Dear Dr. Darcy:
I am writing with the hopes that you can enlighten me on how my mother managed to live 51 years as a heterosexual and then woke up one day and decided she’s a lesbian. Is switching sexual identity as easy as switching majors in college? How does a wife leave her husband of 28 years and her college-aged children for a woman? I thought that after a certain point in life kids don’t have to worry about their parents divorcing, but I must be confused so maybe you can set me straight.
Switching sexual identities, especially in mid-life, is usually not as easy as switching majors in college; although, given the bureaucratic nature of many colleges, perhaps they are not so dissimilar. Still, it’s interesting that you reference college in your question, as it happens to be a time in an individual’s life when she is likely to feel supported and encouraged to think critically and independently, potentially more than any other. College’s pseudo-independent lifestyle lends itself to the risk-taking inherent in questioning social norms and societal expectations.
Who knows how long your mother was struggling with her sexual orientation? The fact that she waited until she was 51 years old, and her children were grown, could indicate that she took her family more into consideration than you’re able to see right now. I don’t mean to minimize your struggle but I feel compelled to underscore the hetero-privileged lifestyle that your mother surrendered by identifying as a lesbian. No, her decision did not come easily, though I’m sure you’re reeling from the shock of it.
I suspect that this wound and its subsequent life adjustments are too fresh for you to feel much empathy for your mother. It’s reasonable for you to be angry and to question how this came about. The sooner you are able to focus inward and to mourn the loss of your family as you knew it, the sooner you’ll catch your breath. I wish there was more that I could do to ease your pain. Be gentle with yourself during this time. You don’t need anyone setting you straight, though I suspect you harbor the fantasy that someone might in fact be able to set your mom straight.
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Dr. Darcy Smith received her Masters degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She has been a practicing social worker for over 10 years and is in private practice in both New York City and New Jersey.
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.