I’d have banned books in school too—until my son told us his secret

I had suspected when my son was much younger that he might be gay. We come from a religious, Christian background. I have three boys, and he liked different things than they did. He was always around me, my sisters, and my niece, and seemed to enjoy that more.

In his teenage years, he dated a couple of girls, but nothing serious. When he turned 19, he began separating himself from everyone. We could tell that he was spiraling into deep depression.

I would ask him, “What’s going on? Do you need to talk to us?” In the back of my mind, I was thinking that’s what he wanted to tell us, but he’d just say “No.” I would ask him if he was okay, and he would say, “I’m fine.” He would put his earplugs in and listen to his music. He’d go out and lay in our hammock every night by himself. My husband and I kept asking him if he was okay or if he wanted to talk about anything, but I never mentioned to my husband what I was suspecting.

Rhonda Childers’ son pictured with his partner. Copies of banned books from states and school systems are seen at the Capitol on March 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. “I’ve checked out a few of the books and found nothing more than innocent coming-of-age stories,” said Rhonda Childers.
Rhonda Childers/Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Finally, I said to my son, “If you think you need to go to the doctor, let me know.” So one night, he told me that he thought he needed to see a doctor. We made an appointment for the next day with our general practitioner, and he went to talk to the doctor alone.

The doctor came out and told me that my son had agreed to go to the hospital, but she couldn’t tell us much because my son was 19 years old at the time. I asked her if he was suicidal, and she said yes, he was having suicidal thoughts.

That night, we took him to a local hospital and left him there without a clue about what was happening to him. It was heartbreaking watching them roll him away in a wheelchair. He stayed there for a week, and we still didn’t have a clue what was going on with him, but we visited him every day.

Finally, towards the end of the week, my son let us speak with the psychiatrist that he had been seeing. The psychiatrist told us that he would be fine, but we just had to accept him as he is.

When we got in the elevator, my husband looked at me and asked if our son was gay, I said “Yes; I believe so.”

My son came home a few days later and started doing some outpatient therapy. One day, we went with him to a day therapy place. As we were leaving a doctor’s office, at a stoplight, I asked my son if he would tell me the truth if I asked him something. He said maybe.

Before I could even finish asking if he was gay, he said yes. My husband’s immediate reaction was “Well, you know how we feel about that.”

We arrived at a restaurant to eat, and my son was visibly shaken from head to toe as he sat across the table from us while we were looking at the menu.

I was trying to comfort him. Finally, my husband reached across the table, took my son’s hands, and said, “It is okay. There is nothing that you could do that would make us not love you. We will love you no matter what.” You could see the weight lift off my son’s shoulders when his dad said that.

Later, I learned that he had been contemplating coming out. He knew I would be okay with it, even though we were both raised in a church where it was considered a sin. My husband was more worried about him than I was. We knew the damage we had done. But accepting him was not a choice for us. We knew then that we could either love and accept our child or we could lose him.

We’ve read and heard a lot about parents who reject their children for being homosexual, but for us, that just wasn’t an option. I did have a lot of questions for him, which he answered patiently, often laughing at me.

We’ve always had a good relationship, and he was very accepting of us. We showed him unconditional love and acceptance and encouraged others to do the same.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked on the phone several times since he doesn’t live here anymore. He’s told me some things that he remembered from before he came out. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he showed us more grace and unconditional love than we ever realized.

He’s never held our past against us. In our recent conversations, he’s told me how happy he is with his life and how proud he is of us as his parents. He appreciates how we raised him to speak his mind and be original. His words make me feel better, but I still carry guilt from the past and how he was raised.

My son completely forgives us, and we have nothing to forgive him for because he’s just being himself. When people ask how we feel about his choice, I say, “I don’t think it was a choice. I believe that gay people are born that way.” Despite the conservative side of politics teaching that it’s a choice, I don’t always believe it is. I share our story on a personal level with those who want to hear it.

The community meeting about our book ban in Alabama was intense; it was strictly towards the LGBTQ books in the young adult section. There was a lot of talk about sin and abomination. I left crying. A few LGBTQ youths shared their stories of attempted suicide. It broke my heart; I hugged them before we left.

I’ve checked out a few of the books and found nothing more than innocent coming-of-age stories. I believe that the books were never read by the mayor or his wife, but they still referred to them as “trash” and “smut” even though they had never filled out any paperwork to have those books pulled for review. I’ve seen more explicit things in regular coming-of-age books. Even the ones that I grew up with were more sexual than any of these. The ones that I read, they just kissed. There was nothing smutty about it, but they had not taken the time to really read or look at them.

I don’t like when people use the Bible to beat others up. When my son was growing up, I wouldn’t have approved of him getting those books. I would have been just like those people at the meeting.

If my son had access to these books while growing up, I wish he would have gotten his hands on them and read them somehow, because I feel like young LGBTQ people who might have had parents like us need to know that there are people out there like them and there are people out there who will accept them.

Rhonda Childers is an Ozark resident and a member of the Ozark-Dale Library Alliance. She is also an LGBTQ ally.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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