Happy Pride Month!
One tradition I have for Pride since coming out, is to watch primarily queer films, or works by queer directors and actors during the month. Over the years, and out of all the queer films in the world though, I always watch Prayers for Bobby.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s based upon the book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son and the true story of Mary Griffith and her son Bobby. It is a story about a mother’s Christian intolerance and hard-nosed indoctrination which leads her son to despise who he is and ultimately commits suicide in 1983 at the age of 20.
The movie hits hard for me. It’s a mirror of the struggle I went through. The earliest I can remember sitting in this struggle was in third grade, having one of my first formidable experiences with a crush and it being about a boy in my class.
This struggle was a daily battle. Looking back, I was in a constant state of contradiction. And I would go from one extreme to the other. I might have had a perpetual smile that I would be known for, but I acted out. I hurt others and hurt myself to do whatever I could to try and get out of the constant state of contradiction.
In some ways, watching Prayers for Bobby is a validation of the mess I lived for so long. To know there was another story like mine and someone else who went through the same conversations, same conditionalizing and same highs and lows.
Over the years though, watching this film has also helped me to understand my parents. They were doing their best and they had good intentions when they offered counseling and conversion therapy. Being grounded in our Catholic faith and in the context of the height of HIV and AIDS, my parents were making decisions driven by fear of the unknown and intolerant and just doing their best based on the foundation they created through religion. I’ve also come to understand that they feared not only of me being gay, but what it meant for my mortality and because they loved me they would do everything they could to save my life and my soul regardless the harm it would actually inflict.
One of the parts that sends a vibration through me to my core is the speech the Mary Griffith character gives near the end of the film to start to reframe what it means to practice love and faith:
“Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuals are doomed to spend eternity in hell. If they wanted to change, they could be healed of their evil ways. If they would turn away from temptation, they could be normal again if only they would try and try harder if it doesn’t work. These are all the things I said to my son Bobby when I found out he was gay. When he told me he was homosexual my world fell apart. I did everything I could to cure him of his sickness. Eight months ago my son jumped off a bridge and killed himself. I deeply regret my lack of knowledge about gay and lesbian people. I see that everything I was taught and told was bigotry and de-humanizing slander. If I had investigated beyond what I was told, if I had just listened to my son when he poured his heart out to me I would not be standing here today with you filled with regret. I believe that God was pleased with Bobby’s kind and loving spirit. In God’s eyes kindness and love are what it’s all about. I didn’t know that each time I echoed eternal damnation for gay people each time I referred to Bobby as sick and perverted and a danger to our children. His self esteem and sense of worth were being destroyed. And finally his spirit broke beyond repair. It was not God’s will that Bobby climbed over the side of a freeway overpass and jumped directly into the path of an eighteen-wheel truck which killed him instantly. Bobby’s death was the direct result of his parent’s ignorance and fear of the word gay. He wanted to be a writer. His hopes and dreams should not have been taken from him but they were. There are children, like Bobby, sitting in your congregations. Unknown to you they will be listening as you echo “amen” and that will soon silence their prayers. Their prayers to God for understanding and acceptance and for your love. But your hatred and fear and ignorance of the word gay, will silence those prayers. So, before you echo “amen” in your home and place of worship. Think. Think and remember a child is listening.”
The echoes that she refers to in the speech, stay with you beyond childhood. The ramifications are long lasting. They remain with you as a silent inner voice that speaks up periodically to remind you to conditionalize yourself that you are not “normal” and that there is something wrong with you. No matter how hard I shove those thoughts and feelings down, they are still there. It comes forward every year at Pride as I walk by the anti-gay protesters shouting their messages of “love” via words of hate, bigotry and intolerance.
It is the ramification of mis-guided love. But unlike Bobby, regardless of the impact of what good intentions have had on my life, I’ve been one of the fortunate ones to have survived and made it through.
I’ve been on a spiritual journey, ever since that first formidable crush experience. Still today, I am working through my relationship with God, the Catholic church, organized religion and even faith in a higher being. But if you’re reading this, odds are you’re family or an ally so I ask that, during Pride and moving forward, you share a message about what I’ve come to learn during my journey so far and from this film. Faith and religion is not about blindly abiding by centuries old rules of hatred and fear interpreted and then written by man. But rather its in your practicing of the lessons of love. Love is not dehumanizing others who are different. It’s loving, caring and understanding those who are different and finding joy in the beauty of a person’s authentic humanity and celebrating what has been created in God’s image…love
To close out my thoughts, I offer a final quote from the film:
“I know now why God didn’t heal Bobby. He didn’t heal him because there was nothing wrong with him.”
Until next time
Peace Love and Pandas
AND HAPPY PRIDE