipei — Japanese Nihonga painting in Tokyo — and contemporary art & critical theory in New York City. Lucas lives with his boyfriend Steven Tran in his home in San Diego, California but spends his time working bi-coastally. To find out more about Lucas, please visit lucasperez.org