Gay men and their moms: a relationship for the ages

The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote of mothers: “The mother is everything – she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness.”

Mother’s Day is approaching, and while many people will probably lay claim to having the best mom in the world, gay men in particular sometimes seem to have an especially close connection to the women who raised them.

While we still do not have a clear-cut “reason” for people being homosexual, Dean Hamer’s 1993 study about a so-called “gay gene” did bring one interesting connection to the fore: Hamer found that homosexuality probably ran in families (with 2% of the general male population thought to be gay, but that percentage climbing to 13.5% when there was one other gay relative) and that the particular gene in question was mostly passed on through the maternal line.

Referring to Hamer’s study, author and activist John Calendo writes: “Mothers, it seemed, were indeed affecting their sons’ sexual destiny, but not in the way expected. The discovery turned the moral debate on its head. To the degree mothers played any role in homosexuality at all, the part seemed to be a mere biochemical walk-on. Mother Nature, not mother nurture, cast the deciding vote.”

The closeness between gay men and their mothers has been scrutinised by psychologists for years, looking for a link between the way mothers treat their sons in childhood, and their sexuality later in life. This has led to damaging ideas around homosexuality, like ascribing being gay to having overbearing mothers and emotionally absent fathers.

We tend to come out to our mothers first

Still, gay men often refer to having a close relationship with their mothers from a young age, sharing interests and holding on to the unconditional love provided by their mothers in the face of prejudice and bigotry from the rest of the world. Even so, Michael C. LaSala, author of Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child, notes that many mothers may initially blame their sons’ homosexuality on themselves, feeling guilty about being too close to them.

Says LaSala: “Research suggests that feeling guilty is an inevitable component of mothering. Mothers feel to blame when something goes ‘wrong’ with their children, even if the cause is clearly not their fault. As a matter of fact, mothers often find themselves feeling guilty when nothing goes wrong!” He adds: “Fortunately, for many mothers of gay sons – with time and education, they learn that the idea that they had somehow made their son gay is dead wrong.”

When we come out, it is still mostly to our mothers: a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of LGBT respondents had told their mother about their sexual orientation, compared to just 39% who had told their father.

Not many significant studies have been done to try and explain the reason why gay men often have close-knit bonds with their mothers. Perhaps it is a relationship that needn’t be defined according to stringent scientific investigations. Perhaps it simply boils down to having someone who is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. Perhaps this is simply the woman who taught us about love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness, against the social conventions and religious rites that may have governed her life up to that point.

Speaking about parenthood, Kahlil Gibran wrote: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you… You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

Maybe the words of Gibran also ring true for these women, our mothers, as they navigate a parental journey that isn’t particularly easier or more difficult than that of any other guilt-ridden mom just trying to do the best for her child in a world filled with people that will never be able to love him quite as much as she does.

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