Several years ago, my grandmother turned 90. We celebrated with a family reunion/birthday party, complete with mariachis, at an Italian eatery in south Florida. My grandmother, one of 11 children, is the only surviving sibling, so this was a momentous occasion. All her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and their children attended the event.
Wine poured as mariachis played, and my grandmother felt loved and celebrated. We all drank too much, especially my daughter, who was in her early 20s. As the afternoon closed, the adults who didn't want the party to the end continued the merriment at a nearby nightclub.
The drinking escalated, the dancing ensued, and the camaraderie flowed. Eventually, my baby girl turned to my husband and me with a somber expression and confessed she had something to disclose. She explained something had been weighing heavily on her, and since we were all gathered for this auspicious occasion, this would be the appropriate time to tell us she was gay.
My daughter was coming out to me, in a loud nightclub, on the eve of my grandmother's 90th birthday. I had no time to process this; she seemed nervous about being judged, but we immediately reassured her with open arms that we loved her despite whom she loved. We hugged and kissed and cried. As the night progressed, she continued to unburden herself to her grandmother, aunts, cousins, and friends. And we all felt the same. If she was happy, we were happy.
The next day, I waited for quiet moment to talk to her, as naturally I was curious as to when this revelation had occurred. She went on to explain that she had been dating a young woman for the past several months back in New York, where she was getting her degree in film editing. My husband and I agreed that we would love to meet her at some point. I was so proud. My daughter was a smart, well-adjusted gay woman. I was happy for her and her newfound freedom.
Months later, I paid her a visit in New York only to discover that she was dating a young man. I immediately called my husband to relay the new dating discovery. We raised eyebrows and laughed, shrugging it off as just a phase. But silently I was relieved. Relieved that my daughter, who would be subjected to sexism and racism, wouldn't now be exposed to homophobia. No parent wants their child to suffer, no matter how open-minded they are. I assured myself it was normal, that young woman often experiment with their sexuality, and perhaps she had realized that she preferred the opposite sex. Who cares. I wasn't judging. But was I?
My daughter ended up moving to Los Angeles with this boyfriend, and life went on as the family expanded with his presence and thoughts of perhaps children. As a mother, I felt that I had raised a healthy -- and experimental -- young lady, who was just sowing her oats. And now she was ready to settle down. She was making great strides in the editing field, which was heavily dominated by men. And she was exploring her artistry as a painter.
One day, I flippantly made a comment about her "gay phase," and with anger and resentment she turned to me and said, "It wasn't a phase, mom. I'm bisexual." And that's when my jaw dropped. I didn't know what to say. I felt so ashamed that I had expected her to be heterosexual now that she was dating a man. I had assumed that because she had never "labeled" herself as being bisexual, that meant that she was not gay anymore. I assumed that because she had fallen in love with a man that she couldn't possibly love a woman in the same way. I was a parent at an early age -- they don't have manuals for this stuff! I took some time to reflect, and I apologized for my inadvertent callousness toward her feelings. If only I had known; I wish she had confided in me. I realized I would benefit immensely from some kind of sensitivity training.
As a female actor, artist, blogger, activist, and parent, I feel it is imperative for celebrities to support events that raise awareness of the LGBTQ community. That is why I will be attending the the Dinah party in Palm Springs, Calif., this year, hopefully with my daughter in tow, as part of my sensitivity training program. The Dinah has continually offered a place of unity to LGBTQ people. A place to congregate in celebration of diversity as successful beings, entrepreneurs, parents, and conscientious members of our society. The event is a safe haven where women don't need labels to explore their sexuality and are free to self-express. I hope in going I can start some conversations with parents of LGBTQ people to help them transition into a safe language that we can all commiserate in. Now, that is something to be lauded. Think of the Dinah as a poolside training camp for the parents of LGBTQ kids and adults. Here's to training!
PATRICIA RAE is known for her memorable supporting role in the Oscar-nominated film Maria Full of Grace, which earned her an Imagen Award nomination. Rae also starred in the Lionsgate feature film The Big Wedding.Click here for more info on the Dinah.