PFLAG (Parents, Family of Lesbian, Gay and Transgender people)
I recently attended my first PFLAG support meeting (Parents, Friends of Lesbian and Gay and Transgender people). It would turn out to be an eye-opening experience. And while I cannot discuss what was talked about with any specificity, “what is said there stays there” and I will respect that to the nth degree, I can speak to the way I felt about what I heard and saw.
There were far more people in attendance than I had anticipated, thinking it would be maybe three or four; try tripling that, and the non-LGBTQ persons were by far the minority. The room was filled with people of all walks of sexual orientation and gender identity, and nearly everyone there was in their 20’s. I knew only one person, my friend, Drew, an asexual transgender man, who had invited me.
The mood of the room was initially light hearted; everyone apparently knowing each other and their back stories, but this shifted to a serious, somber tone once the moderator pulled out a patch-work stuffed animal she called Elliot. Elliot was apparently the equivalent of a talking stick and whoever held Elliot had the floor.
As any new, polite guest would do, I mostly listened. Sitting back in the too-soft couch that basically swallowed me up, and took in what was being said. I had no expectation as to what would happen at this meeting or what I would hear.
What I discovered was that there was a common thread among these young gay, lesbian and transgender persons and that was desperation. They were desperate to be heard, desperate to be understood, desperate not to be judged and above all, desperate to be loved.
I learned snippets of their lives and their struggles, mostly with their parents, regarding their transitioning or coming out. How their living situations were more like couch surfing from one place to the next trying to find a space to stay for a short time where people would accept them.
For the most part these young people were quiet, polite, and very introverted, almost to the point of looking like a beaten animal. When they spoke they would keep their heads down and their eyes lowered, averting the gaze of the others in the room, possibly on the verge of tears.
They spoke of their work and family struggles and issues within their personal relationships. But mostly what I heard were the questions, “Why can’t I just find a nice boyfriend?” “Why can’t my parents just understand?” “Why does my mother do that?”
What was perhaps the most profound and disturbing part of the evening was the feeling of hopelessness and defeat in the room. These young people were simply trying to be their authentic selves, but they had already seen so much pushback and backlash, they had become withdrawn and timid. I could almost see suicide in the room, as if it were an apparition circling, pausing in front of whoever was holding Elliot; waiting to pounce.
There was nothing I could do to fix these hurting people, no words that could act as a salve to cover their wounds, but the mom in me could not sit there without saying something. I asked for Elliot and hoped I could find something meaningful to say to this hurting group.
I looked each of them in the eye, told them how courageous they were and how proud I was to be in their company. I, this heteronormative, cisgender, white female who felt almost invasive sitting in with them, gay son or not, did my best to let them each know they mattered, not to give up on themselves and not to give in to the pressures around them.
My tiny voice of one was likely forgotten by morning, but I prayed it mattered to them. I prayed these young, struggling individuals would not let that apparition into their lives and that they would continue to go on living.
I left that evening frightened for each one of them and desperately needing to run home and hug my own gay son.