As I gaze across the table at my youngest son, all that is going through my mind is how incredibly brave he is. I have watched him grow and change, literally, throughout his whole life, yet the kid I’m having lunch with today is new to me.

His auburn hair is longer and wavy, and he has a light and airy pale pink scarf tied around his neck. He is wearing a white tank top and a pair of pink capri slacks that I know are meant for women. I have gotten used to his thin physique, and have to admit that he looks healthy and happy in this new version of himself. He smiles when I make a reference to Audrey Hepburn, and surprises me by ordering lamb bolognese, which is a far cry from the chicken fingers and pizza that had sustained him through high school.

He is 19, and finally away at college in Philadelphia after navigating this year of covid. His senior year of high school was completed virtually, from the comfort of his bedroom. There was no prom, or senior fashion show, or graduation ceremony for his class due to quarantine restrictions. I had seen countless posts on social media from parents with concerns and complaints about all that their senior kids were missing and how unfair it was. None of this applied to me, as the absence of these traditions proved to be a relief for my son. The extra time at home and away from the pressures of our suburban society were only beneficial to him.

He came out to me two years ago in June, during Pride Month, at the end of his junior year of high school. I was watching television in my bedroom, when he plopped down and started talking about “straight” people, and mentioned that he wasn’t. I caught what he was saying and interrupted him, acknowledging what he had just told me, congratulating him, and expressing how proud I was of him. The fact that he was gay wasn’t a surprise to me, as I had suspected this since he was 4 years old, and had even discussed it with his older brother and sister. What did surprise me was that he was willing to “be out” for his senior year of high school. Apparently, he was tired of faking it, and open to being his true self among the people he had grown up with.

This was courage on so many levels. I was incredibly proud of him, but also aware of how difficult this was for him, personally. He was a good kid…a great kid, actually. He had struggled on the heels of his older siblings, both athletes and scholars, who fell more into the classic social norms and were now grown adults. His father and I had divorced, so my son and I were on our own, together, in the family home. He didn’t drink, smoke or experiment with drugs, which separated him from most of the kids and gatherings of his age group. He played soccer and ran cross country until I confronted the fact that his excuses for not attending practices and meets made it clear that he had quit the teams. He preferred to listen to music and go for long bike rides, which became long drives when he got his license. I went to concerts with him… Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Taylor Swift, where he proudly wore their “merch” and knew every word to every song.

He began spending time in New York City on his own, after I had accompanied him on countless visits and no longer felt the interest or need to wander the streets with him. I expressed concerns with his being alone so much, with the isolation that I felt he imposed upon himself to relieve his anxiety of trying to fit in. He repeatedly comforted me, telling me he was good…that he was happy, and that this is what he wanted to be doing.

Coming out was one thing, but finally finding his true self has been another journey. There are the obvious adjustments that you go through, telling family and friends, answering the obvious questions, “did you know” and “did he say if (insert suspect’s name) is gay?” What I’ve learned is that while my son knew he was gay, he needed time to figure out exactly who he was when he chose to be his true self, and that this would begin a unique journey all his own. I could only sit on the sidelines, support him, and watch it all unfold.

Over these past two years, he has been making up for a lifetime of hiding and pretending. He has experimented with make up, various hair colors and styles, and complete wardrobe overhauls. My son has more “products” in his bathroom than the four of us ever had, combined. His fair skin seems fairer as he completely shelters himself from the sun, and while I understand his need for self care and its importance after beating himself up emotionally all these years, I feel that he takes it to the extreme as his regimens seem to limit a natural level of living. But that’s just me, and I’m sure that some of this will pass as he becomes more comfortable in his new self.

We have discussed all of these stages, because I have asked and addressed them, mostly out of a mother’s concern. I have opened up to him about how sad I feel, how I had known him better than anyone and had no idea how much he had been struggling in an attempt to fit into our standard lifestyle. How uncomfortable it had to be for him to suppress his true self, and all the ways he learned to hide how he felt. He had blamed himself for the fact that his father and I had divorced, thinking he wasn’t the son we had wanted, and how he had lived through the burden of that, even though it wasn’t true. How he had separated from some of the friends he had made because he didn’t want to feel like the “token gay friend” who was only included in selective gatherings, and felt he deserved better than that. All of this was done without anger, or resentment…he understood that people didn’t understand.

So, now I sit across from my beautiful boy at the sidewalk table of the quaint little restaurant he had chosen near his urban campus. He comforts me saying that he knows what areas are safer than others in this new neighborhood, and admits that he misses New York City and the familiarity it gives him. He talks about the lesbian down the hall who sneaks her girlfriend into the dorm, and the somewhat boring friend he has made who he thinks will be his roommate next year. The waitress notices his school ID on the table and starts chatting him up, asking what year he is, if he likes his dorm, and finally complimenting his scarf and his style. She is warm and friendly, obviously impressed with him and her supportive nature makes me smile.

And…all that goes through my mind is how brave this kid is, that he is my son, and how much I admire the courage it takes for him to be his true self and live his true life. I have decided that his courage and uniqueness is now his super power, and while I have to admit, even to him, that I do still struggle with some of these changes, the unconditional love that I have for him is overwhelming. I feel incredibly fortunate to know him and to be in his company, and I look forward to the enrichment of my life through his amazing growth and fearless authenticity. He is living his true life, and I am so proud.

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