The Greeks called familial love “storge” — the affection that parents have for their children. For our Love issue, we spoke with Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle, a staunch LGBTQ+ ally, and her gay son, writer and activist James Duke Mason, about the bond between parent and progeny.
How would you define familial love?
Belinda Carlisle: I would say the first thing that comes to my mind is unconditional love, and that’s it. I mean, that’s the simplest answer.
James Duke Mason: I agree with that. I’ve been so lucky that for me, from a young age, I always knew that love was unconditional from my mom and dad, and that definitely gave me the confidence and the courage to be the person that I wanted to be.
Do you think there’s a special way of showing love between (often straight) parent(s) and a queer child?
Carlisle: I always make jokes about that if I had a straight son, I would have nightmares about him bringing home a Kardashian. I only have one son, who’s gay, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I really don’t know what I would do with a straight child, to be honest.
Mason: I came out at a young age, so that’s just sort of been a part of my identity for a while now. And [my mom and dad] have been super supportive of that.
In what ways do you think it’s important to show your love?
Carlisle: I think through acceptance. When Duke came out, the first thing I thought of is What kind of world is he going to have to put up with? I think maybe I would probably be more protective, especially when he was in school and came out. I’ve always been very protective and maybe a little bit extra coddling, which my husband is guilty of that too, but that’s not a bad thing. So I just think it’s important for all of us to show acceptance of everything — flaws even — like it goes back to unconditional love.
Mason: I feel the same way. We have a very honest family. You know, my mom has always been very honest about her life and her struggles, and I’ve been very honest from a young age about who I am. I also think [that includes] honest acceptance of people’s truth. I’ve been really lucky that that’s always been my story. And I know that not everybody has that kind of situation. So I’m grateful for it.
How has the love you have from one another impacted your lives?
Carlisle: Everything changes when you have a child. When the AIDS epidemic was full throttle, I was doing a lot of local work in L.A. and I had lost a lot of friends to AIDS, so I’ve always been involved in the culture, but when you have a son that is part of it, of course, you’re going to be paying more attention to things. I’m up on my stuff when it comes to gay rights, [same-sex] marriage, and not just in this country, but around the world. And I think that’s through Duke.
Mason: It’s been huge. On a funny level, she was always introducing me to gay culture, sending me to John Waters movies when I was young, so she played a formative role in terms of introducing me to gay culture, and in that sense, you know, she’s been an important influence. It’s definitely given me the courage to be outspoken. When people ask me who has been my biggest influence, I would say she has because she’s always been super authentic, super true to who she is. And so having that as a role model and inspiration has been really, really important to me.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Love issue, which is out on newsstands February 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.